All Creative Projects Are 365 Projects

Because your creativity doesn't begin and end when a project does. It's a daily practice.

365 projects are a byproduct of a daily practice, as are books, blogs, and careers.

Random Positive Reinforcement

From David Allen on the GTD Podcast:

“One of the factors of creating addiction is random positive reinforcement. If you’re trying to train your dog…you don’t want a treat every time. The more random, the more powerful the addiction to the behavior. There is hardly anything that has more random positive reinforcement than email and social media. Any of you golfers out there: one good stroke, one good drive, will keep you coming back to hit 400 crappy ones.”

The golf analogy perfectly describes the addiction to photography we experience.

Combine the random positive reinforcement of social media with the random positive reinforcement of photography and you get the success of Instagram.


The Self-Imposed Deadline

Yesterday, my doctor told me I need to slow down. In short, I'm overwhelmed with work. It's not the first time I've been told this.

He said something else that stuck with me, though. He said that we've become a society obsessed with self-imposed deadlines that are ultimately meaningless. He said we'd all be a lot healthier if we dropped them.

He was talking about social media, personal projects, and the daily urgencies that don't stand up to measurement against what really matters – family.

I'm sure he was talking about himself as well. After all, being a doctor has probably meant he has spent way more time away from his family than he would have liked.

His emergencies are real emergencies and make ours seem trivial, but the fact he still believes we all have some reassessing to do, makes it somehow more comforting and motivating.

Figuring out how to drop self-imposed deadlines seems like a daunting task in itself. The rewards may be worth it, though.


An Argument Against "Deep Work"

Deep Work is all the rage, and has been for a few years. It's refreshing to have some push back against it, if at least to have some diversity of opinion.

Tiago Forte, a productivity consultant, was recently interviewed for the Evernote podcast. He opposes the concept of deep work:

"You know, I get it. People are feeling frazzled and just scatterbrained and all these things. But I really think this idea that you’re sort of this monastic knowledge worker, that you’re going to enter your chambers and just think deeply for hours and hours and hours on end, is a holdover from that freelance specialist mindset. And following up on that idea of a generalist as a freelancer, to do that effectively you need a portfolio. You can’t have just one narrow skill that you do."
"If you look at the history of manufacturing, one of the great, great insights that took decades and decades to discover was small batches, right? That was one of the key breakthroughs to better quality, to speed, to more throughput, to more profitability in manufacturing. And then you go to knowledge work and you have the deep work thing, which is another way of saying big batch sizes. Deep work, spending hours and hours in deep flow, is a big batch size. So it’s like we’ve completely gone against decades of experience in manufacturing."

I think I understand what he's saying, but I'm not sure it opposes deep work as much as he thinks. Plus, I think Cal Newport was arguing that small batching was a good thing for "productivity," but a bad thing for deep human thought, which in turn became scarce and, therefore, more valuable.

I could spent hours crafting a single, long weekly blog post that would serve me better in terms of Google SEO and, later, compiling easy ebooks to sell. That would be deep work. It would take hours of concentrating. It's what every expert says I should be doing (and they may be right).

Or, I could write short blog posts (like this one) that get an idea that's churning in my head out into the world quickly. Done daily, it gives the reader much more variety in subject matter to read, which it seems, the reader does prefer. It's a process. It's a habit. It's what Seth Godin would recommend. It's not necessarily deep work.

I could still compile ebooks or courses from shallow work (or any long-form material), but it would require deep work at the other end. For instance, I put the last 400+ posts from this blog into Scrivener. It will take weeks (maybe months) to combine posts by subject matter and edit them into chapters. That's a huge amount of deep work, but it happens all at once and it's based on many small batch tasks. This obviously works for someone like Seth Godin.

Not so much for me. As an aside, that project isn't going so well, as it's creating something like 12 small books of no consequence, rather than a cohesive compilation like A Lesser Photographer. That's OK. It's more data. It's tells me that what I did in those 400 posts didn't work as well as the previous 400. Maybe I'm more of a generalist now, like Tiago. Or, maybe it's time for a change.

He may also be saying that the work really isn't just the product. It's everything that goes along with it. It's the dozens of tasks that have to happen to make the posts and books happen. None of that is deep work, nor should it be.

It's great food for thought. But, I wouldn't want to small batch the thought.


If You Could Only Photograph One Subject...

Artifact Uprising interviews Photographer Tim Coulson:

"If I could only take photos of one thing for the rest of my life, it would be my family. I've had the privilege to travel to the ends of the earth, taking pictures of the world's most amazing locations. And if I could just take photos of Kesh and the boys — of us being us — I would choose that over anything."
"A deep lesson I've learned is that there's a really fine line between documenting the essence of something and over-documenting to where you become withdrawn from what you're really doing. I want to be here, actually here, for all of it, and I want to document our life in a true way. But, as important as it is to document life, what is by far more important is to be in your life."

Yep. This is the essence of the A Lesser Photographer philosophy. Photography is one of the greatest things in my life, but it must make way for the greatest thing.

Listen Up!

When big name politicians run for office, they start by announcing a "listening tour." This is bullshit. It's really about determining if they have the financial support and popularity to viably run for the office.

What if it wasn't bullshit, though?

What if you could start a listening tour for what you do (or want to do better)? Where would you go and who would you talk to?

Starting in June, I'm doing a listening tour through the midwest. It's going to be about connecting with target readers I've known mostly online. I want to listen to them in person to find out what they need.

It's the world's first real listening tour!

Nothing beats meeting people in real life to find out what the online surveys won't tell you.


