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Short Takes: Haruki Murakami on talent, focus & endurance

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Cover of "What I Talk About When I Talk A...

Cover via Amazon

 

 

If you’ve passed by Deciphering Culture with any regularity, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a serious fan of Haruki Murakami. The blog 99% posted a short piece on Murakami’s thoughts on the essential traits needed for successful as a novelist (excerpted from Muraakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running). The insights Murakami learned from running are applicable to all creative endeavors: you need talent, focus and endurance. An excerpt from the excerpt posted on 99% (Haruki-Murakami-Talent-Is-Nothing-Without-Focus-and-Endurance?).

 

…what’s the most important quality a novelist has to have. It’s pretty obvious: talent. Now matter how much enthusiasm and effort you put into writing, if you totally lack literary talent you can forget about being a novelist. This is more of a prerequisite than a necessary quality. If you don’t have any fuel, even the best car won’t run.

The problem with talent, though, is that in most cases the person involved can’t control its amount or quality. You might find the amount isn’t enough and you want to increase it, or you might try to be frugal and make it last longer, but in neither case do things work out that easily. Talent has a mind of its own and wells up when it wants to, and once it dries up, that’s it….

…the next most important quality is for a novelist, that’s easy too: focus—the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment. Without that you can’t accomplish anything of value, while, if you can focus effectively, you’ll be able to compensate for an erratic talent or even a shortage of it….

After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be able to write a long work. What’s needed of the writer of fiction—at least one who hopes to write a novel—is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, or two years….

Fortunately, these two disciplines—focus and endurance—are different from talent, since they can be acquired and sharpened through training. You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point. This is a lot like the training of muscles I wrote of a moment ago. You have to continually transmit the object of your focus to your entire body, and make sure it thoroughly assimilates the information necessary for you to write every single day and concentrate on the work at hand. And gradually you’ll expand the limits of what you’re able to do. Almost imperceptibly you’ll make the bar rise. This involves the same process as jogging every day to strengthen your muscles and develop a runner’s physique. Add a stimulus and keep it up. And repeat. Patience is a must in this process, but I guarantee results will come.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Short Takes: Maintaining work / life balance

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Orhan Pamuk, turkish novelist. The photo is de...

Orhan Pamuk (Image via Wikipedia)

Keeping focus when working at home

I am currently spending a lot of time at my desk at home working on a writing project and finding it difficult to maintain a separation between personal and professional time — there always seems like there’s time to do another load of laundry, the dog is asking for a walk and….

Work / life balance is always difficult to maintain but with our identities increasingly defined virtually, even maintaining physical demarcations between our professional and private lives can become problematic. Needed down time and self care often fly out the window, often accompanied by decreased productivity. Lately, I have found that one effective response is to ritualize the separation between my professional and personal spaces, even going so far as leaving home in the morning to walk to work (ending up back where I started) — an idea I appropriated from novelist Orhan Pamuk.

Orhan Pamuk: I have always thought that the place where you sleep or the place you share with your partner should be separate from the place where you write. The domestic rituals and details somehow kill the imagination. They kill the demon in me. The domestic, tame daily routine makes the longing for the other world, which the imagination needs to operate, fade away. So for years I always had an office or a little place outside the house to work in. I always had different flats. But once I spent half a semester in the U.S. while my ex-wife was taking her Ph.D. at Columbia University. We were living in an apartment for married students and didn’t have any space, so I had to sleep and write in the same place. Reminders of family life were all around. This upset me. In the mornings I used to say goodbye to my wife like someone going to work. I’d leave the house, walk around a few blocks, and come back like a person arriving at the office. (from an interview in: The Paris Review, Fall/Winter 2005)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

June 5, 2011 at 11:32 am

The Art of Agency 3 (Asian Improv aRts @ SF State)

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From March 2 through March 5, Asian Improv aRts (AIR) and SF State’s World Music and Dance Program are holding a “collaborative presentation of public dialogue, workshops and performances exploring the intersection of traditionality and hybridity in the formation of community.” It is an interesting mix of events, culminating with “Sounding Asian Improv aRts (AIR),” the keynote session of the Annual Meeting of the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology.


ImprovisAsians 2011! – The Art of Agency 3

March 2nd – 5th, 2011

San Francisco State University College of Creative Arts

All events are free and will take place at San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue

Wednesday, March 2nd

Diaspora Tales #2 – An interdisciplinary work featuring music by the Francis Wong Unit, spoken word by A.K. Black, dance by Lenora Lee and media design by Olivia Ting. “1969” reflects upon the Third World Strike at UC Berkeley and Wong’s family history from the period.
1:10 – 2pm Knuth Hall, Room 132, Creative Arts Building

Thursday, March 3rd

Asian Improv aRts Master Class with SF State Creative World Music Ensemble featuring composer Francis Wong
2:35 – 4:50pm Room 150, Creative Arts Building

The Artist as Public Intellectual Panel Discussion with Yutian Wong, Jeffrey Callen, Lenora Lee, Francis Wong, and Hafez Modirzadeh
6:10 – 8:50pm Room 147, Creative Arts Building

