Productivity Kills Creativity

That’s the core idea behind the book, Autopilot, a science-based rebuttal to GTD, Six Sigma and the modern glamification of productivity.

I had a hard time figuring out if I liked the book, because, while the science seems solid, it’s delivered with a healthy dose of unfounded and tangencial preaching about the evils of capitalism.

To steal an analogy from Bill Cosby, it’s like being served a juicy steak on a garbage can lid.

Back to the argument of the book…

It seems there is a default resting state the brain enters that is most conducive to measurable creative thought.

This resting state is what we experience when we’re doing nothing, or on “autopilot.”

This is why the best ideas seem to come to us in the shower, or to Isaac Newton, while resting under an Apple tree.

This part of the brain essentially turns off when we’re being “productive.” There are sure to be many theories about why this happens, but it’s safe to assume that the human brain was just made for long periods of rest.

These periods of rest seem rare in our modern lives. The author’s solution is simple: work less, much less, and be less productive.

Abandon GTD and similar productivity methods, as there is no scientific basis for their assertions; particularly the assertion that writing things down frees your brain for more creative thought.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy, or maybe even possible, to accomplish such a feat these days. But, denying the truth doesn’t help either.

Get the book or audiobook, if you’re in doubt, but it seems pretty obvious to me: if you want to really free up your mind for creativity, start by freeing yourself of your self-imposed obligations and machine-like processes (as much as possible).

How to Make Perfect Photos

What's the secret to creating great photos? The biggest secret is that you're already making perfect photos. You've been told that you're not, because of the second biggest secret: the teaching of photography has always and will always make more money than the photographs themselves.

This is why professional photographers are trying to get you to buy a new camera or buy a spot in their next workshop. Believe me, they would rather be taking pictures. That's what's most fun about being a photographer.

But, that's not where the money is. The money is in convincing you that your composition needs a little work, or your lens has a an aberration that a prime lens wouldn't.

The professionals don't do this maliciously. It's just that they have little choice. It's how they learned and it's what they need to do if they want to make a decent living.

But, you don't have to take my word for it...

The Most Important Photos Ever Made

I put a question out on Twitter a few weeks ago. I asked, "what are the most important photos ever made?”

I got a lot of great suggestions, but what you'll see below are the most important important photos ever made...I can show you without getting sued.

Wright_first_flight.tif.jpg
AbuGhraibAbuse-standing-on-box.jpg
1009px-Hindenburg_burning.jpg
1024px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg
857px-Nagasakibomb.jpg
788px-Lange-MigrantMother02.jpg
1280px-Lyndon_B._Johnson_taking_the_oath_of_office,_November_1963.jpg

Here's a few more I can't show you, due to copyright limitations.

These photos have more in common with your everyday snapshots than anything hanging in gallery.

Let's consider what they teach us.

Technique doesn't matter.

It's nice to have, but a lot of these photographs aren't even in focus. They break just about every rule you'll find in a textbook.

Those textbook rules, by the way, almost always originate with what a client wanted at some point. Even the rules of composition, which originate with painters, can be traced back to what their clients wanted.

These techniques work for pros trying to sell something, but have nothing to do with the photographs we (the 99.9% of photographers who are not pros and the public at large) consider important. 

Equipment doesn't matter.

Most of these photographs were made with very primitive and beat up equipment. Some were made with a wooden box. None of the cameras used for these photos would do well in a review these days.

The Only Rule That Matters

The only rule in photography is to tell a story with a compelling subject - for you.

Think of it as a Maslow's Hierarchy of Photographic Needs. Every decent photo needs to tell a story. Telling a story with a compelling subject can make the photo historic (as seen above). But a step above even those photos, is a photo with a subject compelling to you specifically. That's what makes your snapshots even more important than the most important photos ever made.

Just remember, there's nothing the pros can teach you about technique or equipment that's going to put your photos on the list of most important photos ever made.

Your snapshots are already there.

Embrace the perfect imperfection of the snapshot, making sure the photo means something to you, not a textbook, and you’ll realize you’re already making perfect photos every time.

One More Thing

Just in case anyone still believes technique and equipment actually matters, consider the single most requested photograph at the U.S. National Archives:

1024px-Elvis-nixon.jpg

Instagram As Fine Art

I'm picking on this woman, because she just happened to state, very clearly, a sentiment I've heard quite a bit lately.

