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The Lifecycle of Precious Ideas

Early in my life, learned to mostly reject the concept that ideas are special, rare and valuable. Once I started keeping an idea notebook to which I regularly added, it dawned on me that I had far too many ideas to ever act upon them all. As you can read in hundreds of other posts, it’s not the idea so much as the execution that counts.

However, there is still one type of idea that sometimes becomes precious – that is, so valuable that I am protective of it. What becomes precious to me is an idea that I’m really excited about, one that I think could help people and really make a difference, but that seems too big or complex for me to execute on immediately. Maybe it’s an idea for a book in a field I am only lightly versed in. Or maybe it’s an idea for an entire online platform that may require months of coding (something I tend to avoid in my personal projects these days).

In other words, what becomes precious to me are ideas I want to execute, but feel like I can’t.

So, I save them. I take notes about them, sometimes promoting them to their own virtual notebook in my preferred app. I think about them and imagine what it would be like to have completed them. But over time, most of these ideas begin to decay and lose their luster, their dry bones becoming heavy and burdensome. And then it will begin to disgust me, and taunt me with the promise I once saw but made no progress towards realizing. So I’ll kill it. Maybe that’s just archiving off the notes somewhere I’ll never look, or maybe deleting it altogether and vowing not to think of it again.

And this is the lifecycle of a precious idea.

I think this is a terrible way to treat something that had once seemed so promising and interesting to me. To be sure, there are times that ideas don’t pan out and should be killed, or changed, or integrated into others. But most often for me, it’s not the idea itself that causes it to wither, but the fear of executing it.

I don’t have the skills!

I don’t have the reputation!

I don’t have the time!

It’s gonna be so much work!

Whining reasons that ultimately kill my best ideas.

I continue to search for the right balance. I know from listening to many creative people that sometimes ideas do need to wait, and almost all ideas can benefit from a little time simmering on the back burner. But surely there must be a way to better manage my ideas so that fewer die under my self-doubt and procrastination.

As I continue to produce more work in public, it makes me understand that some of these precious ideas do have a place – they can be my private projects. I always like working on more than one thing, so my plan for the next year is to always be actively working on one of these precious ideas alongside all the smaller, quicker things I execute.

My theory is that if I make progress on a specific precious idea (that’s more than just adding some notes here and there!) then these bigger projects may continue to be important to me and, instead of withering and disappearing, they can have life and I can have a chance to make impact through them.

I have a book I’ve been lightly working on for a few months, but it’s been some time since I’ve made anything like progress on it. It requires a lot of research – much more than I’ve ever done for a project in the past — and I must not let that deter me.

This is the precious idea I will nurture over the next year. This is the one that will survive and, I hope, thrive.


Why is it so Wrong to be Wrong?

The text "Evolution of Beliefs" behind the universal symbol for "Prohibited"

We aren’t allowed to evolve our beliefs.

As I continue to think about how we may be able to really change minds over the long term, I have been regularly struck by just how horrible our society sees being wrong. Apart from a tiny (and privileged) community in the startup world espousing “fail early and often,” being wrong is seen as anathema today. It seems impossible for anyone to change their minds without being ridiculed and embarrassed. And I don’t think this is only for the Big Things nor is it reserved for well-known people.

Until we can de-stigmatize changing one’s mind, we are likely to make very little progress towards ways to actually do so.

 


Political Jewelry

A small round lapel pin made of antiqued brass displaying a Falsum character (upside-down T) surrounding by the text

Liberty and Justice for All Falsum Pin by William Aaron Waychoff

One of the first thoughts I had for a cohesive line of jewelry was political. Not so much on it’s face – on the surface, it was cute even – but it was commenting on something in society very pointedly.* The most recent jewelry I have developed is political not just in its soul, but on its surface as well. See my Resist post for more on those specifics. I have had many other pieces come to mind that incorporate strong social-commentary.

It seems that I may have a specific interest developing.

I have been thinking about some of the ways that political jewelry works and how it plays in society at both the individual and interpersonal levels. While I approached this a bit dubious of the potential for strong impacts (mainly because I was so interested I was sure there was nothing to find) I now believe that there are very real benefits to what jewelry with a political message can do. Below, I’ll speak briefly about some of these. I’m still exploring this line of thought, and will likely be doing so for years to come, so I’m sure there will be future pieces that focus on refinements and deeper thoughts on all of this.

