Mindsets for Working
A collection of headspaces I find myself moving between in my work.
> Sustaining doubt is harder work than sliding into certainty.
— Daniel Kahneman
Apple's developer documentation used to be top notch, what happened in the last 5 years?
One thing I've learned to accept is that things like quality have never come from the company as a whole. Almost all the time, the quality you see is down to a small number of humans who gave a shit. And when those people leave, it's over.
The kitchen now, for me, is a place of ownership and control and (very very low-level) mastery in a way it has never been before. Plop me in the middle of it and I am certain I can make something delicious in 20 minutes given whatever is at hand. I have never felt this way before, and may never have gotten to this place without forced isolation. I’ve cooked every meal here for the last two months. It has unlocked a delight and culinary eroticism that was hitherto a great self-mystery, but now I get it I get it. The kitchen, food, owning this space — this is the grit of life. And I realize how “sheltered dumb” this sounds, like I’m some ding-dong that just discovered that water is delicious when slaking thirst, but — ye upon your high horses — I have been “cooking” (almost) daily for decades. The point is: I had never taken whatever that next step was towards full ownership.
This reminds me of meditation practice (or any practice, for that matter) as well. Once a week for decades gets you almost nowhere (I know, I’ve done that); allows at best for you to say “I do meditation” and acquire the requisite mats and towels, sitting pillows, singing bowls. Whereas ten hours a day for ten days straight can provide you with a tool for life.
Not just big-loop repetition, but tight-loop, highly iterative, sustained repetition.
— Craig Mod, Boules, Earning Tools, Photography News, Repetition
To give some idea of what it could mean for a concept to be metaphorical and for such a concept to structure an everyday activity, let us start with the concept argument and the conceptual metaphor argument is war. This metaphor is reflected in our everyday language by a wide variety of expressions:
We don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent … Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war.
Now, try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war: where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. People would view arguments differently, experience them differently, carry them out differently, and talk about them differently.
Let us consider the new metaphor love is a collaborative work of art.
Our personal views of work and art give rise to at least the following entailments for this metaphor:
Some of these entailments are metaphorical (eg. love is an aesthetic experience); others are not (eg. love involves shared responsibility). Each of these entailments may themselves have further entailments. The result is a large and coherent network of entailments, which may, on the whole, either fit or not fit our experiences of love … what we experience with such a metaphor is a kind of reverberation down through the network of entailments that awakens and connects our memories of our past love experiences and services as a possible guide for future ones.
> Many people falsely believe that I have some sort of crazy memory for clips and movies. Not really. I just keep everything organized. I’m an editor; this was beaten into me … For “Vancouver Never Plays Itself” we used footage from 85 different films, but there were actually over 200 films in the project file. Keeping everything organized and annotated was the only way I could find anything.
> The first time I watch something, I watch it with a notebook. The second time I watch it, I use FCPX and keyword anything that interests me.
> Keywords group everything in a really simple, visual way. This is how I figured out to cut from West Side Story to Transformers. From Godzilla to I, Robot. From Jackie Chan to Marvel films.
One of my favorite general pieces of advice is "you can decide what you want but you can't decide what it will cost you." You can decide to be a builder and an engineer but it probably won't come with the adulation you feel for Jamie Zawinski or Alan Kay. And if you talk to most people who are admired and have a lot of adulation, even if it's deserved, it's not something they tend to say they relish. They tend to still relish the work they valued for themselves and feel the adulation is overblown or doesn't actually give them anything of substance.
So, now I come to the part where I make my plea: no new tools, please. If you are interested in improving how people work, you should devise methods for work, manners of behavior, and methods of decision making. Document your ideology and apply it with existing tools, so nearly anyone can follow along. Why don’t you use our best tool? Language. Increasingly, I feel documentation beats an app if you’re trying to shepherd an idea along. This approach seems to have worked pretty well for David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Josh Clark’s Couch to 5K. Of course there are innumerable apps supporting each method, but the ideas are bigger than an app, so you don’t need to download anything. Buy a notebook or put on your running shoes. Commit to the plan. They are not leaky buckets.
Consider making a program for people, not a program for a computer. I don’t want a new app to help me do work; I want different ways to think about work so I can get more done. It’s a nuanced difference, but I think it is an important one.