Blog

Mediums

Our creative work is shaped by the mediums through which we transmit it.

I’m using the word ‘creative’ in the sense of ‘things that are created,’ not just a painting or novel or LP. Artistic creative work is shaped by its container, certainly, but so is software and your coffee maker.

The band Talking Heads sounded the way they did because their initials shows were performed at the CGBG, a performance space in which the acoustics sounded a certain way, which required the bands that performed there to sound a certain way, which in turn lead to the distinctive sound of the funk rock movement they helped create (frontman David Byrne wrote a great book in which he discusses this in more detail).

The modern music album, up until very recently, was about 74 minutes long. This length is not the natural duration for a complete musical thought, but rather the upper limit of the technology in which it was born, the compact disc (there are conflicting accounts as to why 74 minutes was chosen by Sony executives, though it was probably because the small increase in disc diameter led to a huge digital storage advantage over their competitors). Whatever the real reasons for this storage-related choice, it shaped modern music, the music industry, and how we listen to music in many ways.

The modern novel is another creature that generally takes on certain dimensions and a certain length, not because books should be around 200 to 400 pages, but because printing technologies and the nature of the printing business that grew up around those technologies meant that printing shorter or longer books resulted in inferior profits.

The Aeropress coffee maker was designed with replicability in mind, by a man who’s many inventions had taught him to think in such terms. Consequently, while he was focused on ensuring his device created the best possible cup of joe according to his standards, he was also designing it to ensure it could be reproduced cheaply, efficiently, and internationally, which in turn shaped its business model and industrial design.

I’ll sometimes joke that often my shorter books are the ones in which I really know the topic I’m discussing, and if I ever really know a topic well, I’ll start publishing fortune cookies about it. The books get shorter because I can express what I want to express in fewer words, which takes work and refinement to accomplish.

But the truth of the matter is that there are some topics that are more ideal for shorter missives, for text messages or tweets, than others. Understanding this, and recognizing what that medium is for, what it helps you convey better rather than sub-optimally, is part of the responsibility a creator of things must take on. We don’t just make, we share what we make. And you can make the most amazing thing in the world but still have no one benefit from it if you do not understand the medium through which you’re sharing or distributing it.

This is, of course, just one of a million things that makers of all kinds need to keep in mind, and as such it often falls into the background, buried by seemingly more important issues.

But there’s a reason that mediocre work with smooth delivery channels can often out-perform and out-influence incredible work with dilapidated delivery channels. If you really believe in what you’re doing, what you’re trying to get into more hands or minds, it’s worth putting in the time to master your mediums.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.

Blog

Internal Consistency

When I was looking for an apartment here in Wichita, it was important to me that I find a home with good natural light.

Lightbulbs, today, don’t use too much energy. If you have a modern bulb, you could conceivably keep it on all the time and not do too much damage to the environment or to your bank account.

But there’s something about using energy that I don’t need—a purposeless expenditure of resources—that doesn’t feel right to me. Even when I know, logically, it’s not a big deal, I still feel better when I’m able to keep the lights turned off all day, the under-utilized appliances and devices unplugged.

Little adjustments like this matter. Not necessarily for the environment or to lower one’s utility bill payment in any measurable way, but to maintain external consistency with what I feel, internally. I’ve found that I feel more comfortable not using more space than I need, not consuming more resources than necessary, not not owning more things than I actually use, and when I’m able to align my actions with these preferences I feel more comfortable, less stressed out. It’s not a rebellious, impressive act, but rather a small, quiet, hardly-worth-mentioning proclivity that improves my life by a fraction of a percent.

Especially when it’s the result of a small act, a minute change, a tiny accommodation to a barely felt but definitely there preference, that fraction of a percent more happiness can be worth the effort.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter. Also, I have a new book coming out May 1, and it’s available for pre-order.

Blog

What Wrong Means

If I was smart, I would have more advertisers on my podcast. I’ve been using the same two for a while, and that has no doubt diminished my money-making opportunities.

Further, it’d be a good idea to start having guests on the show because, then, when a new episode comes out, the guests will share it with their audience, greatly increasing the number of new people who listen to it each week.

For the blog, it wouldn’t hurt to have a pop-up, or maybe one of those little sign up forms that cover the bottom of the screen to snag more newsletter subscribers. Having such forms have been shown to increase those numbers.

But you know what? I hate pop-ups. I loathe them. They ruin my experience when I visit a page that has them. Even more so those little bottom-of-the-screen-covering sign up forms.

And I don’t want to have guests on my show: I like the essay format I use. I like being able to take an hour and talk through a topic without interrupting it or forcing banter. I like that I can make my show at home, by myself, so that I’m able to produce it without anyone else’s priorities or schedules getting in the way.

I also like that I have advertisers I actually use and enjoy — there are only a few of them at the moment, but I’d rather build up slowly and make less money than promote things or companies I don’t believe in.

By most measurements, I’m doing a lot of things wrong. In business, and in life, too. Some of these things I’m doing wrong for the standard reason: because I don’t know any better. But many of them are intentional choices. The wrongness that I’m allowing is the result of a conscious decision to adhere to different metrics from other people.

I could get more readers for this newsletter by foisting subscription forms in front of people’s faces, but the value of those readers would be reduced because they’d been gained in a way I don’t consider to be moral. I would have gained them by doing unto others that which I don’t wish to have done unto me.

It’s an easy argument to make that staking out such positions, that drawing such lines in the sand, is a fool’s errand. And in some cases that may absolutely be the case. But identifying and adhering to your personal values, in not just life and relationships and your philosophical pursuits, but also in business, in how you make money, is important if sometimes seemingly quixotic. It allows you to know that you aren’t ceasing to be yourself as soon as money enters the mix. It allows you to feel proud to have you name on things that you’ve made, and to feel confident that you are consistent in your beliefs, rather than adhering to them when it’s convenient but discarding them as soon as you have the opportunity to make a few extra bucks.

Wrong means something very different to each of us, but the point is not coming to a collective agreement as to what’s wrong and what’s right, but rather knowing what these words mean to us, then following their lead as we pursue individual happiness.

This approach doesn’t help a person wring every last dollar out of every business opportunity, but I’ve yet to find a better approach if your goal is to make things you’re proud of and to sleep well at night.


My new book, Becoming Who We Need To Be, is available for pre-order starting today (that’s the Amazon link, but pre-orders are also available on Gumroad, Kobo, Google Play, and iBooks).

This book is about context, personal growth, and how our intentions and actions as individuals scale up to influence our societies. It will hit shelves and e-shelves on May 1.

If you’re familiar with my other work, I’d say this new book is the love-child of my book Considerations and my podcast Let’s Know Things.