Categories
meta

Creativity and Constraints

You probably remember a handful people in your elementary, middle, and high school who were known as the “artists.” They were the ones who turned in the beautiful drawings, won the contests, got tapped for t-shirt designs, etc.

I was one of them. With the reputation of an artist came two common refrains. The first? “You’re so talented.” And the second: “You’re so creative.”

But both statements aren’t quite accurate.

Talent? My proficiency as an artist came from paying attention to detail and being a perfectionist. It wasn’t talent; it was focused practice.

And I’ve never felt creative. In my mind, to be creative is to be able to imagine new things from nothing, which has never been easy for me.

Only, after awhile, I realized something. I am creative so long as I have constraints. Constraints create a problem to be solved. And by attempting to solve intractable problems I could be creativity.

Constraints strip away possibility and introduce challenges to overcome. The creative person—the artist, the inventor, the entrepreneur—finds a novel way.

Categories
articles

The Church of Man: Primitive Technology

I was on Reddit about three years ago when I stumbled on a popular link. Something to the effect of “Man in woods makes tiled hut from mud.”

Click.

Hmm 🤔 … “Primitive Technology.”

What is this?

Categories
articles

The Power of Blogging (On why I blog)

March 13
photo credit: the name is Josh

Blogging, which I define as published informal writing, makes me happy. I blog because I enjoy it. Why do I find blogging so fulfilling? Briefly, blogging provides me with a creative outlet to focus my thinking and share my ideas and interests with others. Even as these are sufficient reasons to blog, there are certain particulars of blogging that make it absurdly powerful, and this post attempts to get at these reasons.

What is so powerful about blogging?

Blogging enables me to write about whatever I want. I can write about the particulars of property rights, ideas for workout routines, the consequences of holding a certain belief, or how best to apply an understanding of human evolution to modern life. I can blog about my personal doings or the book I just finished reading. The informality of blogging provides an enormous amount of creative freedom to speak my mind. This freedom caters to my tendency towards boredom with overspecialization. It allows me to jump from subject to subject as often as I choose.

Seth Roberts described this purpose of blogging wonderfully in a recent comment: “[blogging] allows us to talk about whatever we want without fear of boring our listeners.” With blogging there is little fear of rejection and an empowering feeling of control. Label it “narcisistic” if you want, does it really matter? Blogging provides such a fantastic creative outlet that it is a worthwhile pursuit for this reason alone.

Blogging focuses my curiosity and clarifies my thinking. Putting my thoughts into writing requires a “good enough” understanding of a concept for my written explanation to successfully transfer the idea to others (including me at future date). This put-it-in-writing induced constraint helps clarify my thinking and can also aid my memory. Somewhat related to clarified thought, blogging provides an end-product for my curiosity. Whereas a random interest in parkour may mean running any number of Google queries on the subject only to be done with it, the add-on of blogging creates a deliverable: I can jot down my findings for future reference and produce something tangible and useful from what would otherwise be a passing curiosity.

Blogging results in the mass production of ideas. Creating a blog is cheap, which means that anyone can do it (See below for how). Since bloggers have the power to write whatever they want, an enormous amount of writing is generated. Of course, most of these blog posts will be quickly written and forgotten. And many (if not most) of the ideas generated by bloggers will be duds. Regardless, the raw abundance of ideas presented through blogs is one of the prevailing strengths of the medium. This is because the ideas captured in blog posts are public.

Blogs, whether written anonymously or otherwise, are a means for publishing writing. Whatever I blog about is almost instantly assimilated into the vast bounty of information that is the Internet. Once published, blog posts can be searched and linked. Thanks to search, similarly interested individuals can find my writings and I can find theirs. The public nature of blogging thereby prevents both good and bad ideas from obscurity. Bad ideas are subject to correction from reader feedback. Good ideas are made better by the same. Public discourse on blogs occurs via two pathways. The more basic of the two is that readers are allowed to comment on my blog directly. The alternative, and potentially more powerful pathway is by indirect feedback on a fellow blogger’s site that is hyperlinked to my site.

