Ira Glass on Creative Work

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through. ” — Ira Glass

Ira Jeffrey Glass is an American public radio personality and the host and producer of the radio and television show This American Life.

Zainab Zaki on the Four Stages of Competence

There are four stages of developing competence:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence — This is the phase where you don’t know what you don’t know. There is a skill that you are missing but you don’t even know what it is yet. This is the most vulnerable and dangerous stage as it applies to the context of our work lives. There are a lot of things in this world we don’t know and we are ok with that. Ignorance is bliss after all. Not when it comes to our careers. We may not want to or need to know the details of every aspect of our enterprise, when it comes to our specific jobs and our soft skills, it is disastrous for us to not know what we are missing. But then again, this stage is the starting point of all learning. So we must acknowledge that there will always be things about our jobs and ourselves that we don’t yet know we need to improve while trusting that when the time and circumstance is right, we will naturally move to the next stage which is knowing what we don’t know.
  2. Conscious Incompetence — This is the stage where we realize there is a gap and identify the exact skill we need to develop. We come to terms with our ignorance and incompetence in a particular area. Here we come to a crossroads. We have to make a decision whether to lean in and begin the journey of learning this skill or acknowledge we have a gap in a particular area and be intentional about living with it. For the most part, our choice will always be to learn and grow. What is life without consistently learning and growing. Both personally and professionally. And so, once we decide we have a gap, we set to work to close it.
  3. Conscious Competence — This is where the learning begins. Conscious competence is the stage where we are actively working on the skill but we are yet novices. We try some things, we fail, we learn some lessons and try again. We keep getting better. Our competence grows slowly and surely but it doesn’t come naturally yet. We still have a ways to go before our competency becomes a part of our DNA. The key here is to be persistent and determined and not giving up.

Read more here

Zainab Zaki is a technology product manage and co-founder of TappedIn

Martha Nussbaum on How to Escape Fear

One of the most novel solutions you come up with to conquer fear and make democracies work better is the idea of a national service that requires young people to get into contact with people of different classes, ethnicities and ages to do constructive work. Why do you think this is needed and how could we prevent resentment or bad experiences? Why not make this service universal, involving people of all ages doing a few hours of community work on certain weekends of the month, much like the Soviets attempted with subotniks?

The problem I’m addressing is that people don’t know one another. Our residential housing and our schools de facto segregated by class and race, and young people grow up not knowing how other people live. This makes informed political participation very hard. My picture is that people would see different regions of the country and different ethnic and cultural surroundings from those familiar to them, meanwhile doing useful work such as elder care and child care. (In the US the absence of nursing care is a huge hardship for aging adults.) It is important to do this when people are young, so that it affects their political understanding henceforth. And it needs to be a total immersion, not a few hours a week while you live in your usual place. Of course I think it’s great if people do that sort of community work too, but it doesn’t provide the same benefits of human learning and understanding.  I think bad experiences are part of learning, but the program needs to be set up well, with plenty of training and with counselors to deal with problems.

You distinguish between idle and practical hope. How could we avoid falling into the first, and create the latter in our lives? How can we work on our emotional focus?

I argue that the reason to cultivate hope in uncertain times is Kant’s reason: we have a duty to work for the improvement of our societies, but energetic action to serve the public good is not possible without hope. Obviously, then, what we need to cultivate is practical not idle hope. 

Strategies ought to be personal and local, but I suggest that a number of institutions can help: religion, the arts, liberal arts education, protest movements, and the study of theories of justice. I call these ‘practices of hope.’ Of course for each one there are good and bad versions.  We need to ask ourselves what will energize our own search for social good, and choose accordingly.

The implicit idea of The Monarchy of Fear is that the good life involves love and hope, and an astute management of our irrational fear, retributive anger, and disgust. Is that a fair definition of your idea of the good life?

I don’t believe in giving definitions of the good life; that’s something each person has to figure out for him or herself, in keeping with their religion or other doctrine. What I think philosophers are entitled to do is to propose an account of basic political entitlements that all citizens can share whatever their religious or non-religious ‘comprehensive doctrine’, and that is what I’ve tried to do in the book.

