Topics: literature

The Dance of the Possible [review]

If you want a better understanding of how creativity works, put down your phone and give The Dance of the Possible your attention. Or, read it on your phone. It has 31 quick and easy-to-read chapters that are perfect for a commute, or as mental fodder as you wind down your day. And it’s all done with a touch of humor that includes Scott Berkun’s obsession with shouting “papaya” out of moving vehicles.

Because (for better or worse) I read lots of book on creativity, I was familiar with much of the material, from how no idea is truly original, to how creativity is rarely efficient and how you can constructively frame the narrative when your work is ignored. However, I still think it’s important to get these reminders that may very well fish you out of the next motivational rut.

But it’s also unlikely you’ll say there’s nothing new here. There’s a chapter that reveals how improvisation can help you become a better thinker, teacher, and human being. Another chapter discusses the difference between requesting feedback and encouragement, and how to go about asking for each. I hadn’t thought about how when we ask for feedback, it’s not always what we want.

What I enjoyed most about this book is it’s celebration of how special any of us are that do creative work. It’s neither easy nor convenient, but it is amazing. And while the modern world is obsessed with making things faster and easier, we shouldn’t be looking for alternatives to committing to the discipline of honoring our ideas.

Books are perhaps the greatest deal out there when it comes to changing your life, but don’t expect this one (or any book) to be your pivotal moment. Like creativity, it’s going to be the product of everything you consume and the time you put in to actually do the work.

Buy on: Amazon

Deep Work [review]

Recently, I’ve become incredibly frustrated with the amount of things vying for my attention. There are people sure, but also email, texts, meetings, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Slack—it’s overwhelming and makes me inclined to respond with a firm “fuck off.”

The problem is what the always connected state does to concentration and focus. I knew my work quality was suffering. It led me to pick up Deep Work by Cal Newport for some answers, or at the very least some potential solutions. What it ended up being is one of the most important books about work, creativity, and getting what you want out of life that I’ve ever read.

Newport is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown, and although you might expect him to blindly embrace all new technology, he doesn’t. He’s careful to weigh both problems and benefits, while still considering other viewpoints or individual circumstances. While I won’t try to relay everything I found interesting, I wanted to leave you with three takeaways I had.

1) Focus matters. The masters of any field are incredibly focused and have a exceptional ability to concentrate. If you want to be that good, you need dedicated time to focus. The other reason deep focus is worth harnessing is that it enables us to learn difficult things fast. This is a crucial skill to have when the world changes so quickly. Success is not about knowing everything, it’s about your ability to adapt and never stop learning.

2) Attention residue is real. We’re not robots. I was familiar with switching costs, but the reason that happens is that when you stop doing a given task, your brain is still working on it in the background after you think you’ve stopped engaging in that activity. One strategy can be to schedule out blocks of your day and what specifically they will be used for. Make sure to build in some time for breaks or rest between activities.

3) Just because something has a benefit doesn’t mean you should do it. Applying this to social media, Newport discusses how we are often quick to defend use of platforms because there’s some benefit. Our thinking is that we don’t want to miss out, or that it can’t hurt. The reality is that it can hurt because it’s detracting from something else. Instead of being active on Facebook, for example, you may have been able to use that time to learn a new skill, exercise, or spend time with a close friend. A good approach is to list out what your priorities are. If your top priorities were say, to become a better photographer and invest in a few close relationships, you might consider eliminating Facebook and Instagram. It’s hard because you might think back to a time where you found someone on Instagram you ended up collaborating with or became good friends with someone through Facebook, but it’s not the best way to achieve your desired outcome. Be smart about what you use.

You don’t have to agree with every point Cal makes in this book to make it worthwhile. The nice thing is that you decide what warrants experimentation, but I’d be shocked if you read the whole thing and didn’t find a few useful strategies that dwarf the cost of the book and your time spent reading it. Give this one a shot.

Buy on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck [review]

I feel like a grew up a little more after reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. And in a good way. Mark’s latest work is all about getting people to think with more clarity about what we’re choosing to find important in life and what we aren’t. Some would call this basic maturity, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t grasp it. Hell, I know I could do a better job of it.

But before this title is thrown into a heap along with the other billion self-development books out there, let me say that it’s a bit different. It’s not a magical guide to live life better or cure you of anything, and Manson is careful to tell you that upfront. But it could help turn some of your life’s problems into better ones.


While there is no surefire path to do that, it’s refreshing how Manson readily admits that humans have always made mistakes about what they claim to be true. As a human, he reminds us that he could be wrong about some of counterintuitive approach in this book. I trust him even more for admitting this.

Here are a few takeaways from the book I found worth mentioning:

On having a limited amount of fucks to give – Core to Manson’s book is that as much as it may be praised, there’s no one that doesn’t give a fuck about anything. With that being said, humans have a limited amount of fucks to give without going completely insane or giving up. It would be wise to consider what we want to spend our time and energy on.

On the pursuit of pleasure –  While there is no one cause, a lot of modern life has us in the constant pursuit of pleasure, almost to the point where we don’t think we should ever face any discomfort. While we may think we want a perfect life, Manson makes the case that happiness comes from solving our problems. Besides, you are never going to be able to dodge all of life’s problems. A better course of action may be to spend sometime figuring out what pain you want in your life and what is worth struggling for. It’s the struggle that defines our character.

On values – It’s possible to have shitty values, or to use a euphemism, values that don’t serve you. Manson mentions that we may want to carefully consider (and question) what we value, even if it’s something you feel like is universally accepted as good.

By the time I finished this book, I had pages and pages of material highlighted to revisit and I certainly can’t cover that all now. But if you enjoy brash commentary, humor, and thought-provoking conversation, I recommend you take a chance on this title. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book that may be the perfect example:

“To not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action. While not giving a fuck may seem simple on the surface, it’s a whole new bag of burritos under the hood. I don’t even know what that sentence means, but I don’t give a fuck. A bag of burritos sounds awesome, so let’s just go with it.”

Buy it: Amazon | Barnes & NobleIndiebound

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