Eric Kim Quits Instagram for Blogging

From Eric Kim's blog:

"Why? I realized it was a major distraction in my life. Rather than focusing on what I do to create real value (blogging) I wasted my precious energy on how to optimize my follower count."

Generally, I don't like to announce when I quit doing things or change up my publishing formats anymore. It's not interesting or applicable to most readers. I just do it and move on. But, Eric's post is an exception to this rule, because he's helping people.

It may sound counterintuitive to leave Instagram for blogging, when most photographers have done the opposite, but that's the point. "Different is better than better." Zig when everyone else is zagging.

He's focused on a goal and he's eliminating anything that gets in his way. Instagram was getting in the way of creating (both in terms of time and mental health), so he's eliminating from his life.

Eric posts way too many blog posts everyday for me to keep up with. I couldn't read them all if I wanted to. But 1 out of a 10 resonate with me. And if he publishes 50 posts a week, that's 5 posts every week that reach me in a personal way. That's way more than any photo publication I can think of.

It's no wonder he says he now makes about $200,000.00 from his ideas about photography (most of it coming from workshops). He becomes more influential and valuable with every blog post and he knows it.

Eric invited me a few years ago to dinner with one of his workshop classes. I can attest they were having a great time. I suspect there would be twice as many people this year trying to get into that workshop class.


I Was Wrong About Landscape Photography

I made the argument in the A Lesser Photographer book, and here in this blog, that photographers should chase what's scarce if they want to capture something with longevity in meaning. At the top of the list of examples, I'd include photojournalism and people-centric photography. These types of photography capture moments, people, and events who will change over time, thus making the photographs more valued over time.

Landscape photography always struck me as something perfected by the zone system masters from Ansel Adams up through John Sexton and Clyde Butcher. When digital photography democratized technical capabilities, old school mastery seemed to matter less and there doesn't seem to be a place on earth where an ordinary person can't travel with a perfectly capable camera.

This is more true every year. Soon, technique may not matter at all. The camera will do it all for you. Only location will matter in landscape photography. And there are fewer places every year not covered by humans with cameras.

Landscapes take a VERY long time to change significantly. There's no scarcity in capability or location anymore, so there's little value.

This revelation hit me in the 1990s when I saw the first real consumer digital camera. It discouraged me from pursuing my obsession with landscape photography.

Judging from two decades of email I've received, it probably discouraged millions of others as well. At least once a week I get an email about how a reader still loves photography, but hasn't done much with their own since the "death" of film.

I think our problem is not with the death of film or the death of mastery of the landscape, however. We've improperly framed the problem as one of our hobby not mattering to the world anymore. We need to re-frame the issue around how it matters to ourselves.

I just read the following in one of my favorite email newsletters, Further:

George MacKerron, an economist, wanted to find out what made people happy. He studied 20,000 people in the UK, mapping their locations over time with their reported emotions. He found:

"On average, study participants are significantly and substantially happier in outdoors in all green or natural habitats than they are in urban environments."

This is not a new idea. Psychologists have known for ages that getting back to nature is helpful for easing depression and anxiety. It may also help with physical ailments that either stem from mental ailments or cause them.

Among the many reasons I love landscape photography is that it gives me a great excuse to visit beautiful landscapes. It gives me a reason to slow down and appreciate the landscape from angles I would never otherwise consider. Capturing them with film gives me even more of an excuse to slow down.

When I shot with a 4x5 camera, I was forced to slow down and wait until the landscape gave me exactly the light I was looking to capture. Reloading can be tricky and the film is expensive, so you have to get it right the first time. You really have to know your craft and you have to see differently.

Clyde Butcher has been known to wait all day with his 8x10 camera for a single exposure. If he doesn't see exactly the light he wants, he comes back the next day and waits all over again.

This is the form of meditation I was enjoying in the 1990s that I've missed so much since. This is what's scarce. This is what's valuable. I didn't realize it was meditation at the time. It just felt like fun.

Caring about the myth of legacy or the value photographs may hold for others held me back for two decades from my passion (yes, I used the "p" word - deal with it - it just means an obsession with positive side effects).

Landscape photography is healthy. You hike miles. You look at gorgeous things. It feels good. It makes others looking at the results feel good too. Few things create such positive results for all involved.

I need to start thinking of landscape photography more like I think of fishing. Sure, there are professional fishermen. But, that doesn't stop millions from taking to the water every day to fish for fun, even if they sit all day on a pond and catch nothing. It's not about the fish. I need to stop making it about the fish.


How to Enjoy a Vacation

Summer is coming. For creatives who have the good sense to take vacations, this can present a paradox. How do we relax and let go of the work, while retaining our daily creative practices?

There are several schools of thought on this:

  1. It's a vacation. Don't do anything.
  2. Continue your creative practices no matter where you are. After all, if this is what compels you, why do you need a vacation from it?
  3. Do as little or as much as you feel like.

If you're a parent, none of these is probably your reality. You're going to do whatever it takes to make your kids happy (or at least quiet). However, the time may come when you enjoy some real time off too (let's just imagine it). I'm solidly in the #3 camp.

The key to a successful vacation day for me seems to be to keep what you want to do every day down to one thing of no great importance. Nothing needs to be done, but getting one thing out of the way in a different environment feels really good. That sense of accomplishment can carry you through a day, giving you enough excuse to truly slack off.

I try to fill my calendar up when I can, so that I'm determining as much of my day as possible. I try to block others from making me do things. That never works, but the day it does, it'll be worth it.

Realize that trying too hard to enjoy yourself is work. We all want to squeeze as much "fun" into our days off as possible. This is not possible, because all that managing is not fun.

See some movies, read some books, and visit more places. This is what stirs ideas all on its own. No work required.