The Neural Grind

In the trenches of the neural tug-of-war

Life Is Not A Dress Rehearsal

When you’re old and gray, grandchildren on your lap: what’s the one big project you’ll brag about? What’s the one thing you’re delighted and proud you accomplished during your career?

I gave this some thought and came up empty. I quickly understood I had to change a few things — I decided I’ll not retire until I have at least one such accomplishment behind me.

It’s a profoundly sad thought to have spent a whole life without anything to be truly proud of. What would cause this? No ambitious goals? Too much Facebook? Being too considerate and kind to get what you’re after? Too lazy? Lack of structure? Fear? Not seeing what’s really important?

Life Is Not a Dress Rehearsal

This is the one chance you get. Wouldn’t it be an incredible waste if spent on scattered projects leading nowhere? I get the feeling that’s what most of us do, being reactive and taking whatever comes in our lap, not knowing when to say “no” and when to say “yes”.

This requires one thing: a goal, and a relentless pursuit of this goal. That, in turn, requires you do give up other projects that get in the way of this goal. That’s hard to do, but if it was easy it probably wouldn’t be worth doing anyway.

Knowledge You Already Possess is Obvious, But Only To You

With an answer to just about every question you can pose a few clicks away, it’s easy to think that everything you know is obvious to everyone else. Please, don’t make that mistake — we need to you teach us.

It’s strange how once you’ve learned something new, it becomes obvious and easy to forget that only moments ago you didn’t have a clue. It’s a common mistake to think that everybody knows it and withhold what you’ve learned.

Some of the best people I know don’t even realize they’re carrying a GPS in their pocket, so they phone me instead. These aren’t stupid people, they just need a gentle reminder.

You’d be surprised at how many things we either have forgotten, repressed or simply never thought about. At times, I’m reminding smart people that they can actually Google a question they need the answer to.

So please, unless you’re thinking about reminding us the sun will rise tomorrow, share what you know, no matter how obvious you might think it is.

Everything That Needs to Be Said Has Already Been Said

But you can re-frame it and put it in a different perspective. That’s what writing, or any creative output is all about.

Some days, doing any creative endeavour can feel meaningless, especially when we start to think “this has been done before”. Of course it has, but why should that discourage us? André Gide said “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” 

That’s important to remember, every single time you try to make something new. It’s not really new, but it’s yours. It’s a little different, and most likely it bears repeating because not everyone heard it the first time.

Don’t ever let the feeling that it’s been done before hold you back. Just remember to give it your own voice.

How to Make an Elevator Travel Ten Times Faster

A large New York building had lots of complaints about their elevator — it was too darn slow, and people wanted to know if something could be done about it.

The owners started a process trying to find engineers who could solve the problem, but no matter which experts they spoke to everyone said the same thing: they simply couldn’t make it go any faster. It was physically impossible.

Until one creative individual suggested: how about we install a mirror? They did, and never had a single complaint about the elevator speed again.

The lesson here is that we’re all guilty of looking at the solution to our problem in the wrong way and in all the wrong places.

Being Creative Is Not the Same as Being Artistic

When I tell people that I either work with design or music, they often reply: “Oh, you must be very creative!”. I usually tell them designing websites requires less creativity than building a bridge or selling ice cream.

In my view, there’s nothing more creative about writing music or designing a website than working as an engineer, working in sales or as an accountant. These are all creative professions, or at least they should be. Being creative is to me all about how good you are at your job, no matter what you do for a living.

Every job requires you to, often daily, to find solutions to unforeseen problems. That’s where creativity comes in. Writing music is a craft, and anyone can learn that skill without being especially creative. Same goes for every other “creative” profession. However, getting noticed, making people talk about what you do, creating something different that makes a difference, changing the status quo, overcoming obstacles — that requires true creativity and is rare.

I wish we could agree on a new definition of the word “creative”. It’s not the same as being “artistic”. That way, maybe more people would actually focus on learning how to actually be creative and solving problems that need solving.

The News is full of Soothsayers

The other day, I listened to the news just after there had been a bombing raid in Syria. In the following days, the news broadcasts were mostly filled with so-called experts who chimed in on what was going to happen next.

I don’t doubt their expertise, but I seriously doubt they have the ability to predict the future. Yet, every news-channel everywhere in the world are filling airtime with people making predictions.

Are these predictions useful? Do they help us in any way or do they simply instill fear in us, making us spend even more time in fearful listening to try and foresee the unforeseeable future?

