Curious Acts, for People Like You
TAoN No. 94: Five ideas from Stanford design school's new book. PLUS: A new Missing Word, and more.
This past weekend I spent some time with the recent book Creative Acts for Curious People, from Stanford d.school executive director Sarah Stein Greenberg. I thought I’d share some thoughts about it — or rather some thoughts and ideas from it.
N.B.: I’m imagining this as the first in a recurring series, the TAoN Book Notice. That’s a tentative title, but here’s the idea: I’m not reviewing books, or even attempting to summarize them in full. Instead, I’m reading them through a TAoN lens, and passing along what I find smart, interesting, useful, inspiring, or fun. In short, I’m borrowing what’s in the book at hand as a starting point for more explicitly TAoN-ish ideas.
Creative Acts for Curious People is set up as a series of exercises and assignments. It very much has a designer-oriented framing (d.school is Stanford’s design program), but it’s also clearly meant to appeal to anyone who does “creative” work. It’s a lush and hefty volume, full color printing throughout, nicely designed with fun illustrations. But again, I’m going to be plucking out ideas for my own agenda, so if you want more of an official description go here.
My focus, as always, is on noticing, observation, engagement, and attention — more about curious acts than creative ones, you might say ;)
And there are definitely some cool ideas here. A few actually overlap with prompts in The Art of Noticing book and newsletter, but I’ll skip those and focus on newer (to me, and hopefully you) thoughts. To reiterate one last time, full credit to Creative Acts for inspiration and originality, but some of these I’ve tweaked, truncated, or reinterpreted. (After all, reading isn’t about just accepting ideas, it’s about being inspired to have ideas — right?) Here goes:
Go some place with lots of objects – a museum, a store, whatever. Walk around, pick an object, and “attend to that object for a moment or two.” Write down what it is that you find interesting about it. Now move on to another object and “hang out” with that one for a while. Again, take notes. Do this for half an hour, addressing six or seven objects. When you’re done, reflect on this “mini-catalog of visual values that you’re drawn to.” Reflect further about how you normally behave in a store or a museum, and why this experience was different. “How can your new insights about what stokes your curiosity help you take more control and focus your attention?”
Pick a persona – a poet, a spy, a person from another country. Go to a public place, and sit and observe the world for a while, maybe 10 minutes, trying your best to experience the world the way your chosen persona would. Perhaps take notes, or make sketches. Now switch to another persona, and do the same thing. Repeat a few times. Or do this with a partner or a group. Compare notes about how different personas perceived different things, and why.
“Zombie Apocalypse Prep.” (I’m extracting this from a more elaborate team-building exercise, but I like it on its own.) In a group, have everyone “discuss what unique skills you bring … that will aid in your mutual survival when the zombie apocalypse hits – which could be any minute.”
“Find a compelling place to sit for three hours in one spot: a town square, a zoo, a food court, a hospital.” Don’t look at your phone. Take notes, and try to write “constantly about what’s happening around you.” Accept that this will get boring. But push through, and start to notice what you’d missed before. Think about why things are the way they are. Appreciate “how liberating its is just to have time to watch what is. Especially when that’s the only thing you have to do.”
Another one I’m extracting and modifying from the original, but that I think in my version is a good introspective one for the end of the year: Divide a piece of paper in two columns – “I Used To Think” on one side, “And Now I Think” on the other. Consider what you’ve learned, when you were wrong, or what you’ve changed your mind about, in the past year. Reflect on whether you should try to do more of that in the year ahead, and if so why, and how.
If you want more detail and context on these, or more ideas (particularly design-focused ideas), check out Creative Acts for Curious People yourself! Here’s an Amazon (associate) link, and here’s a Bookshop.org link, and of course you can always try your local library.
Also: I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about adding regular ‘TAoN Book Notice’ entries like this one to the mix — whether you find it valuable, and if there are any specific books (new or old) or categories you’d particularly like me to focus on. Comment below, or use firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Dictionary of Missing Words is an exercise in paying attention to phenomena you encounter — sensations, concepts, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be. More here and here.
This week’s missing word is from friend of TAoN Steve Portigal:
When you realize later that you wish you had said something — we need a word for that thing you wish you had said, a noun that refers to the unexpressed words or thoughts.
“Don't you imagine that there's a word for this in Japanese?,” Steve adds. “And maybe in German there's a word for the FEELING you get when you realize you wish you had responded in a certain way. For sure this is related to — but distinct from — the regret over a thing you DID say, probably also a German word.”
But, he clarified, his Missing Word entry is the first one: The noun that refers to the unexpressed words or thoughts. And it’s a great suggestion! Thanks so much Steve!
What else should we add to The Dictionary of Missing Words? Leave your suggestion — or respond to this one — in the comments.
Next issue: a new icebreaker. (The Dictionary of Missing Words series alternates with Icebreaker of the Week, and, more sporadically, the Something to Notice series.)
I have several things in the works for future Thursday posts for paid subscribers, including thoughts on regrets — and on “saying no.”
Plus, every Thursday, a fresh installment of The Heard, sharing music that’s caught my attention (in a good way) lately.
Last Thursday’s post was about Aimee Mann, paying attention, and forging meaningful artist-listener connection. Access that and all back issues by subscribing!
If you would like to underwrite a subscription for someone who doesn’t have the budget right now, you can do so here.
In Other News
Following up last week’s “Your World Is Your Museum” theme, reader Zabby points out this recent story: “A large home with piles of black [garbage] bags outside has been mocked by a neighbour with a sign claiming it is an 'art installation' for a local festival.” The disgruntled neighbor put up a placard sarcastically declaring the massive trash heap a work of art titled “Utter Rubbish.” Pretty funny; thanks, Zabby!
This might be paywalled, but for Fortune I wrote about what needs to come after the Great Resignation — the Great Raise.
“Ideas are overrated.” Nicely done piece by the terrific Timothy Noah.
“Playlist BLACK BEATLES: R&B COVERS 1963-1972, a selection of major Black artists of the period interpreting the music of the Fab Four.” An enjoyable addition to the current neo-Beatlemania moment. I gathered my handful of favorites here.
Sarah Kathleen Peck has a new LinkedIn newsletter, Startup Parent. I think the title says it all; if that’s you, check it out.
And in closing, via Street Art Utopia, this:
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: email@example.com. Or use the comments!
—> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
To unsubscribe see the grey box at the bottom of the email.