sometimes i get so bent on being productive, i forget that there are benefits of slowing down and being counter productive. last night, overwhelmed with everything i wanted to do, i laid back on the couch and listened to some ambient brian eno records. about a half hour later, i had slowed down my brain enough to think about some of my challenges in a different light. in particular, i figured out more of what i wanted to make for my ongoing virtual reality projects using a-frame.
similarly, i’ve noticed that some of the content that icrave is non-committal. With music, youtube videos, and podcasts, i can enjoy the content passively while doing other things, which is kind of the opposite of how i usually operate, with full intensity and without distractions. how can you venture in the opposite direction in order to return with some fresh perspective?
it’s easy to think that our brains work like books – everything written out in a linear fashion, with clear connections from one thing to another. this is flat out not the case. our brains connects information using a myriad of different channels, and this web of connectivity is changing and, by definition, creative.
sometimes words of phrases stick. it might be a jingle or something a friend mentioned at dinner yesterday. sometimes it’s an idea that i read in a book long ago. but at any given moment, i’m juggling these bits of information in my head, playing with them, in order to see if any of them fit in nicely to my present situation.
sometimes, a lot of these echoes fit in all at once, and i call that an epiphany. what echoes are floating around your head? do you have any ideas that you can’t shake?
i’m currently reading “the future of the internet and how to stop it” by harvard law professor jonathan zittrain. the chapter i am currently on defines generative systems, or things that people can build other things with. a lot of tools online are generative, though some or non-generative. jonathan suggests that generative systems push innovation a little bit better, and are more receptive to new ideas.
there are a delightful couple of pages in which zittrain tells us the difference between generative and non-generative products. legos are generative, while a dollhouse is not. a knife is generative, while a potato peeler is not. you get the gist – a generative tool allows for its user to do a lot of creative things with it. currently, i use a generative system called glitch (link). it’s a website that teaches its users how to code. it is full of tools and building blocks intended to build web apps. i’ve made some tiny vr environments, algorithms that write poems, and yesterday i toyed around with maps.
if you are lucky enough to find yourself in a generative situation, i encourage you to play. you’ll innovate and create something new just by having a good time, and by seeing what directions your new tools create.
i know i fall into this trap: i think a lot about an idea and don’t do anything about it. if you have the time, the best thing you can do with an idea is put it to use. for example, i wanted to see what it was like to sell products on a retail platform called gumroad. i thought about it for months, until finally this past week i tried it out and learned 10x more than i would have from just reading about the site.
startup-lingo and innovators call the testing your ideas “prototyping”. you build a simple, shitty version of the think you’d like to try and see if it works. making a paper boat is prototyping for building a bigger, more complicated boat. the question with prototypes is often “will this work?”. and, more often than not, we discover that we have a lot more questions than when we initially started.
if you are interested in new and emerging technologies, prototyping is indispensable. theory must be paired with practice. all the things you learn in school should ideally be applied in the real world to see how they work. true learning, in my opinion, is hands on in this sense. if you build a small prototype of your business, your product, or artistic idea, you are positioned to continue to learn one thousand times more than the folks who just sit around and muse.