Monthly Archives: November 2010

Knowing when to stop can help you start

I have recently finished the current series of my internet radio show. It was broadcast every Sunday for around 2 hours. When I started the project, I decided that there would be a controlling theme. I include only songs that start with a certain letter. What I didn’t realise, which must count as one of the most stupid things imaginable, is that using the alphabet meant that there would also be a natural end.

The discipline of having to find good and interesting songs starting with certain letters is actually pretty helpful to the creative process. It helps in that it makes it impossible to throw something together, you have to invest the time in the selection or people can see right away that you’ve missed obvious things. I still miss obvious songs, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because I sadly don’t have perfect recall of every song – but of course everyone remembers their own favourite songs.

But having the constraint also adds the prospect of an end. Of course in theory I could go around again, with all of the letters, there are certainly enough songs on some of the letters (although two more hours on Q might be a stretch even for my music collection). But simply repeating oneself is, of course, less creatively interesting.

I was thinking about how having an obvious end was a real problem just when I happened to be having dinner with Christine and Mr C from Sidepodcast (where the comments for my radio show are hosted). They had recently made a big shift with their podcast to help them pursue other creative challenges (among other reasons). While it would seem that Formula One has end points in the form of seasons, the sport just keeps creating news even in the off season. The point is that you don’t get to set and control the constraint. They suggested that in fact having a natural end where people expected things to end might be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

As I reached the end of my current run I got to think about the things that have worked well, and the things that have been less successful. The parts that the audience have enjoyed and the parts that I have enjoyed. It’s an interesting mix. On the S show, for example, there were so many fantastic songs that I snuck in a special show so that I could get in all of the songs that I needed. On the Q show it was hard work to find the music. However, on these harder shows I get to play more of the songs that I really enjoy playing. I really love playing songs that I think people will like but haven’t heard before. On the really popular letters I often feel pressure to drop those songs in favour of the classics. Also some people regularly feel that there are more songs that they wish they could hear, where others want me to talk more between the songs.

The interesting question, as I was thinking about all of this, is how do you think about that kind of thing with a blog? Blogs often, by their nature, have no set plan or pattern. This one certainly doesn’t. I started thinking that maybe it should… Then I started thinking about how that would work… And then I stopped.

One of the great advantages of blogging is that it removes many of the barriers to starting. When you are writing a book, for example, you can get caught up in the planning stage very easily. You get stuck in the bit I call “colouring in the revision timetable”. It’s very easy to end up spending far too much time colouring in your revision timetable, putting exactly the right balance of hours for each subject in to the grid. Then you realise that you have spent so much time doing the timetable that you’ve eaten into a whole chunk of the revision time, so you really need to redo the revision timetable. This pathology can get so bad that you begin to realise that you really are running out of time, so you now know that you have to get the revision timetable absolutely right or you will never get anywhere. You wouldn’t do something as foolish as that of course. I mean until you get that iPad, its valid that you haven’t done any blogging because its worth having the right tools for the job… In fact it’s easy to see that until you find that right theme in WordPress, you can’t really write anything.

We all do these things, of course we do. And one of the beauties of the blog is that it can be your low friction publishing place.

So I think a plan, which means knowing when to stop, can help you start. But sometimes it can stop you from starting. It’s important to know when to do which.

What is natural?

Imagine you are standing out in the countryside on a wonderful beautiful day. You are standing by a field of corn (or maize depending on how you look at things). The heads of corn wave in the breeze. Isn’t it lovely to get back to nature? Except what is natural about the scene? Man created this situation – corn can’t self propagate. It didn’t exist until man bred it into being a foodstuff. And it can’t now survive without us. It has helped our population grow. It’s in almost everything (including a can of Coke). And if it disappeared overnight we wouldn’t be able to support our population. We created something that we now depend on.

Let’s leave that field in the countryside and head to ancient Greece. Socrates is upset by the modern kids of today.

Why do children waste all of their time today playing dice and writing poetry?

Everybody, and I mean everybody, forever, has been pessimistic about the next generation and everybody, and I mean everybody, forgets that what is man-made would have seemed totally unnatural to previous generations. People want things to return to, “how they always were”, when what they usually mean is, “return to how they fleetingly were when I was young”.

It’s a fools errand to predict the future, but I’m optimistic. The more the world connects the more the it understands. The more the world connects the more educated people get and that can only help.

Lots of people are scared about the next generation of technologies. Will artificial technology take over and rule us? What about genetically modified food? Well, if you didn’t know that corn was man-made by breeding and essentially is not natural (it is the way it is for our benefit, making it so has made it sterile), then maybe we need to learn more about it rather than just being scared of it?

What do you think people are scared of now, but which soon will feel perfectly natural?