Discover more from The Art of Noticing
Committing Acts of Curiosity
TAoN No. 78: The only way to find out. PLUS: A TAoN virtual event, a LinkedIn Live chat I'm excited about, and more
Quick note: The first-ever TAoN virtual event is coming August 3! Register now! It’s free. More info below.
I’m a fan of Improv Everywhere — they’re in the book! — and their many clever actions and performances that transform everyday life into something remarkable. You may have seen the most recent example, which made the rounds a week or so ago, “Stand Here for Dance Party.”
There’s a particular detail of this one, subtle but I think crucial, that I keep coming back to.
The video starts by showing a simple round decal being placed on a public plaza. “Stand Here For Dance Party,” it says. The design intentionally mimics a social-distancing decal. People look at it, and photograph it. And at last, someone actually stands on it.
If you haven’t already seen the four-minute video and want to before I spoil it, here you go:
Now that you’ve seen it, you know that once someone did stand on the decal, a squad of Improv Everywhere operatives, with boom boxes and impressive dance moves, converted the public space into (as promised) an open-air dance party. Very fun.
But here’s what makes this work: Not just the planning and the expert performers and the slick choreography and the clever subversion of social-distance design. None of that matters unless somebody stands on the decal. What activates this entire operation is curiosity.
That’s why I keep fixating on the opening sequence. Somebody looking at the decal — but steering clear. Somebody else looking — but then choosing to document, rather than participate.
Then somebody is curious enough to act — to see, you know, what will happen? I’m not an experienced GIF-maker so forgive my poor digital craftsmanship, but here’s the moment I’m talking about:
This woman is my hero! I love everything about her, her body language, her openness, the thrilling sense she radiates that anything could happen and she’s up for it. And if you’ve watched the video, you know that she in fact unleashed an experience that she (and many strangers nearby) will never forget.
What’s not in the video, but we know is true, is some huge majority of people not even noticing, or actively ignoring, the invitation to an impromptu, on-the-spot dance party. As always, attention is the first step.
But the next step is curiosity — and in this case, an act of curiosity. Taking that step to see what will happen. Maybe the answer is nothing! But maybe it is something you could never have imagined.
We face smaller versions of these crossroads all the time: even when attentive, we notice or half-notice things that we immediately choose to ignore because, why bother? What good could come of it? It’s probably nothing. Who cares?
Honestly, it takes a kind of courage to act on curiosity. After all, nobody else is actually standing on the decal. Surely if there were any payoff, someone else would be doing it already, right? Maybe. But there is only way to know for sure.
The prompt: Commit an act of curiosity this week. Next time you face that crossroads — go ahead and see what happens.
Virtual event next Tuesday
This idea of the “commiting an act of curiosity” will be at the heart of the virtual talk/workshop I’m working on for TAoN subscribers next week.
Curiosity is widely recognized as a bedrock of creativity, not to mention a trait that all sorts of businesses seem to value. And yet there’s little effort to cultivate and encourage curiosity, or make the most of it. This talk will remedy that, with concrete prompts and exercises, along with inspiring examples of the creative payoffs to noticing what others overlooked.
* Note this time is a correction, an earlier note gave an incorrect time.
We’ll be doing this through Zoom. And don’t worry, it’s more of a lecture format — you won’t be expected to perform or be on camera or whatever! That said, it will include a Q&A period. But we’ll definitely keep it to no more than one hour total.
It’s a bit of an experiment, originally conceived as being for paid subscribers only. But after some feedback that I’ll explain some other time, I’m opening it up to all subscribers who register by the end of the week.
So click here to register. I think this will be fun!
Actually I’ll say this about the feedback alluded to above. I know that it’s not possible for everyone to be a paid subscriber, and I will reiterate here the offer I’ve made in the past: If you really want full TAoN access and it’s just not in the budget, then by all means — as an alternative to slinging overt hostility — please just write to me at email@example.com. And let’s see if we can figure something out. Thanks.
On the other hand, if you enjoy TAoN and like the idea of virtual events and whatnot, please consider becoming a paid subscriber, as that is what makes this possible, and I truly appreciate it. Thanks!
The Icebreaker series will return next week.
In other news
I could not be more thrilled to be in conversation with the wonderful Dorie Clark this Thursday at noon Eastern, as part of Clark’s highly popular Newsweek/LinkedIn Live series, Better. We’ll be talking about how to spark creativity & innovation — and about noticing, of course. Put it on your calendar here.
(I can promise you this is the last time TAoN will include two pictures of me. Ugh.)
Something else I’m excited about: Until Proven Safe, from friends of TAoN Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley — a book about quarantine that they’ve been working on for years. Read Nicola’s post about it here, and Geoff’s here. You’re going to be hearing a lot about this one.
I am obsessed with this surreal Sparks song & video from a few years back. (Your mileage may vary.)
On another, newer music note, fans of Ratatat will like this.
I am thinking a lot about this: “I think inspiration is overrated. I think work is what is important. You can only make music if you make music. You can only paint if you paint. You can only write if you write. In general, you won’t get better at it, or at anything else, unless you do it. And so you do it. I think being inspired really happens in the midst of work, not before the work.” That’s friend of TAoN Marc Weidenbaum. I intend to return to the subject.
Reflections on Hi Vis. Really interesting audio doc about day-glo "high vis" safety uniforms, and the de facto authority they project.
Street Artist Transforms Cracks in Pavement To Turn Eyesores Into Gorgeous Mosaics. Via the ever-delightful life:examined newsletter.
Okay that’s it!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the comments!
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And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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