From the category archives:


I have some quibbles with some of his conclusions, but there are a few points worth culling from Merlin Mann’s speech at MacWorld this past January:

  • “Creativity is a way of seeing the world, it is a way of behaving, it is a way of understanding how things that may seem unrelated could actually be related.”
  • “When you become a professional creative person, having ideas is the least of your problems.”
  • “Ideas are cheap, making them into something awesome is super-hard.”
  • “Even if it’s just something you do as an avocation — for fun — it’s a job. It’s work.”
  • “There’s stuff you want to do that you may not even realize you want to do.”

His general themes — that creative endeavours require work, sacrifice and blocks of uninterrupted time, and that there may be archetypal patterns to making ideas into something we can share and interact with — are spot on.

There’s also a video on YouTube but it’s 27 minutes, with technical difficulties and a fair bit of wandering jocularity, which is why I’m presenting a condensed version here.


The Guardian (and the BBC) report on the revival of a World War II-era poster:

Keep Calm And Carry On

Keep Calm And Carry On

So much for stiff upper lip. It sounds rather limp to me.

Whatever it might have meant to a population under the threat of Nazi invasion, does it apply to the current global economic downturn?

Matt Jones offers a worthy riposte:

Don't keep calm and carry on.

The change of color reflects the difference in sentiments nicely, too.

via Merlin Mann


Clay Shirky, on the future of newspapers:

“In craigslist’s gradual shift from ‘interesting if minor’ to ‘essential and transformative’, there is one possible answer to the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.”

“For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.”

And for journalism, I think we can also substitute music, film, and just about every form of digital art.


Planet Money had a great piece yesterday on a third-grader’s cake-based confidence game:

“Even, at a certain point, I believed in the cake, even though I’d made it up. Because I just imagined the hero’s welcome I was going to receive when they wheeled this Technicolor, baked colossus into the schoolyard, and how incredible it was going to be,” Bearman says. “So there was this mutually reinforcing psychology: We all just bought into the idea of this cake.”


Kevin Kelly proposed a model for how artists can make a living without striving — and compromising — for a blockbuster hit:

“One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

In response, Robert Rich explains what a Sisyphean task this can be:

“The sort of artist who survives at the long tail is the sort who would be happy doing nothing else, who willingly sacrifices security and comfort for the chance to communicate something meaningful, hoping to catch the attention of those few in the world who seek what they also find meaningful. It’s a somewhat solitary existence, a bit like a lighthouse keeper throwing a beam out into the darkness, in faith that this action might help someone unseen.”

And references evolution to explain the risks of creating within and for a small community:

“Evolutionary biology shows us one metaphor for this trap of stylistic boundaries, in terms of species diversity and inbreeding (ref. E.O. Wilson). When a species sub-population becomes isolated, its traits start to diverge from the larger group to eventually form a new species. Yet under these conditions of isolation, genetic diversity can decrease and the new environmentally specialized species becomes more easily threatened by environmental changes. The larger the population, the less risk it faces of inbreeding. If that population stays connected to the main group of its species, it has the least chance of overspecialization and the most chance for survival in multiple environments.

This metaphor becomes relevant to Artists and True Fans because our culture can get obsessed with ideas of style and demographic. When an artist relies on such intense personal commitment from such a small population, it’s like an animal that relies solely upon the fruit of one tree to survive. This is a recipe for extinction. Distinctions between demographics resemble mountain ranges set up to divide one population from another. I prefer a world where no barriers exist between audiences as they define themselves and the art they love. I want a world of mutts and cross-pollinators.  I would feel more comfortable if I thought I had a broader base of people interested in my work, not just preaching to the choir.”

A world of mutts and cross-pollinators? Count me in!

Kelly returns with a roundup of what he has heard from other artists, and more doubts. Is the number 5000? Or does it start creeping back up towards stardom again?

“Micro patronage has always been an option, and indeed a part of, most artist’s livelihood. What is different now is the reach and power of technology, which makes it much easier to match up an artist with the right passionate micro patrons, keep them connected, serve them up created works, get payment from them directly, and nurture their interest and love.”

No definitive conclusions, but all worth a read…

(A hat tip to whomever added the original link to the cre8camp Portland page.)


Some gleanings from cre8camp Portland last Saturday, which is described as:

…an unconference for creative industries professionals. It is an ad-hoc gathering for participants to learn, network and share in an open environment with discussions, demos and interaction all led by the attendees.

Note: Sorry, I didn’t catch everyone’s name, so where I haven’t given credit to a specific person, I’ll give joint credit to the people on this list.


