Monday Musings: News, Serendipity, Statistics, Racing, Teachers

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Hi friends,

Greetings from Austin!

With the exception of newsletter writing, I basically haven't opened my computer in a week. Gratefully, I'm back in a creative flow. I'm focusing on the Porter Robinson documentary, which I'll be premiering in Austin on December 5th.

As I mentioned in last week's newsletter, I'm hiring a full-time Director of Content & Marketing for Write of Passage, and the application deadline is Sunday.

Here's what I want to share this week:

  1. Podcast with Jay Clouse: I was interviewed about opting out of institutions, building Write of Passage, and how writing online can generate serendipity.
  2. Workshop: How I'm Building My YouTube Channel: On Wednesday, I'm hosting a free workshop with my YouTube team. We'll share our process for making weekly YouTube videos and growing the channel. You can register here.
  3. News in the Age of Abundance: We are told that "staying informed" is one of the marks of a well-lived life, but most media publications do exactly the opposite. In this essay, I trace the history of mass media from newspapers to television to the Internet. Then, I provide some guidelines for healthy information consumption.

Coolest Things I Learned This Week

How I Write Monday Musings

This newsletter forces me to develop and synthesize interesting ideas each week. It's a first draft of my thinking. Three years into writing it, I've never missed a Monday.

I keep a running list of potential ideas in a folder. I capture them casually right when they come to mind and never let myself say, "Oh, I'll remember that." All these notes are short enough that I can capture them quickly when I'm away from my computer, which is where I usually have my best ideas. Here’s an unedited peek at how I brainstorm newsletter topics:

Whenever I read on Kindle, I add a note to good ideas which says: "MM Worthy." Since those two words indicate that I have an idea worth writing about, I can instantly inspire creativity with a quick search through my note-taking system. For example, consider this quote I captured from John O’Donahue’s Anam Cara:

On Monday mornings, I sit down at my computer and compile the ideas that are the most exciting to me. I care more about what sounds fun than what seems useful. The best results come when I compile the ideas on Sunday afternoon. I'll keep them in mind while going for a walk, talking to friends, or sleeping. By committing to these ideas in advance, I can flesh them out in my mind before I put them on paper.

— —

Statistically Useful, Emotionally Empty

If there's one idea I come back to whenever I think of Marx, it's alienation.

A modern form of alienation may come from working on a globally scaled product. Employees there spend so much time optimizing a small part of a huge system that they cannot feel their influence. Consider a product like Instagram. An engineer could spend five years improving the algorithm, make it 0.01% more enjoyable to everybody who uses the platform, and unlock $100 million in economic value. But since they can't feel their contribution (they can only see it measured on a spreadsheet), their work won't bring much satisfaction.

In contrast, consider a priest in a small town. His congregation only has 100 members. But because the church is so small, he is able to meet with each and every one of them. As he does, he touches their lives and radically improves the community. Though he only unlocks $1 million in economic value during his career, his soul is warm and satisfied.

Which kind of contribution should we promote?

The rationalist would promote the Instagram engineer. After all, they're realizing their highest marginal utility to society and they have the spreadsheets to show their influence. But the romantic would say they're "statistically useful, but emotionally empty." No matter what the numbers say, people will feel alienated if they cannot feel the fruits of their labor.

So what happens when meaningful work isn't the best way to improve society at scale? Would you rather create a small, but deeply felt impact on 100 people you know personally or, according to the spreadsheet, a 1,000 times "larger" but less personally felt influence on hundreds of millions of people?

— —


Developing friendships with artists was one of my favorite parts of living in New York.

All the best ones had one thing in common: They felt given stimuli more strongly than regular people. One friend, a painter and fashion designer, was so enthralled by feminine beauty that we had to stop our conversation whenever a beautiful woman walked by. Their good looks captured him to the point of paralysis. Ladies loved him too, and every night, it seemed like he was with a new Instagram model. Though many people would criticize his promiscuous behavior, it was born out of the same impulses that make him such a talented designer.

There's a name for this phenomenon: overexcitability. Research shows it's one of the best predictors of genius. Overexcitable people have a heightened response to stimuli. Kazimierz Dabrowski, who created the theory, identified five areas of intensity: Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional.

Imaginational might be the most interesting. These people may confuse fact and fiction because their daydreams are so vivid that they mistake them for reality. Though Imaginational Overexcitability would normally be seen as a weakness, it's likely a prerequisite for people like J.K Rowling or J.R.R Tolkein who create such detailed fictional worlds.

If you're reading this newsletter, you may have "Intellectual Overexcitability," which is common for people with hyper-active minds who are obsessed with seeking truth and understanding the world.
— —

What Teachers Take for Granted

Robert Pirsig writes about how there are no manuals for the most important part of motorcycle maintenance: caring about what you're doing. Time and again, we consider passion either unimportant or take it for granted. But without that passion, you have nothing.

Many teachers fall prey to the same blindspot, which holds students back. As I wrote in How Learning Happens: "Inspiration is the keystone of learning. It’s the engine behind a student’s motivation and the glue that makes ideas stick. But because our school system undervalues the necessity of inspiration, students don’t learn as much as they could."

To my surprise, very little has been written about what inspires people to learn. Like motorcycle maintenance, no important progress gets made when people don't care about what they're working on.

— —

Your Favorite Artists are Quietly Prolific

When I interviewed Logic a few weeks ago, he said that he has thousands of unreleased songs. Porter Robinson, who didn't release an album for seven years, has similarly said that though he's always tinkering with new tracks, only a fraction see the light of day.

Similar themes apply to every art form.

As a writer, you need to remember that your favorite creators are likely more prolific than you think. Don't compare your early ideas to other people's edited and refined published works.

The vast majority of what every creator makes is junk. There's no way around that. Knowing that gobs of nonsense are part of the creative process, excellence comes not from raising standards for your first drafts but from knowing what to publish and what to discard.

It's easy to feel like a failure when you're stuck. Progress is usually felt in retrospect, when you look back at all the editing you've done.

Photos of the Week

I attended my first Formula One race over the weekend. With more than 400,000 attendees, it's one of the biggest sporting events in America, and the Austin streets were lined with Mercedes and Ferrari hats as a result.

If you ever attend a race, make sure to sit at a turn instead of a straightaway. Though the straightaway speeds are mesmerizing and it's fun to watch cars drive more than 300 mph, these machines stand out during the turns.

Watching them bend around the turns, it's as if their cars are glued to the ground. I wouldn't believe the physics was real if I hadn't seen so many sparks come out from under their cars due to all the friction.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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