As we’re inaugurating our Thinker of the Month profiles, we’d like to ask you a few more general questions. Which thinkers have had the most influence upon you and how?

Aristotle, the Stoics, Epicurus and his ally Lucretius, Cicero. These are in my head, so they are touchstones to whom I keep returning to argue and learn.  It’s not about agreeing, it’s about having an internal conversation with their powerful arguments.

Continue reading here

Martha Craven Nussbaum is an American philosopher and the current Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago

Playlist of the Week


Camel    —   Ice
Yanni  — The Rain Must Fall
Lesiëm   —   Vivere
Frank Zappa  —   Watermelon In Easter Hay
Wintergatan  —   Marble Machine
Escala  —   Chi Mai
Piero Piccioni  —   In nome del Padre, del Figlio e della Colt
Myrkur    —   Ulvinde
Katherine Jenkins, The Czech Film Orchestra  — Time To Say Goodbye
Nino Rota    —   The Godfather Waltz

This week’s playlist is available on iTunes and Spotify. I hope you enjoy it

Tadao Ando on the Future

What books do you have on your bedside table?

I am interested in things happening around me, and I need to understand what’s going on in other artistic sectors like music and literature. I read a lot, but nothing comes to mind at the moment.

What are you afraid of regarding the future ?

I’m afraid that people don’t want the future to happen. In order for people to want this, each person has to have goals in their life, to feel proud. work is one of the ways of achieving this. Unemployment is dangerous because then people don’t use their resources. Each individual has to be able to use their abilities.

Who would you like to design something for?

I believe that the way people live can be directed a little by architecture. I would like my architecture to inspire people to use their own resources, to move into the future. although now we are more and more governed by the american way of thinking, money, the economy… I hope that now people will shift to a more European way (of thinking), culture, individuality, and that people move towards new goals. So for me to be able to contribute to this would be great.

Continue reading here

Tadao Ando is a Japanese self-taught architect whose approach to architecture and landscape

Tyler Cowen on Raising the Aspirations of Other People

Tyler cowen in Marginal Revolution

Yesterday I had lunch with a former Ph.D student of mine, who is now highly successful and tenured at a very good school.  I was reminded that, over twenty years ago, I was Graduate Director of Admissions.  One of my favorite strategies was to take strong candidates who applied for Masters and also offer them Ph.D admissions, suggesting they might to do the latter.  My lunch partner was a beneficiary of this de facto policy.

At least two of our very best students went down this route.  Ex ante, neither realized that it was common simply to apply straight to a Ph.D program, skipping over the Masters.  I believe this is now better known, but the point is this.

At critical moments in time, you can raise the aspirations of other people significantly, especially when they are relatively young, simply by suggesting they do something better or more ambitious than what they might have in mind.  It costs you relatively little to do this, but the benefit to them, and to the broader world, may be enormous.

Continue reading here

Tyler Cowen is an American economist, who is an economics professor at George Mason University

Jim Simons on the Effectiveness of Mathematics

We stayed ahead of the pack by finding other approaches — shorter-term approaches to some extent. The real thing was to gather a tremendous amount of data — and we had to get it by hand in the early days. We went down to the Federal Reserve and copied interest rate histories and stuff like that, because it didn’t exist on computers. We got a lot of data. And very smart people — that was the key. I didn’t really know how to hire people to do fundamental trading. I had hired a few — some made money, some didn’t make money. I couldn’t make a business out of that. But I did know how to hire scientists,because I have some taste in that department. So, that’s what we did.

Jim Simons is an American mathematician, billionaire hedge fund manager, and philanthropist

Playlist of the Week

UB40 — If It Happens Again
Culture — Addis Ababa
Peter Tosh — Johnny B Goode
Bob Marley & The Wailers — Buffalo Soldier
Nas & Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley — Strong Will Continue
Sean Paul — Never Gonna be the Same
Sting & Shaggy — Just One Lifetime
Tarrus Riley ft. Konshens — Good Girl Gone Bad
Pato Ranking ft. Timaya — Alubarika
Mavado — Hope and Pray

This week’s playlist is available on iTunes and Spotify. I hope you enjoy it