The final grid! On your mark, get set...

The Final Grid (photo by @stevek on Flickr)

  • In the vote to determine the day’s schedule, I was amused that the “Productivity” session received zero votes. Are we just all GTD’d out?

Oregon Creative Industries

Marketing and Self-Promotion

  • Market to behaviors, not demographic slices.
  • Check out the social media, but don’t stay at the big sites like Facebook.  Follow through to where the real communities are having conversations.
  • The importance of self-awareness: Have a complete and well-formed sense of your own identity before presenting it to the world, where it will be diluted by perception, context, etc.

Getting Unstuck

  • Make a piece of art, and give it away.
  • Bram Pitoyo: Break the work down into categories and properties, e.g. light or dark. Focus on overlooked facets.
  • Ask people to describe a sample or a prototype, which will highlight the specific attributes that they like or don’t like.
  • The first round of edits and drafts is not a time to be thinking of words like “failure” — that’s too early.

Emerging Trends

  • The idea of transmedia storytelling: How can new devices and media give us the ability to pick up the narrative on one device where we left it on the last one? For example, the Kindle knows the last page you read on your iPhone. Can this reduce the overhead of managing all these different gadgets and systems and channels in a significant way?
  • John Hartman: All online social activity tends to lead back to face to face meetings.
  • Whether it’s a website or Twitter, there are many ways to use each tool. When proposing communication projects, present examples not just in the same subject area, but also in the style that fits the situation.
  • Unanswered question: Should devices sense and behave differently based upon the physical and social context? At what point does that become social engineering? And if overdone, does it preclude interesting accidental “misuses” of new gadgets?
  • Social media as an opportunity to “reify the corporate entity”: what is the role of personality in the social media presence of large organizations? (sisoma deserves an award for the most casual and unpretentious use of reify I’ve heard in a long time.)
  • supnah, on the question of converting the unconverted or leaving them be, referred us to his post Why You Should Tweet, A Conversation I’m Sick Of.
  • Want to know if anyone is clicking-through the shortened links you post to Twitter and elsewhere? Snurl, hootsuite and were suggested.

Finally, thanks to Steve, John, Bram and all the sponsors for bringing everyone together.

As in life, I’m sure I missed more than I heard.  You can read more here:

A Pair of Post-Event Thoughts


I got a little grumbly in the “Emerging Trends” session about the dark side of electronic medical records. Anyone who has completed a patient information form for the xth time knows how silly our system is, and the statistics show the astonishing share of healthcare spending that we waste on paperwork and bureaucracy.

On further reflection, the root of my concern is that using technology and better information management to make a dysfunctional system more ‘efficient’ won’t make it more effective. When the boat is already leaking and listing and not able to properly accommodate all its passengers, the answer is not “all ahead, full.”

As Larry Lessig discovered in his attempts to make IP law reflect the realities of the 21st century, it is difficult if not impossible for a broken policy-making apparatus to make good decisions. Of course, we did just have an election, Lessig is trying to change congress, Tim O’Reilly just announced the gov2.0 summit, and there are lots of other smart people like PDF and MAPLight working on it, too.


As part of the Getting Unstuck discussion, Chad Mortensen suggested that when you hit a wall, come up with other ways of looking at the wall, or go around it.

Thinking on this later, it reminded me of that old Schoenberg/Cage story: Arnold Schoenberg told John Cage he was terrible at harmony, and if he continued in music, we would constantly come up against that wall. Cage replied that he would dedicate the rest of his life towards banging his head against it.

That sense of persistence and determination reminds me of yet another John Cage story, which I’ll paraphrase as briefly as I can: Cage was playing a recording of Buddhist chant to a group of students, who found it boring. And he said: “If it’s boring after two minutes, listen to it for four. After four, listen to it for eight…”  After a few more iterations, he said: “And suddenly, you will find that what you thought was boring had been beautiful all along.”

In other words, keeping banging your head against the wall until it is beautiful. (Figuratively speaking!)

Hmm, new project idea: A John Cage story for every occasion…

Watch out “Chicken Soup for the _____’s Soul” people!

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“There’s all kinds of different ways to monetize free.” — Tim O’Reilly


Paul Graham is many things — a writer, computer programmer and language designer, a painter, a venture capitalist. Among other contributions, he suggested the mathematical model used by most email systems to filter spam.

Etherpad is a collaborative, web-based text editing tool. It can also reproduce every change you’ve made to a document. Think of it as infinite undo, an animation that reveals the process of editing, played back frame by frame.

