May 24th, 2016 · 14 comments
The Deliberate Creative
Last month, Scott Barry Kaufman posted an article titled “Creativity is Much More Than 10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice.”
Kaufman was responding to Peak: Anders Ericsson’s recent book on expert performance.
At the core of Kaufman’s critique is the idea that deliberate practice does not work well for “almost any creative domain” [emphasis his].
As he summarizes:
Deliberate practice is really important for fields such as chess and instrumental performance because they rely on consistently replicable behaviors that must be repeated over and over again. But not all domains of human achievement rely on consistently replicable behaviors. For most creative domains, the goals and ways of achieving success are constantly changing, and consistently replicable behaviors are in fact detrimental to success.
This discussion caught my attention because my day job is the quintessential creative endeavor. As a theoretical computer scientist, I solve math proofs for a living. To conjure something that makes it past the brutally competitive peer review process in my field usually requires an original approach that makes progress where other really smart people have been stuck.
This reality is why I’m able to draw with some confidence from a well of personal experience when I note that I strongly disagree with Kaufman.
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May 20th, 2016 · 6 comments
A quick and final reminder: registration for the next session of Top Performer closes Friday at Midnight PT (so that we can get started on Monday).
If you’re still considering, the course home page should hold answers to all of your questions.
May 18th, 2016 · 11 comments
Ready Thinker One
Earlier this month, I demoed the HTC Vive virtual reality system. I was impressed. The Vive uses wall-mounted sensors that track your movements as you walk around a virtual space and interact with it using handheld wands.
The effect can be quite immersive.
At one point in the demo, I found myself in a small science lab. I could walk around and explore whirring gadgets on shelves. On a whim, I crouched down and peered under a sink and examined the pipes underneath.
It’s a scene straight out of Cline…but with less Dungeons and Dragons references.
Yesterday, however, I had a revelation about this technology. After giving a speech about deep work, I participated in a discussion with local entrepreneurs. Someone asked me what role virtual reality might play in supporting deep work.
A light bulb went off in my head. The answer was clear: potentially a lot!
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May 16th, 2016 · 2 comments
The Return of Top Performer
Last fall, Scott Young and I launched the first session of Top Performer — an online course we spent over three years developing. As you might recall, Top Performer provides a systematic curriculum for:
- identifying the skills that matter most in your profession;
- constructing a deliberate plan to improve them rapidly; and
- finding the time in your already busy schedule to consistently make progress on this endeavor.
The first session was a great success, so we’re opening up a new session. Between now and midnight Friday the Top Performer course is open again for sign ups.
If you’re interested in finding out more you can visit the course web site which contains: detailed descriptions of the motivation, curriculum, and FAQs. There is also a video walkthrough and numerous video case studies from first session students. You can also view the overview video above.
I’ll post another short note around 24 hours before the end of the sign up period. But that’s the last I’ll talk about this for a while.
I know online courses (and the sales process surrounding them) is not everyone’s cup of tea. If this includes you, please ignore this — we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming shortly.
May 12th, 2016 · 7 comments
The Deep Life of Edwin Land
Edwin Land is famous for co-founding the Polaroid Corporation, but he’s also known as one of the twentieth century’s most innovative inventors. In addition to his famed work on instant film development, his research on polarizing filters led to many breakthroughs.
“What was Land like?…He was a true visionary,” is how his friend Elkan Bout described him.
What interests me most about Land, however, was his work habits. Here he is in a 1975 interview with Forbes magazine talking about his approach to innovation:
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May 4th, 2016 · 9 comments
The Economic Operating System
I recently read Douglas Rushkoff’s provocative new book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.
Rushkoff is a media theorist, but this book falls comfortably into the area of big think economics. Its premise is that the underlying “operating system” of our economy — capital growth above all else — is not a fundamental law of markets, but was instead something selected four hundred years ago for some less than noble reasons.