Primarily Personal Benefits:

Expression and Defiance

Right now, every day before I leave my house, I put on one of my Resist lapel pins, buttons, or necklaces. No matter which I choose to wear on a given day, the act of donning that little sliver of speech makes me feel a jolt of energy, of optimism, of strength. I literally feel a little more like I can face each day and do what is required of me when I put on a falsum. Part of it is because I’m declaring to the world that I have feelings on these matters our country is facing. Part is because standing up to authority, even in such a small way, still feels novel or taboo to me and the thrill of doing so is exhilarating. And certainly part of it is reaffirming, every day, that there are actions I can take that will make this world better. There is some piece of fear buried in there as well, because even such a small thing can definitely make one a target.

It may all be anecdotal at this point, but I’m over the idea that my feelings are unique to myself. They may be far from universal, but I’m not a special snowflake.

Supporting a Cause

By buying a piece of jewelry that advocates for a cause, a purchaser explicitly and implicitly supports that cause. This can be the primary reason for many kinds of purchases. When a product becomes, intentionally or otherwise, associated with a cause, it can be the cause that people are supporting with their cash more than even the desire to own the product. With something like jewelry and other durable goods, the remembrance of that initial support is rekindled every time the purchaser experiences that object. I don’t think this feeling of self-affirmation should be underemphasized. While it would be simplistic to call this selfish behavior, it is important to understand that there is a significant personal gain associated with the purchase and wearing of political jewelry. With jewelry in particular, this personal reward seems important.

Finding a Voice and Acceptance

Certainly every artist I know wants to create in a way that resonates, attracts, and speaks to at least some others. While this can, and often is, a purely aesthetic attraction, it is not limited to that. Political jewelry has the opportunity to appeal to wearers both on an aesthetic and activist level. Many items that classify as non-essential likely fall into this category. (Branded apparel, art objects, stickers, etc.) The idea that something resonates with a large crowd brings value to both the creator and the consumer. In cases, it can be the driving force behind the artist’s energy. Without the possibility of such a payoff, some artists surely would pursue different directions in life. But without art that resonates with them, many consumers would not pursue the world of artistic or designed products at all.

Primarily Interpersonal Benefits:

Discovery

To use the language of online advertisers, wearing political jewelry can help surface content relevant to viewer’s interests. When someone sees another wearing an intriguing piece of jewelry that is either enigmatic or obviously aligned with particular views, the likelihood of a personal interaction between the viewer and the wearer likely increases. This can lead to viewers being introduced to new causes, new voices, and new perspectives. The wearer can similarly be exposed. In the most excellent circumstances, the two can both find new connections and friends.
Certainly I have had this experience multiple times of late due to my daily wear of the falsum jewelry.

Commerce

Like it or not, we currently live in a capitalistic society. My personal beliefs on capitalism are complex, but we have a very deeply entrenched set of rules for how things are to be rewarded in our society. Part of that includes the exchange of money for just about everything. I think it’s easy to criticize creators for “capitalizing” on hard or tragic events, and surely it happens in inappropriate ways all the time. But apart from independant wealth, a creator has got to eat and, ideally, money for that food comes from selling the creator’s works. It always seems harder when there is a cause involved, especially one as big as the direction of the worlds most powerful country in the years and decades to come. But profiting off one’s creative work is an integral part of how our society currently works. I work really hard to be fair-to-generous when selling my political work, as do many others. People do tacky things sometimes, though.

Solidarity & Conformity 

I’ve thought about this deeply and I think it’s best summarized simply. People are more likely to act when they know that they are not alone in their thoughts and feelings. Symbols, as potentially expressed in political jewelry, broadcast the wearer’s beliefs on certain subjects. The idea that others around you share similar thoughts and feelings can be very powerful. It gives us permission to believe the things we believe. It gives us strength to act. This, I think, is possibly the most important part of political jewelry. Wearing it and sharing it gives us strength. Strength makes it possible to act. Only action leads to change.
Additionally, when someone who is out of the loop sees the appearance of a new symbol or motif, whether they know what it means or not, it can put pressure on them to find out what it means and there is a certain social pressure toward believing the same concepts that is exerted.

These aspects and the way they interact are the most interesting concepts of the bunch to me and the one I’ve thought most about. Expect more on this soon.
Surely there are other ways that political jewelry plays with our psyches and societies, but I think this list is enough to convince me to embrace it further. I think that there is a lot of jewelry, a lot of messages, and a lot of study packed into this concept.

* I’m being cagey here only because, after years, I’m in active development on this and talking about current projects in specifics somehow lets the magic out for me. I’ll try to remember to link this post to the project announcement when it eventually comes.


