The Art of Noticing No. 20: Do it the Hard Way; A Bad-Directions App; Humility; Icebreaker

Hello again,
The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday offers exercises, prompts, provocations, games and things you can actually do to build attention muscles, stave off distraction, pick up on what everybody else overlooked, and experience the joy of noticing. Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Knopf | All purpose link for readers in UK/Europe or US

This newsletter offers related news and ideas that have come along since I finished the book.

Events in New Orleans & Dallas

In New Orleans: Thursday, May 30, 2019, 5:15–6 PM, as part of the Birdfoot Festival, I’ll be talking about the book — and presenting some of its exercises in a collaboration with Birdfoot musicians. Free! A book signing and happy hour will follow. The Shop at the Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp Street, 3rd floor. More here and here.

In Dallas: As part of the "Inspired City" track of the Dallas Festival of Books & Ideas, I'll be talking about The Art of Noticing on Saturday at the Dallas Museum of Art, Founders Room, from 1:15 to 2 pm. Books sold and signed afterward. Then, at 4pm, I'll lead a walk through DMA galleries, with an Art of Noticing slant; space is limited, first-come, first-served. Also free! There are a ton of other festival-related goings-on, see here and here. (Registration recommended; among other things it apparently helps with parking.)

If you have read & enjoyed the book, please consider reviewing or rating it on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you!

1. Do It The Hard Way

I'm not against productivity or efficiency. But I'm suspicious about our obsession with these goals, and the many tech tools designed to smooth our way through an optimized world. I wrote about that for, and ultimately make the case that sometimes inefficiency is a good thing.

At some point you have to wonder if the thing we’re hacking away isn’t just annoyance or inefficiency, but potentially delightful serendipity. Or, you know, life itself. ....

Sometimes—whether literally or metaphorically—it’s worth making the effort to get there the hard way. Make a habit of challenging your most comfortable habits. Use a paper map. Call a friend on the phone instead of texting. Go to a book store with no agenda, browse at length, and walk out with a book you’ve never heard of. Ask the bartender what that song is. Make an inefficient decision.

Read it here. And for some further, related thoughts you might give a listen to this episode of the Hurry Slowly podcast. (I'll be a guest on that show soon and host Jocelyn K. Glei and I chatted about the efficiency/creativity question.)

2. Dept. of Speculative Projects: An App That Gives Bad Directions

On a related note, Bruce Willen had a recent essay for Design Observer, "In Defense of Inconvenience," that hits on some similar themes from a designer's perspective. This bit toward the end gave me a thought:

As designers, can we create experiences that are as human and fulfilling as a walk down a tree-lined street? Can we build places, products, and platforms that open doors for diversion, learning, and personal connection? Can we advocate for intentional design that cultivates community?

We don’t have to make our tools, products, and communication platforms frustrating and unsafe. But we can choose to focus efficiency where it matters most.

Willen's thinking there is sensible , and I don't disagree. But I also wonder ... Maybe we should make some of tools frustrating. Imagine, for example, an app that intentionally gave unreliable, flaky directions. That changed its mind, forced you to check back in and "ask again" — Hey app, are you sure that's the right way? Maybe the app would periodically 'fess up: "Oh, sorry, I meant left, not right!"

The experience would be like talking to a series of random people doing their best to give you directions without really knowing the answer. Which is a mode that, while annoying, can also be slightly thrilling. And which is, as some of you know, how we used to get around.

3. Endorsed: Age of Humility

Age of Humility is a collection of essays written by people attempting to be humble at a time when public humility is scarce. Our book proposes ways of rethinking status-oriented success in order to build a community in which vulnerability is not a deficit but a strength.

More here, and here. In a turn of events that I can't help but brag about, the creators of this admirable project have "invited 2 philosophers, a psychologist, + a journalist from @AgeofHumility to comment on passages from #artofnoticing." First up: "Journalist Lynette Clemetson, director of @UMKnightWallace responds to Walker’s reflections on silence." Read it here. And follow along at @AgeofHumility.

All boasting and self-promotion aside, Age of Humility is a terrific and important project. Three cheers for humility, please.

4. Icebreaker of the Week

Today's icebreaker comes from Marco Romano, who actually sent in a few ideas. This was my favorite:

If you could be one other person, who would that person be and why?

This seems like one that could be played with: Maybe being another person, but just for a week, or a day, or an hour. How would your answer change? (And for those who resist this question: Who would you be if you absolutely had to be another person?) Fun. Thanks, Marco!

Meanwhile I'm still collecting new icebreakers and have plenty to share. Send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or got it elsewhere) to

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 (and your icebreakers). Reply to this email or use
Thanks for reading!


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