The resultant combination of blogging and linking is volatile: hyperlinks are the oxygen off which the best blogs thrive. Whether it is simply another blogger sending readers to my site via a blogroll link (a sort of blanket “seal of approval”), linking to a specific post, or through submission of blog posts to the virtual watercooler, social bookmarking sites like reddit, twitter, digg, stumbleupon, del.icio.us or facebook, hyperlinks can provide an immense amount of exposure. Of course, the more linked a blog becomes, the more likely it is to be linked: hyperlinks tend to follow a power law distribution. This means that a blog post containing a good idea (or a good blog generally) has the potential to spread virally. It is through being linked that an idea can go from obscurity to widespread consideration in a very brief time.

Perhaps one of the greatest powers of blogging is how all of the above characteristics provide me with a “home” in the Blogosphere. When I write, even as I do it for my own benefits, the writing is done within a community. Random ideas no longer need to stagnate within my mind: I can publish them on my blog and share them with others who are want to hear what I have to say. I contribute to this community in my own peculiar way, blogging on whatever strikes my fancy. I keep tabs on my neighbors by visiting their sites and subscribing to their feeds. Through this community ideas are freed to germinate, mutate, evolve, or cross-fertilize with each other, producing results that can scarcely be predicted but are almost always eye-opening and sometimes even world-changing.

Indeed, that is the benefit of living in any community, in real space or online. Communities provide the potential for fortuitous opportunities — luck, in other words. That’s why we choose to live with and near other human beings. Its why civilization exists. To share, trade, create, and profit from the resulting opportunities. The main difference between communities in real space and those online is that real space communities tend to be set up based on geographical proximity to your neighbors. In a way, proximity still reigns supreme in the blogosphere; however, it’s the proximity of minds, ideas, and intellect. Blogging eliminates physical barriers to intellectual commerce; as a result, more transactions occur and better ideas and communities are created.

It is for all of these reasons that blogging is one of the most dynamic aspects of the Internet. It is changing the way we learn and the speed at which we create and record knowledge. Despite this immense power, most don’t realize the huge upside potential to maintaining little more than a public journal. The reality is that they don’t have to — like me, most bloggers start blogging because they think they’ll enjoy it, and of course, most do. That the practice results in countless other benefits? Bonus.

Do you have a blog? If not, consider setting one up.

Blogging is nothing more than writing down your thoughts and publishing them. Yet doing so can change your life for the better in ways that you can’t currently predict. Anyone can set up a blog for free using services like blogger, livejournal, or wordpress dot com. If you’re feeling more industrious, you can secure your own webhosting, buy a domain name, and work through setting up a wordpress dot org or b2evolution installation. It’s really not all that hard and probably worth the effort if you want to make the most off your productive efforts. However, if you’re a bit intimidated to go this route, just pursue the free versions — you’ve got very little to lose by starting up a blog, and as I’ve illustrated above, a great deal to gain.

Categories
reading

Staying Together by William Glasser

Staying Together by William Glasser

Continuing with my trend of reading books on reality therapy or control/choice theory by William Glasser, I picked up a used copy of Staying Together. This book is subtitled “A control theory guide to a lasting marriage,” and as you might expect, discusses the application of control theory to relationships, specifically marriage.

Dr. Glasser was married to his first wife for 46 years before she died of cancer in 1992. From my perspective, this is anecdotal evidence that control theory can improve the odds that your marriage will be a lasting one.

Having said that, I did not find Staying Together to be as useful as the more detailed and process-oriented Control Theory or the more thought-provoking Positive Addiction. This isn’t to say that there aren’t applicable ideas in Staying Together — there are; however, I’m not sure there is a lot here that can’t be found in Control Theory.

ST is a quick read at around 130 pages. One of the more illuminating quotes from the book is when Glasser discusses “sexual love” and criticism, the latter of which is one of the bigger “no nos” in control theory. First, here is Glasser describing sexual love:

If we can find someone we love who loves us, and if we are able to combine this love with sex, there is a good chance we will enjoy what many people believe is the ultimate intimate experience: sexual love. Finding this is a lot more difficult than just finding sex because it can be experienced only in relationships where the lovers are very good friends. . . .

