Throwing one out

I’d been working on a post about finding a new home for the wifey’s blog and how it brought up questions on data ownership and entrustment in the light of Posterous being acquired by Twitter.

It got to long-winded, took 75% of the post to get to the point, and was just too boring.

So I threw it out, against the will of every fibre of my being; banished to my morgue of half-written posts*. There comes a point where one cannot be to precious about one’s work. This was one of them – and my preciousness was getting in the way of my writing.

Creativity is a flow, and one needs to be diligent about removing any obstructions to that flow. Two months ago, my obstruction was the absence of a writing habit. Today, it was being too precious about a particular post.

How’s your creativity flowing today? What’s the hold up? Maybe you need to consider “throwing one out” – whatever that means to you. Besides, your best work is still waiting to be done.

There’s a part 2 to this post.

*If you’d still like to read it, fill in your email and leave a comment below, or email [email protected].

On Reflection

As a somewhat unplanned sequel to an earlier entry Consuming vs Producing, I’ve come to discover an extremely crucial but largely invisible process called reflection.

Just over the weekend, I had the privilege of sitting in on a discussion about how the Christian biblical text is still relevant to the modern day human being. Putting aside all religious and moral connotations, what struck me most is the way engaging the text opens up a fertile space for personal reflection. The speaker stated it far more poetically – “finding yourself in the text”.

While I wouldn’t be so brash to claim that the biblical text is the sole and ultimate text for personal reflection, such a thought has open my eyes to this process of reflection that sits squarely between consumption and production. Input and output if you will.

Within the bounds of reflection lies our truest most present state; and by existing between in and out, it stands to bear the full brunt of everything that passes through. Think of reflection as a footbridge that spans two divides: all the good and evil that we’re impressed by, and all the things that we express.

The really tricky thing about reflection is how unassuming it is. Perhaps by nature, or more likely because we’ve learned to squelch this very potent process. If you’re anything like me, you’d have guard houses set up on both sides of the bridge. On the “in” side, sifting through events and ideas that we allow to pass, depositing their footprints; on the “out” end, filtering the things that we expose to the external world.

So why the big deal about such an ethereal concept?

Because these is the arena where good and evil duels. It is in this place that the human condition triumphs or topples over in shameful defeat. I might even go so far as to claim that reflection is the portal through which inspiration enters the tangible world as we know it.

Machine Jobs: career advice from a software developer

This Yesterday morning, I got out a little earlier than usual – combination of an early night before, and me wanting to beat the weather to work. It was so gloomy, the skies threatened to burst and pour down at any moment.

Coming up to a quiet traffic-lit intersection, it suddenly dawned upon me that once upon a time, a human being had to perform the very manual task of directing traffic at an intersection. Given that I was commuting to work, I couldn’t help but think of Mr. Expert Traffic Conductor waking up one fateful morning in 1868 to find that he wouldn’t be going to work that day because some machine with light bulbs had just replaced him.

That made me think of other such jobs were replaced such a long time ago, we forget that a human once had to devote his or her life to perform the task, day in, day out. One example is the elevator operator. A another one, the telephone operator.

More currently, I’m inclined to believe the reason a good portion of the human workforce still have their jobs isn’t because machines can’t yet perform them, but because the economics still¬†swing in favour of hiring a human being over building and employing a machine equivalent. ‘Still’ being the operative word.

This is why it puzzles me when someone aspires to be more machine-like with their work.

Granted, I’m not unfamiliar with the fact that the more work one is able to perform per unit time generally translates into higher productivity which, in most cases, increases one’s income. Also granted, I’m acutely aware that every higher-up dreams of commanding a cohort of machine-like human beings; so for an underling, the contortion one’s humanity often presents itself as a wise career move, until you realize you’re just a stop-gap while the real machines creep within range of the corporate budget.

Still, the days of such “machineable” careers are severely numbered. You can trust me on that because bringing such a reality to past is implied in my job description as a software developer.

On the surface, it says “make better software to empower human beings”. What it really means is “make software so that we don’t need to pay that guy to sit there all day and click his mouse”. True story.

So if one is to derive any stone cold career advice out of this, it is to steer clear of the competition.

Instead of aspiring to be more machine-like, seek to be less. Spend time cultivating the things that are uniquely human – traits like creativity, beauty, vision, intelligence, compassion, inspiration. While this almost precludes you from scoring a mindless, well-paying, short-term job, at very least you won’t be out of one when a machine does better.

Consuming vs Producing

Two recent events have brought me to the apex of this thought.

First, those of you who have been curiously clicking through my “New blog post:…” tweets would have noticed that I’ve made a real big effort string together at very least a post a day (You’re reading my eleventh consecutive post, thank you for asking). Blogging daily has been my little way of intentionally producing something with latent time that I have, as opposed to mindlessly consuming.

Second, my dear wife (upon my request) bought me a Kindle DX for my impending birthday. If you’re not already aware, the Kindle is representational of a whole new class of, what I’d like to coin, hyper-consumption computing (HCC) devices. In my own opinionated, un-peer reviewed definition, these devices are design with only to serve a single purpose – making the consumption of information as frictionless and pleasurable as possible.

Why it is in every device makers’ interests to excel at such a goal is a topic for another day, but the bottom-line is, such devices, if not engaged with active intention, can very easily and quickly dull the producer in each of us.

Yes, it dulls the producer in you.

Allow me to expand on the concept of producing something. Going out on a photo shoot is producing, browsing through endless Flickr streams is consuming. Baking a cake is producing. Reading food blogs is consuming. Going out on a bike ride is producing, watching Le Tour on television is consuming. Learning a new chord progression is producing, watching YouTube videos of Super Mario covers is consuming. Pulling out a few tools and tightening up your creaky chair is producing, wandering around Ikea is consuming. Assembling Ikea furniture is gray, but you get the idea.

I think sharpening and polishing that producer edge is really important for the following reasons.

1. Producing completes a learning process. One reaps the full benefits of learning when one is forced to reproduce that body of knowledge. For example, when I had to write up a half-semester syllabus for the Interactive Media subject for the Bachelor of Multimedia program at RMIT, it was the hardest thing, but it was also the best educational experience I ever had on the subject.

2. Production is a sign of life (in the broadest, most generalised sense of the word). Live trees produce fruit; wooden shelves don’t. Polar bears produce young; not so, fur rugs. Players on the court tear muscles, grow stronger, nimbler, livelier; spectators, not so much, Et cetera.

3. The act of producing brings with itself the very therapeutic effect of a flow. Where stuffy corners of one’s life is pushed out, the vacuum inevitably draws freshness in – basic laws of thermodynamics. Or for the more poetic, Jordan River vs Dead Sea.

So the next time, right before you engage in an activity, make a mental note:

producing or consuming?

Hopefully, you’ll be all the richer for it, and the people around you should be so lucky to share in goodness of your produce.