Category Archives: Simplicity

Content, Form, Fantasy

57ea2a22ff5e5d0dc0524b446e93acc6

Picture credit: John Holcroft Art

There is no content without form.

Neither is there form without content.

Neither one is greater than the other. As both have their unique roles. And as creators, we must take care to ensure that they play their parts to create the world that we’re aiming to create.

As creators, our job is in fact to conduct two equally capable musicians coming together to create a single piece of music coherent to the ear.

We must take care to not present content with no form whatsoever. For form helps content by making it more easy, interesting and appeasing to absorb. Most philosophy is guilty of a lack of form. So is most theoretical physics.

But bring together a fair balance of form and content, and you have the opportunity to bring to the world things that are normally difficult to digest.

Alain de Botton does this with Philosophy. Or Jason Silva.

Carl Sagan did this with Physics. So does Stephen Hawking.

On the other end, we must take care not to glorify form at the cost of content. For we can build several empty things on form, but they shall be just that: empty. Fads are guilty of a lack of true content. So is most pop music.

This is when any creation enters the realm of fantasy. It is when you see that metaphor is greater than meaning itself. Or showmanship, greater than the show.

In a culture that encourages and propagates this, real content is either non-existent or completely forgotten.

And any culture with empty form, is just that. Empty.

Speak, beautifully

gibran_art_g103

“And a poet said. Speak to us of Beauty. 
And he answered:
Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?”

– Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Whatever happened to saying things beautifully?

It doesn’t appear that language alone, has taken a turn for the worse. Rather, communication as a whole.

We don’t believe in people being gorgeous or beautiful anymore. They’ve been reduced to ten point scales.

Nobody is exhaustedThey are very tired. 

Poetry has made way for the bullet point.

While penmanship has made way for words on a jpeg.

Beliefs and fortitudes have been bastardised to hashtags.

Truth be told, the things we express, and how we choose to express them are no less than art.

In each note, stroke and syllable, lies the power to transmit beauty, pain, wisdom and emotion from one soul to another.

No, not just one man to another. Rather, a truly metaphysical transfer of intangible concepts from one transient mind to another. Wherein lies the capacity for so many things to be said, simply by being unsaid.

Yes, that power. To change minds. Change perceptions. Even time.

Whatever happened to using that power, wisely?

Illustration by Kahlil Gibran Source

The Importance Of Experimentation

 

I was just leafing through the book ‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It’ by Chris Voss, and an excerpt from this book has an interesting learning for us all:

‘For more than three decades, Harvard had been the world epicenter of negotiating theory and practice. All I knew about the techniques we used at the FBI was that they worked. In the twenty years I spent at the Bureau we’d designed a system that had successfully resolved almost every kidnapping we applied it to. But we didn’t have grand theories.

Our techniques were the products of experiential learning; they were developed by agents in the field, negotiating through crisis and sharing stories of what succeeded and what failed. It was an iterative process, not an intellectual one, as we refined the tools we used day after day. And it was urgent. Our tools had to work, because if they didn’t someone died’

Needless to say, theoretical discussions come from a fear of getting actions wrong and having to face consequences – an irrationality that is a fundamentally human desire of minimising risk.

And while it is easy to highlight the importance of action and experimentation over theoretical discussions, I’d rather share with you my little system of how to get to it!

  1. Do, don’t discuss: Experiment. Instead of discussing what could work, just run with one of the plans.
  2. Take notes: Note down what you did, the results and your inferences.
  3. Find out what works: Best practices are more relevant and practical than theoretical discussions. Keep them handy.
  4. Change what’s working: This bit is hard when we usually have a ‘Don’t fix what’s not broken’ mentality. I think its easy to settle in a routine that is working. But there might be a better one, who knows? You might as well look for it.
  5. Repeat

ak2rtz5

Before that, Step 0: Get rid of fear

Happy experimenting!

 

Courage Trumps Content

batman-hd_022005206_34

We do not remember the greatest people in the world simply because of what they said, or what they stood for. We remember them for having the courage to stand for it.

For having the courage to have a view that was different. And having the courage to say it out loud. Having the courage to be branded by it.

If MLK Jr. had written about his dream in his personal journal, he would have touched nobody’s life.

If Muhammad Ali was more concerned with sounding smart than true, his poetry would remain unheard.

If Nike was worried about offending sensibilities, it would not become the landmark that it is today. Neither would the legendary Superbowl ad from Apple become what it is today, if they thought they might hurt a certain group of people.

So, do us all a favour please, if you have something good to say – then say it like you mean it. We might love you for it. You might change our world for the better. And you might be remembered for it.

But if you’re not going to go all guns blazing with what you believe. Or if you fear what you will be remembered for. Or fear that you shall be typecast. Or narrowed down. Or you would rather be loved just a little bit by everyone, rather than loved to bits by a few – then please, don’t say it at all.