(For a more grounded take on the same premise see Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, which, if you’ll excuse a bit of trivia, was also a titular inspiration for my most recent book.)
Its Implications on Distraction
I’m not as interested as Rushkoff in making a moral judgment on the nuances of our market economy — a discussion above my pay grade.
What caught my attention with respect to our conversation here was the conclusion, implicit in his argument, that many of the features that have built the Internet into a weapon of mass distraction are not intrinsic to the medium, but are instead a side-effect of its cooption as a tool for capital growth.
That’s a heavy sentence. Let me attempt to unload it…
- Rushkoff notes that after the biotech crash of the 1980’s, investors needed a new sector that could continue to fuel capital growth.
- The Internet filled this role. Among other things, it exposed net users’ attention and personal data as an under-exploited resource that could be extracted and sold, and therefore support growth much in the way colonizing a country and extracting minerals from the ground once did.
- As in any extractive industry, the more resources you can mine, the better. This led the way to attention engineering and the general/inevitable push to make applications and sites as addictive as possible.
- This capital-driven push toward maximum addictiveness led to the shiny tangle of apps and infotainment sites that have become the bane of potential deep workers worldwide.
This is an important distinction.
When I take a stand against social media, in other words, I’m not taking a stand against the contents of your feed, but am instead taking a stand against these large companies’ insistence that the intrinsic value of my attention should flow into their coffers instead of being directed by me toward deep work on things I find important.
Rushkoff’s observations, however, do more than fuel righteousness. They also provide hope.
The Internet can and should be a source of peer-to-peer connection, serendipity, interestingness, and even revenue generation. But we shouldn’t necessarily expect the venture-backed corporations sprinting to generate 100x returns to be the best source of these rewards.
April 29th, 2016 · 15 comments
Top Performer Returns
Last October, Scott Young and I launched an online course called Top Performer, which teaches knowledge workers how to apply the insights of deliberate practice to excel professionally. The first session of the course was a big success, so, by popular demand, we’re going to open up a new session later in May.
To help prepare for this new session, Scott and I wrote a series of articles that share the most interesting insights we’ve learned from the over 1000 individuals who have gone through our curriculum to date.
We’ll be posting these articles over the next two weeks only on our email newsletters (to keep our respective blogs tidy).
Therefore, if you’re intrigued by the idea of deliberate practice in the workplace, sign up for my newsletter using the form at the top of my right sidebar.
If you already receive my posts in your inbox from me (e.g., and not from Google) then you’re all set. Similarly, if you already receive Scott’s posts by email — and if you don’t, you should! — you’re also all set.
What to Expect from the Launch Process
I know some of you don’t like when I sell things (e.g., this course, my books), so I want to let you know in advance exactly what to expect from this launch process…
The article series mentioned above will be published on our email lists over the next two weeks. After those two weeks, we will briefly open Top Performer for sign-ups, so there will probably be a flurry of 2 – 3 posts/reminders on the blog and email list surrounding that short window.
And that’s it.
April 22nd, 2016 · 17 comments
A Deep Case Study
Tom works in marketing for a venture-backed tech start-up in Silicon Valley. After reading Deep Work, he realized that prioritizing uninterrupted concentration would help him excel in his job, which centers on cognitively demanding research and writing.
But he despaired that regular deep work was impossible given his company’s culture.
As he explained:
Our company uses email and Slack as our primary means of communication. I get so many emails and chat messages every day, and there’s this unspoken expectation in my department that if someone emails/messages you, you should respond almost immediately, even if you were in the middle of something. If you didn’t respond quick enough people would assume that you were slacking off (this expectation was especially strong with instant messages).
Communication environments of this type are increasingly common in knowledge work (and near ubiquitous in tech). And they can be quite distressing.
As Tom admitted, he really didn’t get much “actual work done,” as his days were filled with “putting out fires” and “reacting to other people’s needs.”
Fortunately, however, all hope was not lost…
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