Friendship is based on sharing common interests, being able to say what’s on your mind without fear of rejection or criticism, planning and building a life together, and most of all looking forward to being with each other when there is nothing pressing to do. And a good friend supports the interests of a partner even when they are not shared. Someone you can talk with anytime about anything is the ultimate in marital friendship. There are too many married strangers.

Glasser goes on to describe how criticism kills sexual love:

More than anything else, hoping yoru partner will change or actively trying to change him or her desroys sexual love. that your dissatisfaction is justified makes no difference. You can be “right” and still kill your relationship. In practice, what this all adds up to is criticism. The criticism may be silent—a look, an inattention, a failure to do something—or it may be open and outspoken. but whatever it is, if your partner perceives it as criticism, your relationship is in trouble.

There is no such thing as constructive criticism. All criticism is destructive, and when it occurs in a relationship, it quickly kills sexual love. . . .

What I try to teach is how to express dissatisfaction without criticizing.

Glasser suggests framing one’s own dissatisfaction in such a way as to put the onus of change on you, not your partner. He says:

This is not criticism because it is not demanding that the other do anything different. It is saying hekllp me to do something better than what I am doing now. . . .

It also says clearly that all problems are our problems; neither of us is perfect, but let’s try to help each other work things out. IT also says what is so basic to control theory: All each of us can do is control our own behavior; I can’t control you and you can’t control me, and I don’t want to continue to waste time trying.

Not surprisingly, the application of control theory is one of two pivotal points in ST. The other pivotal point is that individuals in successful relationships manage to share a commonality in their outlook on the world. This is evidenced in two ways. First, Glasser distills everything down to five fundamental needs that each vary in strength. These needs are survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. The strength of these needs dictates our personality. Without going into detail, he suggests figuring out on a scale of 1-5 where you and your partner fall in strength on these five needs. From this personality profile, you should be able to discern the strengths and weaknesses in your relationship. It’s an interesting exercise, but I feel like his five categories aren’t exactly right. They approximate our needs, but for example, the need for power and freedom seem to overlap in my mind.

Personality is too complex to be summed up in a five need system. Regardless, our personalities clearly dictate a lot of our compatibility with mates. To the extent we can recognize where we are incompatible and mitigate these differences rather than trying to change our partners, we can strengthen our relationships.

Second, Glasser discusses a concept on which he goes into considerably greater detail in Control Theory: this is the notion that we have certain “pictures in our head,” which combine to form our “Quality World.” Essentially, these “pictures” are things, experiences, activities that satisfy our ever-changing desires. To the extent that we share common pictures with our significant others, we increase our chance of marital success. Thus, successful marriages tend to have partners who actively share common pictures, compromise when one partner has a strong picture the other doesn’t, and creatively seek out new common pictures to share.

I’d also like to note that Glasser writes at length regarding the importance of fun and creativity in a marriage. No doubt the married couple that laughs and plays together will end up staying together.

Finally, I want to include one more quote from the book as it almost sums up the importance of not controlling your partner in your marriage:

Of all tasks we attempt in life, successfully managing another person or other people is the most difficult. In marriage, it should not be attempted at all—it is a marriage killer.

On a more general note, and this pervades Glasser’s school of thought, control theory is not about controlling others. It is about controlling yourself and how you behave in the world.

So in sum, I ask myself: how can I better act to improve my relationships by changing the only thing I have control over — my behavior.

Below are all William Glasser books that I have read to date:

  • Control Theory — the most comprehensive and useful of Glasser’s books that I have read, this one covers the basics of control theory (also known as choice theory and reality therapy).
  • Positive Addiction — a more niche focus on acheiving meditation and creative reorganization via pursuit of positive addictions.
  • Staying Together — focuses on applying control theory, the ideas of “pictures in your head” and quality worlds, and matching up basic needs (or accounting for differences in these needs) in relationships.