"It is easy to take a good picture and so hard, almost impossible, to take a great picture. It takes years of labor to do this well. Photography is a craft, an art, a point of view. Instagram is not meant to be fine art or a beautiful object; it is social media—a means of communication." - Mary Ellen Mark (via Featureshoot).

Actually, it works in exactly the opposite direction. The most important photos in history were shot from the hip. They were easy.

Photography is not a craft. Printmaking is a craft. Photography is an art. No one gets to say Instagram isn't meant for fine art. Anything is fine art.

I would also hope art is a "means of communication" as well.

It's fun to watch the handwringing among the art crowd. But, what we're really watching is the dying of an idea. The idea that good ideas in photography, ideas worthy of the gallery, are scarce. They're not. Connections in the fine art market are scarce.

 

Undone

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.” – Lin Yutang

Why Paper Still Matters

After seeing a Kickstarter, a week or so ago, for a hybrid digital/analogue notebook, author Austin Kleon let loose a rant on Twitter, which I had to save and comment on:

"You guys know your notebooks are already searchable, right? It’s called turning the fucking pages."

Yes, paper forces non-linear review, which is how our brains learn. 

"Last century we destroyed newspaper archives so we could 'save' them 'forever' on microfilm."

There's always a new "archival" medium that isn't all that archival. There is no digital archival format; not even the beloved text file.

"The beautiful thing about paper is that the medium is both for recording and playback. No extra gear needed."

Paper is a universal OS that never crashes.

"I'll take this over the cloud any day."

The benefits of holding your work in your hand is a pleasure digital workers are too often deprived of.

"R. Crumb bought his house in France with a trunk full of sketchbooks."

Analogue works are their own byproducts. After selling the work, you can sell the product, and the product is worth more because it's one-of-kind. There's no one-of-a-kind in digital.

 "Maybe I should commit career suicide and dedicate my entire SXSW keynote to explaining why paper is a superb, interactive medium."

Consider how much more your senses interact with paper. This is a connection that's been proven to aid in reading comprehension at the very least.

 But besides all that, life is short. Working with paper because it feels better or provides more enjoyment is reason enough for me.

Small Books

Most Seth Godin books could be one sentence long.

In fact, most books could be blog posts. So, if you're going to publish a real paper-based book these days, do me a favor: get to the point, charge a fair price and help me learn something. I'll throw my money at you faster than you can catch it.

There are very few books that can justify their length these days. I picked up the very small book Free Will at the library along with some others of the same size and reaffirmed my love for small books.

If I like them, I pay the $9.95 or $14.95.  That's more than fair. I learn something and the author/publisher makes a nice profit. These books are cheap to make, even for small runs. I've priced it myself.

What's not a good deal, for the reader, is the typical publishing model:

400-pages of redundant back up for simple argument.

Paying $29.95 to work for the author, sifting for meaning and editing in head.

Giving up hours of my time, so the publisher has a product that has more "heft" on a shelf that doesn't exist anymore where I shop for books.

These days, I'm far more likely to pay for a small book and skim a big book. It's a lesson I'm noting for my next publishing adventure.

There’s Nothing New Under the Strobe

The greatest revelations in photography every year, are generally repeated revelations. They’re made every year in countless books, blogs and even this newsletter.

There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s necessary.

Discovery is a problem.

It’s a problem in music, since unlimited access to unlimited music means MTV and radio don’t have the influence they once had to tell us who to follow.

It’s a problem in news, since the 3 networks are now 50,000 and they all have a hard time agreeing on the facts, let alone an agenda.

The problem of discovery is a problem of recovery as well.

Our notebooks are now infinite. We can collect everything, so we spend precious little time reviewing anything.

Photography truths have remained unchanged for a hundred years, but that doesn’t mean any of us can recall them at a moment’s notice or apply them to our current projects.

I’m grateful for those who spend the time to remix information and serve it to us in new ways. It’s helpful. But, I’m aware there’s nothing new there.

Collecting information is easy. Reviewing and applying information is hard. As in most things, the hard stuff is the probably the most beneficial stuff.