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Month: May 2012

Patterns Lead to Joy, Creativity

Patterns Lead to Joy, Creativity

I was talking with a client and friend about his next career moves. He explained that he was concerned about trying to learn a particular skill that he felt he sucked at. Later that day, my 12-year-old brother said that he liked drawing, but he wasn’t good enough at it, so he didn’t see the point in taking drawing classes.

I realize this is a consistent myth in our society, so I’ll quote the great Cal Newport:

“You don’t like something and then you do it. You like something because you do it.”

This is very important. For jobs, hobbies, businesses, whatever. It’s critical to get into this mindset of seeing our skills as flexible and malleable. It’s important to know more before giving up. I’m not saying know everything, but know more. You don’t need to become an expert to see if you like something, but you do need to give it a shot.

The more you know, the longer you can do it.

The more you know, the more you can do.

The more you know, the more you enjoy it.

The more you know, the clearer the incentive.

The more you know, the more rewards you find.

The point is this: Don’t try to predict your commitment to something. Your commitment will vary as you learn more about that something. Don’t sabotage yourself too early because you claim that you don’t like that something. Of course you don’t like it, since you don’t have a clear effort-reward connection yet. You don’t know enough patterns of that something.

As one learns and sees more patterns, the understanding of what’s possible increases, and creativity sets in. Once a skill stops being a simple repetition of what other performers created before you, and you start to own your skill by allowing yourself to create your own patterns, that’s where enjoyment and obsession show up.

Give it that much time, learn some patterns before giving up.

Note: Even being competent but not great at many things is a skill on its own, a form of greatness. You learn to love doing a bit of everything. You learn to love not getting to love any particular thing, which gives you room to appreciate many more things.

Should kids be entrepreneurs?

Should kids be entrepreneurs?

Going through my bookmarks, I saw two articles from July that caught my attention. The first one, from Science Daily, explains that popular TV shows teach children that fame is the most important value. No surprise there (sadly).

The second article is about a Teen-only incubator announcing its first startup class.

This got me thinking… Is it possible that entrepreneurship has become a fad, the new cool thing that kids want to do? It seems like it, at least in certain circles.

Now, of course dreams of launching their own company are better than dreams of becoming the next Paris Hilton… But this may still be a problem. It’s still a fad, a choice that manages to escape the question that every decision should answer:

Should I do this?

Nothing is 100% objectively good. Everything should be put under personal scrutiny, and analyzed to see if it’s a good decision under our circumstances. Kids assuming that launching a startup is always a great thing is just as wrong as kids assuming going to college is always a good thing. Everything depends, but I worry that we’re not giving them a chance, we’re attacking their choices early enough to prevent them from exploring less popular possibilities.

Kids are vulnerable to what we tell them they should do, whatever that is. Maybe the problem it’s not about what we tell them, but about telling them anything at all.

I’m not only concerned about their lifestyle choices (or lack of choices), but also about what their output may be. I don’t think all startups are a great thing. I don’t think all companies are a great thing either. I think there’s a lot of crap out there. For example, I think there’s a lot of gaming companies that accomplish nothing other than make people waste their time. I’m with this guy, and this guy.

That’s why kids rushing into thinking about startup ideas, may lead to an increased output of stupid-but-profitable companies that we’d be better off without. There’s always exceptions, but in general, I’d rather have kids see and encounter problems once they make their own personal choices in adulthood, and then launch a startup to solve that problem, than to see them try to get some quick idea in pursue of some cash that may solve nothing.

Look, I’m all for exceptional people. A kid has a startup idea and wants to launch it? Good, let him compete with the big guys. If it’s good, his age won’t matter. But having a teen-only incubator lowers the competition, and distracts them from what adolescence should be about: Exploring and working on themselves.

On Designing for Behavior

On Designing for Behavior

Jenova Chen, creator of a recent videogame titled Journey, explains his views on gamers’ behavior:

There’s this assumption in video games that if you run into a random player online, it’s going to be a bad experience. You think that they will be an asshole, right? But listen: none of us was born to be an asshole. I believe that very often it’s not really the player that’s an asshole. It’s the game designer that made them an asshole. If you spend every day killing one another how are you going to be a nice guy? All console games are about killing each other, or killing one another together. Don’t you see? It’s our games that make us assholes.

I love finding quotes and examples on the importance of design in changing behavior. On his popular book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely explained that the design of a form can affect people’s decision to whether or not become organ donors. Or for example, there’s this great experiment on how to get people to use the stairs instead of the escalator:

The idea that we control everything in our lives and that we make only conscious decisions is so engrained in our ego, that we waste the opportunity to make actual change. Read this sentence as many times as needed, and let it sink in:

The way we act depends on the design of our choices.

Yes, it makes reality a bit more complex, because now we’re not some rigid pack of traits, but a set of malleable habits that we can change if we redesign our choices. It adds responsibility to our lives, because we no longer can hide. We now face the decision to either change the design of what we’d like to improve, or shy away from our chance to make things better, the way we’d like them to be.

This has been my message with education alternatives lately. Stop trying to find the panacea. It doesn’t exist. We don’t need to find the perfect system of education. We need to create a better design of educational choices, so everyone can make the right one for their particular situation.

This is why system implementation works so well. If you want to get on a diet, don’t resist the urge to eat ice cream, just don’t buy it in the first place. Change the system and design of the eating choices in your house.

If there’s one thing that’s very powerful in today’s complex world, is understanding how to design a system that gets yourself and others to act the way you envision it. Be responsible, embrace the task. Let’s design more systems where we don’t kill each other.

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