I started “Just Rick” to discuss What Matters Most To Me. I wanted to share with you a post on What Matters Most to a loyal reader of this blog and FindingRickshaw, and good friend, Varun. My favorite takeaway is that if you want to make change or create value or disrupt, you have to put in the hard work. It is rarely an immediate or overnight transformation.
I spend a lot of time thinking about my thoughts.
It’s a weird habit but an important one for me.
David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College. You can find it here. The point of the speech is that life in the real world is hard. And it is hard because it is boring and mundane and it invites, and practically begs, you to become lazy in how you approach living. You start to see things in a certain light and pretty soon it’s hard for you to be convinced that there is any other way to understand or explain the world. This stubbornness isn’t your fault. We’re practically wired that way. He describes it so eloquently:
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
Pretty gloomy for a commencement address, right?
But he says so much more and what he says has so much hope. Wallace says that the whole point of a liberal arts education is not to teach you how to think, but to teach you that you have control over how and what you think about — “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” I think he’s asking that you take the time to observe the world around you and challenge yourself to view it from as many perspectives as possible. It’s that observation and challenging that keeps life fresh.
I think about this speech often; in fact, it’s the most important thing I’ve ever read (Omar from the Wire said, “A man’s gotta have a code.” His was not murdering anyone that pays taxes – only criminals and drug dealers. I think Wallace’s speech is my code. It’s aims at a decidedly lower target). If you’re starting a business or choosing a career or simply existing as a human being, I think its lessons can help you. The fact is that your personality and who you are (and by extension, everything you create) does not magically form itself – you have to be an active participant in it. You can’t just say “I’m open-minded” and magically be open-minded. Just saying that your business is “open” or “risk-taking,” doesn’t make it so. You have to go all in and commit yourself. That’s the only way.
I also recently read a book called How Disruption Brought Order. Written by the head of TBWA\Chiat\Day (one of the most highly respected ad agencies in the world), it’s ostensibly a book about the creative strategy that the company has used to become successful. That strategy is Disruption. The quick explanation is that when asked to help position a brand, the company 1) identifies the existing conventions that have created the status quo (i.e. the existing wisdom), 2) comes up with an approach that can challenge those conventions, and implements that approach with 3) a clear vision of where they want the brand to go.
Reading about the concept, I realized that it stretches far beyond advertising. The author notes that you can have disruptive business models (Napster) and disruptive products (the iPod). But this is really a way of thinking. And it’s something that I’m going to try and embrace in my life too. I’ve started to give myself monthly challenges to break out of my normal routine (vegetarian in December, drink only water in January, wake up earlier and be productive in February, blog every day in April). But on a smaller level (and a more time consuming one), I’ve tried to be an active thinker about the people around me – it’s more time consuming and, like Wallace says, it’s a counter to the default setting of focusing on yourself. You have to force yourself to go against the natural instinct to coast along.
You have to think.
April 18, 2010