Common Sense Frustrates Me

Courtesy Ethan Lofton, Flickr

I have recently completed a psychology course at a local college. This survey-level course was required by a lot of various majors, and suggested widely to undecided students. Because of this, the majority of the students would never again set foot in a psychology classroom. The instructor, a seasoned pro at this class, understood this well and structured the class to provide a very practical education in the field, one that students could take away and apply, immediately, to their lives. I am a big fan of this approach as it did no harm to those of us who (at the time) planned on a continued education in the field, but provided much more to those who didn’t. However, there was a common appeal that surfaced again and again in class: most of this is just common sense.

I have been distrustful of this phrase and concept for ages, but it became very clear in the course of this class just how problematic (and nearly useless) this concept has become in our age. I think there are three very specific reasons (among others, for sure) that inform my feelings on this.

First, “common sense” is anything but common. The ways that culture, media exposure, specific upbringing, social class, etc. plays into our lives, no one has enough of a common background for the assumptions and “obvious” answers they may formulate to an issue to be so similar as to call theym common. I may have learned, growing up, that small transgressions of rule are best handled with an iron fist. You may have learned that the same situations are best handled with forgiveness and education. When confronted with a situation that calls on us to handle a transgression of rule, you and I will have very different “common sense” ways of dealing with it.

Additionally, “common sense” is not particularly sensible. We could substitute a varitey of phrases for “common sense” such as “gut feeling” or “intuition.” The gist is that we somehow know, deep down, the right answer to a problem making careful, detailed analysis unnecessary to render a verdict in a situation. However, we know that this is simply not the case. Common sense would mean that insignificant numbers of people would smoke, that the economy would be an open book, and that other complex systems would be laid bare if we just dug deep enough within ourselves.

That brings me to the third reason that reliance on common sense frustrates me. Our world is far too complex to suss out with a feeling. Now, I’m not denying that experts in a field develop an innate ability to evaluate a situation fairly accurately without the same analysis as others may need, but this situation is outside the realm of “common” as we usually use it. (Experts, for instance, usually know what does need specific analysis and, rather than evaluating an entire problem using their guts, they usually use their narrow version of common sense to understand how to better tackle the problem) For most of us, the systems we try to judge through our common sense are simply far too complex, with far more hidden variables and repercussions than we can be aware of. Yet I think it’s human nature to simplify to the point that we do think we can make a judgement about a situation. By discarding and collapsing complexity, we shape a situation into one that seems familiar to us and that we can easily formulate a “solution” to. This is innate in us, and a very useful trait, but one that seems to get us in trouble all the time.

I would like us to stop treating complex issues as ones that can be solved with common sense. I think there is a place for it, as flawed as it is, but it’s at a specific scale. For instance, if we use common sense in the application of core principles to laws, we may write better laws. (flawed, still, but better.) If we use common sense to evaluate small aspects of complex systems, it can help us build up a better idea of the whole. (still flawed, but useful) If we use common sense to evaluate our own actions as they relate to others, we may act better towards people. (maybe I’m dreaming.) But in all these cases, common sense can only be used as a small part of a full systematic evaluation, not as a simple way to pass judgement or make decisions.

I really wish we would learn that things are too complex for simple evaluations.


Where my rights end

I have a basic philosophy that comes up in conversation quite a bit. I find it very useful to understand how rights in a civil society could be balanced using a simple refrain. It goes like this:

My rights end where yours begin.

This statement, if applied universally to all, leads to much clearer boundaries between people in society. I like to imagine the sphere of rights afforded each of us as small bubbles, pressed together like an n-dimensional foam. We all butt up against others, and others us, but none of us intrudes upon one another.

So, while I have the right to believe that a golden monkey rules existence, I don’t have the right to force your belief (or appearance of belief) in the same.

I sometimes extend this further.

You have the right to believe in murder as a fun thing to do. You even have the right to commit murder, I suppose. But others have a right not be be murdered. Since exercising your desired right to murder would infringe other’s right not to be murdered, you aren’t allowed to kill people. You are allowed to believe it’s OK to do so, but you don’t get to actually do it. (This does lend a different moral perspective to the occasional, and usually sensational stories of willing victims of murder.)

So then things get complicated.

Which right is to be protected more, the right to murder or the right to live? The right to believe in a deity or the right to live without such encumbrances? The right to a basic, living wage or the right to vast sums of wealth?

It seems there is no answer to this without a sense of just what we consider basic human rights, enumerations of which have been plentiful over existence, but meaningful application in society always seems to fall short.

But if we can come to consensus on what protected rights should be, I think my concept is useful for better understanding the limits of an individual’s rights.


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