More Postcards from the Future

When all the university classes went online this spring, my oldest came home from Texas State to spend the rest of the semester with us sheltering in place. Thankfully she did not bring home any Covid-19 with her, but she did bring home her Netflix account. She set it up on the TV downstairs and I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it. Especially Abstract and some of the crazy-ass anime me and the kids have watched.

By far the best documentary I’ve seen, though, has been Dr. David Eagleman‘s “The Creative Brain“. I was first exposed to Dr. Eagleman’s incredible, yet easily digestible work, in a promotional book Rigsby Hull did a number of years ago (gorgeous design — love the Didot!) for Sappi. Since then, I’ve become a big fan of neuroscientist. I was pissed, though, when “The Creative Brain” wasn’t broadcast on PBS: it was only on Netflix. So if anything good has come out of the pandemic, it as that I got to see his program.

“The Creative Brain” is fantastic. Of course I’d delight in it. The program includes interviews and insights from Michael Chabon, one of my favorite writers, Bjarke Ingels (nice URL), one of my favorite architects, Grimes, who I find interesting, and Robert Glasper, among others. I’m listening Glasper to while writing the first draft of this post. To say my little-boy-heart exploded watching this show is an understatement.

The funny thing is, that after a few minutes in, I ran got a notebook and pencil, and found myself taking notes. There were so many ideas, perspectives, insights and pearls of wisdom scattered throughout that I did not want to forget any of them. When the show ended, I read through my notes and had an idea — why don’t I share my notes. But not in some boring way — do something more fun with it.

I chose a few of Dr. Eagleman’s thoughts, and designed a series of banners that were broadcast on Instagram a couple of weeks ago. My own thoughts accompanied Dr. Eagleman’s words. For those who do not follow me, here is the series:

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Try Out Ideas

It has never been easier to make something; send it out into the world to see if it works. Try out as many ideas as possible. See what will work best.

Push Boundaries

I used to work for a creative director who always offered three solutions to answer a client’s problem. The first direction would be solid, but within arm’s length of where they were, while the second direction would push them a little further out of their comfort zone, and finally the third would be way out of left field. This approach helped our clients see where they were and where they could be. This technique pushed ideas further as clients rarely went with the first (safe) option.

Consider What Does Not Exist

My fifth grade teacher said there was no such thing as “What if…?” questions. Although she’s a very nice lady, nothing stifles creativity faster than not questioning the status quo.

Aha Moments

Sometimes ideas pop in your head while in the shower. Sometimes they show themselves while out on a run. Sometimes they appear on the back of a napkin. “Aha!” moments are everywhere happening all the time. Be prepared to receive one.

Try Something New

Doing something new is hard and fraught with risk and the chance of failure, but this is the only way to make progress.

Get Off the Path of Least Resistance

It’s easy to quit when the going gets tough, but creative solutions require hard work.

The Balance Between the Familiar and the New

Early in his career, David Bowie pushed all kinds of boundaries with his music, appearance and attitude. No matter how weird things got, at its core, Bowie’s music was grounded in straight-up rock-and-roll. He was able to push boundaries while still being accessible to a wider audience.

The Power to Imagine the World Not Yet

You don’t need a crystal ball to see the future. Creative people look deep inside themselves to see how things can be.

Creativity Does Not Equal Comfort

No great idea ever came from laying around on the sofa.

 


 

I posted a piece on LinkedIn about a year ago entitled “Postcards from the Future”. I nicked that headline from something Rosanne Cash said on an an episode of Freakonomics Radio called “Where Do Good Ideas Come From?” (Ep. 368). Here’s what Ms. Cash said:

Problems can be inspiring. If I can’t work something out in my life, I take it to language. I take it to melody. And sometimes, well, it all can be going to the Met and standing in front of that painting of Joan of Arc. That painting has inspired me. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, you think, and then it turns out that they came from the future. And I call those songs postcards from the future.

Isn’t this is exactly what Dr. Eagleman has been doing: sending us postcards from the future.


The Time Machine

Numbering notebooks started in 2006 when I started writing in Moleskine’s. Currently working through #71, a Leuchtturm 1917. That’s quite an investment.

Like so many right now, I have spent an unusual amount of time sitting in on webinars covering a broad range of topics. Throw in my steady diet of podcasts and not only do you start to become a fountain of knowledge, but you also begin to spot trends.

One trend I have picked up on lately is the idea of Morning Pages. This daily practice was introduced by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, which I read back in the mid-90s. Although many of the concepts she recommended did not stick, Morning Pages are an integral part to starting my day everyday.

For the uninitiated, in a nutshell, Morning Pages are sitting down with paper and pen at the beginning of every day and writing for 20 minutes straight. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling or grokking too hard on anything, you just empty your head of thoughts.

I find that some times I ramble on wondering why I am wasting precious amounts of paper and ink. Other times I merely report on the activities of the previous day, but sometimes I actually stumble into an exploration of a new idea or dig deep into something weighing on my mind.

Lately, the pop-psychologists are all highly recommending this practice. I most certainly agree with them, as I have been dutifully writing my Morning Pages almost every day for the past 25 years. I find the practice to be helpful, getting me ready for a productive day ahead as well as helping me see farther down the road.

I wanted to share one unexpected benefit of this practice. Towards the end of each year, I’ll go back and reread the Morning Pages for that year, starting at January 1 all the way to the current date. Usually takes a few days. Sometimes I just scan through the pages, but every once in a while I will uncover a treasure trove of what I was thinking about. Seeing how thoughts, events and actions played out over the course of a year can be enlightening.

But the real benefit is going further back, rereading the Pages from years ago. What was bothering me back in 1999? Who was pissing me off in March of 2016? What battle had I won in the summer of 2006? How did all this play out over the years?

That’s interesting, but what’s even more more interesting is how rereading the events of the day can instantly transport me back to that time. Thoughts and memories long forgotten come back to life, often vividly. I’ve found that not only writing, but also doodles and sketches in my notebooks, do the same thing. It’s amazing how thoughts come back to life.

These aren’t just notebooks – they’re time machines.

There’s the old adage that if you do not learn from history you are destined to repeat it. Some things in life are worth repeating – how did you manage an seemingly impossible challenge the first time around? Or, are you looking to make a change and you can now trace your life back to a particular moment when you found yourself at a fork in the road that led you to where you are today? There is tremendous value is learning from your own experiences and reflecting on them as continue to move forward with life.

Being able to travel back in time while flexing your creative muscles — needless to say I highly recommend you write your Morning Pages. You never know what you might find, that morning or years from now.


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