I decided it’s not a productive way to spend time listening to fearmongers and experts state what they think is going to happen next. It’s merely my fear that feeds on these opinions. Spend some time catching up on the news, sure — it’s important to have a grasp on what’s going on in the world. But don’t become a fear-ridden news addict that have to listen to every analyst chiming in with their take on the situation. Spend your time making something interesting instead, or making a connection with someone else. The world will be much better off.

I failed myself

I failed myself, and I need to admit it.

I was seconds away from deleting this blog and everything associated with it, but reactivated it in the final moments before it was too late.

I started this blog as an attempt to write something meaningful, and challenge myself to say something that mattered, often. I put far too much effort into it, and quit because it took too much time. Big mistake. I’m not a writer, and I shouldn’t treat this blog as such.

I should treat it as a space where I can share something I think about, a notion, a prediction, an observation, and do it daily. Take the pressure off. Get back to challenging myself to say something everyday, even if it’s not a mind-blowing thought, but because I’m trying to change my mindset.

I even started spell-checking and googling certain phrases of this small simple post, that’s how bad it is. Another reason to let go and start publishing.

So there it is, and now I’ve made a commitment. Check back tomorrow. There will be spelling mistakes.

When Was the Last Time Your Guilty Conscience Helped You?

A guilty conscience is a strange thing. Our brain is telling us something isn’t right and it can be difficult to pinpoint the underlying reason. If left unchecked, that uneasiness can prevent us from living a full life.

There’s nothing more useless than harboring a guilty conscience. It does no good except for the sweet relief of getting rid of it. So why are so many letting such a useless feeling get in the way of happiness?

Guilt is cancer. Guilt will confine you, torture you, destroy you as an artist. It’s a black wall. It’s a thief. Dave Grohl

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How One Simple Process Mistake Risk Destroying Your Best Work

How One Simple Process Mistake Risk Destroying Your Best Work
The deadline was in four days and I had never been so excited about anything I’d made before. The process had been painless. The animations were gorgeous, the attention to detail unmatched, the story entertaining. Everything was coherent and matched the soundtrack down to every little detail. Even the project handoff went great. In short, a great product that matched spec perfectly, something I was proud of. Can you imagine why I had to do it over again?

The shocking message came after they had shown our product to their boss for the first time. Turns out she hated it.

She hadn’t been part of the process. No one had thought about that part somehow. The person sitting on the bag of money wasn’t informed while the project progressed. Sure, the boss had given the project managers full authority to manage the project after we had agreed on the budget. But when she saw the result, it wasn’t what she had imagined. It’s not that she thought it was bad – it just didn’t match her own image of what she was buying. Who can blame her, really?

A Great Process With One Cardinal Sin

We had all done our part, everything in writing, every step of the process. But we still had one unhappy paying client. What could we do? We delivered everything we had agreed upon and had successful sign-offs. Enthusiastic sign-offs even. But the project managers didn’t have the authority they thought they had, so it didn’t matter.

How could we please the boss? We had to make some changes and the client was willing to compensate us (a little) for the extra work. They understood after all that it was a mistake on their part not having gone through the proper channels.

But the changes didn’t improve the end result. They made it different, something other than it was. But they made the CEO feel as if she had played an instrumental part in making it. She mattered. Her opinions changed the outcome. And so when she got the new hybrid, lifeless and anemic product, a shadow of its former self, with more corporate music, more generic titles and less edge, she was happy.

“Do you want a new logo? How many people has to say “yes” to the new logo? If it’s “I don’t know” then don’t even start.”
Seth Godin

Define the Real Authority, Early

What did we set out to do? Make something magical for our portfolio and make our client happy. We failed at both. Not because we didn’t communicate clearly enough, nor because we didn’t get everything in writing. Not because we didn’t deliver something outstanding. We failed because we didn’t talk with the real decision-maker, and decision-makers want to make decisions. Many believe they can delegate tasks, but only to a certain point. When they see something that’s supposed to represent their company, something the public will witness and respond to — they won’t let it go without having had their say.

I had some of my greatest work turn into something less than mediocre as a result. A great portfolio piece that I’ll hide away instead. Next time, I’ll make sure I’m dealing with the real authority and not her minions.

Have you ever lived the same story? Do you have the antidote for these situations? Please leave a comment below or read about why stupid people are smarter than you.

Escalators Reveal Two Kinds of People

Escalators Reveal Two Kinds of PeopleEscalators reveal two kinds of people: those who walk and those who stand. Those who see it as a chance to do nothing, and those who see it as a means to reach their goal faster. Which one are you?

I never understood those who stand still. If you’re old, pregnant or otherwise disabled, you rest and relax. If you’re healthy and able, why do you just stand there, staring into nothingness letting time pass?

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