Just  go home.

Stop Talking about ‘Storytelling’

And start telling stories instead.

What’s the difference?

‘Storytelling’ is a noun. Or an adjective. It’s not something you do.

It’s a word you put up to describe something that is done. Or is simply something that’s done. You can say “This brand uses storytelling”. But you would never say “I will storytell“. That makes no sense.

That; to me, is the key difference.

Instead, you could tell a story. And a story is narrated in a context. It has a protagonist. An antithesis. It has ups and downs, climaxes, crescendoes and pitfalls. Stories impact us because we see a transition of emotions and we relate to that. Not to the occurrence itself, but to how the occurrence is relevant to us:

A tortoise racing a hare is not a story. A protagonist racing his antithesis and winning when nobody expects him to: that’s a story. That’s a story of getting something the world thinks you can’t have. And we all relate to that.

Here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s hilarious story models:

So, how is this relevant to your brand / start-up / company / you?

  1. You are not the protagonist. You are a character, perhaps an agent of change. The fairy god mother, if you’re lucky.
  2. Recognise the point in which you fit in the story of the protagonist. Where are they now?
  3. Become a part of their story, and help them write it. Be relevant to the story. But don’t be the story.

And finally, you might even be a storyteller. If that is the case, then start telling your story. Because when you do, people listen.

 

Picture Courtesy: jerry8448

On Celestial Navigation and Creation

9752669055_23e0bb496f_b

Picture Courtesy: Kristofer Williams

In another interesting chat with a creator, I noticed a recurring problem that most creators have: They want to do a bit of everything.

Let me elaborate. This creator, is a technologist looking to create a new service which addresses a specific need identified by a specific audience.

We’ve heard this story before.

And if history is anything to go by, creators who go about creating in a focussed manner are more likely to succeed than those who run amock and try to do a bit of everything. In fact, we are at an age of shedding excessive fat and moving toward an idea of lean in everything we do: in billion dollar conglomerates and young startups alike! It is then, vital, for any new creator to be conscious of this too.

In order to do this, one must first know not only what you are, but also what you are not. Consider two runners. A long distance runner, aims to build slow twitch muscles that enable his objective: longer distances. On the other hand, a sprinter aims to build fast twitch muscles and lose fat, to enable his objective: explosive speeds. In order to build the right muscle, the most important thing to know is what you’re going to use them for.

Similarly, it is vital for a creator to ask himself why he is setting out to make what he is making. This is the answer to the question, “What need am I addressing?” The answer can be your value proposition, concept, or core idea – but it serves a strong internal purpose too.

It is your north star. It is the thing you turn to when you have an idea and you want to ask yourself: Is this us?

The north star is not up for change. Rather, everything you do must now align with the core idea you are setting out to create. If you pivot, it becomes interesting to look at the north star again.

From there on, it’s (relatively) smooth sailing. Or at least, directed sailing.

Demystifying Strategy

In all my interactions with mangers, consultants and a whole lot of other folk in the field of business, I find a common problem: We love using big words. It appears as though each specialisation has made a gentleman’s club of sorts, to which you can gain entry only by using the right language. The problem with this is that it alienates what we do from each other, and doesn’t really help direct business collectively: simply because we don’t speak the same language. As service providers, it often makes it hard for clients to understand the value of what we do, particularly startups and non-profits who aren’t accustomed to corporate language.

One of the most loaded words I have heard repeatedly; and often needlessly, used is: “strategy” or “strategic”If we really break down “strategy” it is simply the shortest line between where we are and where we want to go. “Tactics”as we like to differentiate in jargon is what we should do to get there. 

A mentor of mine taught me well when he said: “There are only two kinds of strategy in the world: audit and directional” I’m going to use this idea to bring to light what “strategy” really is, which I hope unburdens the word:

1. Audit: Facts. Analysis. Information. Data. “What’s the situation?”, “What’s good, and bad?”, “Who’s strong, who’s weak?” The stuff we learn in B-School: SWOT, PESTLE, Porter’s Five Forces and all the other models: these are simply audit. These only tell you where you are today, and give you an indication of where you should be going. This is not difficult to do, and don’t really help any organisation figure out how to get anywhere. This is never enough, and therefore it is not strategic. The key to doing this right is to be relevant to decision making.

2. Directional: Insights. Recommendations. Decisions. Plans. “We need to gain new competencies if we want to achieve this end. Do we develop them, or acquire them?”, “We need a new product in our portfolio, priced at a point that makes our star product more appealing”, “We need to do something interesting, or risk being forgotten”. These give an indication of where we should be headed, and by nature give clarity to steps on what we should do.

One last thing. My mentor always followed his line with: “Don’t give me an audit. I want direction”.