March 27th, 2015 · 30 comments
Asimov’s Lost Essay
In the late 1950’s, Arthur Obermayer worked for Allied Research Associates, a cold war-era science lab. During this period, his employer received a grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency to “elicit the most creative approaches possible for a ballistic missile defense system.”
Obermayer was a longtime friend of the famed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Figuring that Asimov might know a thing or two about creativity, he brought him into the project.
The result was an essay, penned by Asimov, on the topic of creative breakthroughs. Oberymayer recently brought this essay to the attention of the MIT Technology Review magazine, which reprinted it in full.
The piece contains several original notions, but what caught my attention was its take on where creative ideas come from.
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March 17th, 2015 · 15 comments
Deep Work After Hours
One lesson I learned after becoming a professor is that producing intellectual insights at a professional pace requires deep thinking beyond the confines of the normal workday. Though I’m quite good at protecting and prioritizing deep work against the encroachment of the shallow, the depth I can fit into my regular schedule is not sufficient.
My strategy is to maintain, at all times, a single, clear problem primed and ready for cogitation. I then set aside specific times for this deep thinking in my schedule outside work. I use many (though not all) of my commutes for this purpose. I also leverage long weekend dog walks and the mental lull that accompanies time-consuming house work.
(People sometimes ask what I do with the free time I preserve by not using any social media or web surfing. This is a large part of my answer.)
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March 14th, 2015 · 33 comments
Redeeming The Luddite Caucus
Earlier this morning I was reading The Washington Post while watching the sun rise (I have two young kids at home: I find quiet where I can). A column by Catherine Rampell, titled The Luddite Caucus, caught my attention.
As I began to read, my interest transformed into concern.
In the wake of the recent Hillary Clinton e-mail story, many reporters, it turns out, have been asking other politicians about their digital habits. After reviewing these articles, Rampell reports that there are a surprising number of United States senators who rarely use e-mail — a list that includes: Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Pat Roberts, Richard Shelby, Orrin Hatch, and Chuck Schumer.
Rampell is shocked that so many senators “proudly abstain” from e-mail.
She accuses them of being “utterly uninterested” in “understanding the daily experience, workplace expectations or priorities of their younger constituents.”
She describes the senators as displaying “mindboggling levels of societal incuriosity,” to the point that this behavior should be considered “political malpractice.”
She concludes by asserting that contemporary technology use is a “necessary” condition for understanding “good tech policy”, rendering these senators unqualified to address laws that affect technology, privacy, labor, global competitiveness, and, for some reason, immigration.
As you might have guessed: I don’t buy this argument.
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March 10th, 2015 · 22 comments
A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about three writers who custom-built work spaces to help them go deeper with their craft. In response, many of you sent more examples of fantastic deep work spaces. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites, as the more I dive into this idea of “method working,” the more appealing it becomes…
David McCullough’s Cabin
(Image from Reason and Reflection.)
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, it turns out, writes his biographies in a eight-by-twelve cabin on the property of his Martha’s Vineyard farm. He calls it his “World Headquarters.” Supposedly, he once quipped, “nothing good was ever written in a large room.”
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