Combining the two:

Watch Paul Graham write a summary of his 13 tips for startup companies — from keystroke #1 to #5465.

[There's no way to embed this one, so you have to click on the link to view it.]


Clay Shirky:

People want to believe in things like micropayments because without a magic bullet to believe in, they would be left with the uncomfortable conclusion that what seems to be happening — free content is growing in both amount and quality — is what’s actually happening.

The economics of content creation are in fact fairly simple. The two critical questions are “Does the support come from the reader, or from an advertiser, patron, or the creator?” and “Is the support mandatory or voluntary?”

The internet adds no new possibilities. Instead, it simply shifts both answers strongly to the right. It makes all user-supported schemes harder, and all subsidized schemes easier. It likewise makes collecting fees harder, and soliciting donations easier. And these effects are multiplicative. The internet makes collecting mandatory user fees much harder, and makes voluntarily subsidy much easier.


I read the NY Times profile of Joe Ades earlier today, and watched this video of him selling his vegetable peelers on the streets of New York:

And his last sentence stuck with me all day:

“People don’t buy these because they’re cheap, you buy them because they’re good and they work.”

True about far more than vegetable peelers…


Another Girl At Play features “Women Entrepreneurs Sharing Stories of How They Made Their Creative Dreams Real”.

Lorena Siminovich’s words of advice for those pursuing their creative goals:

Be original. Don’t procrastinate. Set goals. Make a website. Tell others. Ask for help. Truly believe in what you do, and don’t undersell yourself, even if you are just starting. Ah, and the most important one, which I’m still working on: Learn to say no.

Laurie Wagner on returning to writing:

At one point in 1990 I quit writing because I didn’t think I had what it took to be a writer. I didn’t think I was talented enough. I wanted to be a cog, I wanted a paycheck and I didn’t want to have to self-generate. So I went and worked for the massive publisher, Simon and Schuster. I traveled and sold books for them for three years and learned a ton about the book business.

I also learned that I was more artist than salesperson and if I didn’t quit the corporate gig I was going to die. I realized that I had judged my own talent so harshly and that wasn’t fair. It didn’t matter whether I would be successful or not, what mattered was that I gave myself a chance to express myself.

Andrea Scher’s words of advice for those pursuing their creative goals:

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. There is no way to know everything about your creative endeavor until you start doing it. Don’t wait, thinking that you’ll start when you know what you’re doing. This will only paralyze you and keep you from ever beginning it.

Read more at Another Girl At Play.


From a NY Times article on using websites and short films to promote books:

“The publishing world is very resistant to change,” [Brad] Meltzer said. “But there are always people — mostly the young and the hungry — who are trying new things. The days of just holing up and writing in solitude are gone. Today, you can’t be a successful writer without having a little Barnum in your bones.”

(I’d question the meaning of “successful” in that last sentence, but it’s still an article worth reading.)


Barack Obama’s subject yesterday was obviously not creativity per se.  But I thought many of the phrases and ideas in his inaugural address were directly relevant to the work and rewards of creative endeavor, especially these two sections:

Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.

It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

…we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.


Tech publisher Tim O’Reilly has been talking a lot about work that matters in the past year. Yesterday, he proposed some starting principles for determining what that work might be:

  1. Work on something that matters to you more than money.
  2. Create more value than you capture.
  3. Take the long view.

Tim fills in all the details in his article.

Two excerpts:

“We need to build an economy in which the important things are paid for in self-sustaining ways rather than as charities to be funded out of the goodness of our hearts.”

And paraphrasing Rilke:

“What we fight with is so small, and when we win, it makes us small. What we want is to be defeated, decisively, by successively greater things.”


  1. Apple announces all songs in the iTunes store will be free of Digital Rights Management (DRM) limitations.
  2. Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was the top-selling album on Amazon for 2008, even though it was available for free all over the internet. Creative Commons is touting the success.

Additional point:

I remember reading an interview with David Bowie years ago in which he complained that he had a ton of material recorded and mixed that no major record label would release.  Why?  ‘Brand dilution’ — the fear that it was too different from Bowie’s more mainstream material, and that releasing too much music would diminish overall sales.  (I’ve never quite understand why this should bother a man who is already a billionaire…)

It is unlikely that any traditional record company would have ‘allowed’ Trent Reznor to release this kind of work under the Nine Inch Nails name. Nearly two hours of instrumentals from a band whose hits have been pop-industrial? Not the kind of risk the majors would likely take. But Mr. Reznor is smart enough to let fans make their own decisions — and they have.