Friday, March 4th

The Creative World: A collaborative concert featuring Francis Wong, Hafez Modirzadeh, Bryan Bowman, John-Carlos Perea, and Jimmy Biala with members of the SF State Creative World Ensemble
1:10 – 2pm Knuth Hall, Room 132, Creative Arts Building

Saturday, March 5th

Asian Improv aRts in collaboration with the College of Ethnic Studies, College of Creative Arts, and the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology (NCCSEM) are proud to present:

Sounding Asian Improv aRts (AIR) A lecture demonstration. This Keynote Roundtable Session is part of the NCCSEM 2011 annual meeting. Co-moderators: John-Carlos Perea, Francis Wong, and Hafez Modirzadeh. Participants include Melody Takata, Dohee Lee, Wayne Wallace, and Kat Parra.
1-2:30pm Knuth Hall, Room 132, Creative Arts Building


Social Connectivity & Innovation — “Where Good Ideas Come From”

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The trailer for Steven Berliner Johnson‘s new book, Where Good Ideas Come From, offers some food for thought on the role of social environments in the creation of innovative ideas.

The book is built around dozens of stories from the history of scientific, technological and cultural innovation: how Darwin’s “eureka moment” about natural selection turned out to be a myth; how Brian Eno invented a new musical convention by listening to too much AM radio; how Gutenberg borrowed a crucial idea from the wine industry to invent modern printing; why GPS was accidentally developed by a pair of twenty-somethings messing around with a microwave receiver; how a design team has created a infant incubator made entirely out of spare automobile parts. But I have also tried to distill some meaningful—and hopefully useful—lessons out of all these stories, and so I’ve isolated seven distinct patterns that appear again and again in all these innovative environments. (Each pattern gets its own chapter.) (from StevenBerlinerJohnson.com).

If  you want a longer version, here’s a talk Johnson gave at TED, starting with the role the introduction of the coffeehouse (and the replacement of alcoholic beverages with coffee) had on the development of innovation in the U.K.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

September 28, 2010 at 9:11 am

Keep your goals to yourself (@ DerekSilvers.com)

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A counter-intuitive lesson in fulfilling your goals from Derek Silvers (founder of CD Baby).  Silvers gave an elaborated version for TED** (video below — 3:16)

Shut up! Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them.

2009-06-16

Shouldn’t you announce your goals, so friends can support you?

Isn’t it good networking to tell people about your upcoming projects?

Doesn’t the “law of attraction” mean you should state your intention, and visualize the goal as already yours?

Nope.

Tests done since 1933 show that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen.

Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed.

In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a person announced the solution to a problem, and was acknowledged by others, it was now in the brain as a “social reality”, even if the solution hadn’t actually been achieved.

NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer has been studying this since his 1982 book “Symbolic Self-Completion” (pdf article here) – and recently published results of new tests in a research article, “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?

Four different tests of 63 people found that those who kept their intentions private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public and were acknowledged by others.

Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”

You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image.Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”

A related test found that success on one sub-goal (eating healthy meals) reduced efforts on other important sub-goals (going to the gym) for the same reason.

It may seem unnatural to keep your intentions and plans private, but try it. If you do tell a friend, make sure not to say it as a satisfaction (“I’ve joined a gym and bought running shoes. I’m going to do it!”), but as dissatisfaction (“I want to lose 20 pounds, so kick my ass if I don’t, OK?”)

** TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and Open TV Project, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

September 11, 2010 at 11:16 am

The “HappyLife” home project (@FlowingData)

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How much knowledge is too much? (from FlowingData)

A house that knows when you’re happy and sad

By Nathan Yau – Aug 30, 2010

Auger Loizeau, in collaboration with Reyer Zwiggelaar and Bashar Al-Rjoub, describe their smart-home project Happylife. It monitors facial expressions and movements to estimate a family’s mood, displayed via four glowing orbs on the wall, one for each member.

We built a visual display linked to the thermal image camera. This employs facial recognition to differentiate between members of the family. Each member has one rotary dial and one RGB LED display effectively acting like emotional barometers. These show current state and predicted state, the predicted state being based on years of accumulated statistical data.

They also include a few quite beautiful vignettes from a family that has Happylife in their home. While there are no concrete metrics or instructions on how to read the displays, the family does draw some kind of emotional insights and sometimes finds comfort in the glow:

It was that time of the year. All of the Happylife prediction dials had spun anti-clockwise, like barometers reacting to an incoming storm. we lost David 4 years ago and the system was anticipating our coming sadness. We found this strangely comforting. (to read the rest, click here).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

Thinking about Research – Short Takes (3)

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What is thinking outside the box?

A little gem from Seth’s Blog (marketing guru Seth Godin):

The decision before the decision

That decision is far more important and much more difficult to change than the decision you actually believe you’re about to make.

This is the one that was made before you even showed up. This is the one that sets the agenda, determines the goal and establishes the frame.

The decision before the decision is the box.

When you think outside the box, what you’re actually doing is questioning the decision before the decision.

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

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