How author David Mitchell uses unexpected structure and unexpected language to hook readers in his novel Cloud Atlas. Plus, how the psychological concept of flow applies to great writing.
“I always consider the entire process about failure, and I think that’s the reason why more people don’t write.”
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Nike CEO Mark Parker called up Steve Jobs one day, shortly after Parker had become CEO:
“Do you have any advice?” Parker asked Jobs. “Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” Parker said Jobs paused and Parker filled the quiet with a chuckle. But Jobs didn’t laugh. He was serious. “He was absolutely right,” said Parker. “We had to edit.”
Parker used the word ‘edit’ not in a design sense but in the context of making business decisions. Editing also leads to great product designs and effective communications. According to Steve Jobs, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”
A couple of intriguing thoughts from Toronto artist/teacher Misha Glouberman in his book The Chairs Are Where The People Go:
Art is communication made in the hope that interesting miscommunications will arise.
You can’t make art by working on it only when you feel like it.
There’s this terrible idea that the things you do are like this manifesto against everything else.
If you’re worried about failure, then it’s very hard to let yourself be surprised. If you’re thinking you shouldn’t fail, then probably you imagine that there’s somewhere in particular you need to be. You’re probably intent on taking a particular path to get there. So if you find yourself somewhere surprising, you might find the need to go backwards, to get back on the right path. That means you’ll miss a lot of interesting and useful surprises. It’s good to learn to suspend the fear of failure. Game structures can be very useful for that, because failure is built into games. If you’re playing baseball and you swing at the ball and you don’t hit the ball, you understand that’s part of the game. It wouldn’t be a very good game if you always hit the ball. What happens mostly is you swing at the ball and you don’t hit. Does that mean that playing baseball is a miserable experience because you’re mostly failing? If you miss the ball playing baseball, it doesn’t mean you’re playing baseball wrong. It just means you’re playing baseball.
Practice success and failure amnesia. Forget that you succeeded. Forgive and forget that you failed. Learn from both and move on fast. Failure can be a patient teacher—it’s often a learnable event. Success can lead to signal and pattern blindness. The greatest achievers I have met are grounded and focused. They practice success amnesia. Achievement is a state of mind. It needs to be practiced, protected and sharpened. Don’t let success blind that state of mind or failure bog it down. The faster we forget the twins of success and failure and focus on only creating value the faster the engines of achievement can carry you forward.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When tomorrow comes round there’s another pile of emails, phone messages, and to-do list items. If you carry on like this you will spend most of your time on reactive work, responding to incoming demands and answering questions framed by other people. It’s a never-ending hamster wheel. And it will never lead to remarkable work, in Seth Godin’s sense, “worthy of being remarked on.”