The Art of Noticing, No. 23: The Collective Bio Exercise; "Look At Art. Get Paid"; New Icebreaker; More

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

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

1. Construct a Collaborative Biography

I was out last week to give a talk to and, more to the point, run an Art of Noticing workshop for, a 100-person design group. I've done stuff like this with smaller batches or for students, but never such a large group of of professionals. So I was pretty nervous/stressed/terrified. But it went really well! They divided into smaller teams, I sent them on "noticing missions," and we had a lot of fun and it was really inspiring.
But maybe the best thing we did was the "Collaborative Biography" exercise from the book — an idea I borrowed/adapted (with credit of course) from Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Lenka Clayton, described in Amy's 2016 book Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
The short version of how it works: A group of people figures out what things they have in common. Are we all from the United States? Do we all like sushi? Do we all dislike the Boston Red Sox? Whatever you can come up with through asking questions and conversing. "Assemble your statements," Krouse Rosenthal wrote. "Call it your Short, Collective Biography."

At this workshop, I gave the 10 groups of 10 people each just 10 minutes to come up with a minimum of three facts in common. These teams gathered people from different offices and departments who didn't necessarily know each other, so everybody had to start asking and interacting immediately. The room was instantly buzzing, and the results (presented along with the outcomes of the "noticing mission") at the end of the session were really fun. As I say in the book, I think this exercise deserves to be a craze; I was very excited to road test it with a big, enthusiastic, adventurous group. (If you're curious about arranging a workshop, get in touch:

Amy passed away, far too soon, in 2017, shortly after publishing this remarkable Modern Love essay that you may have read. We had corresponded occasionally over the years (going back more than a decade, and roughly 2.5 career iterations ago, when I was writing the Consumed column) but I regret that I never got to meet her in person. Read more about her and her work here, and check out The Amy Krouse Rosenthal Foundation, which funds ovarian cancer research and childhood literacy initiatives, here.

2. "Perfect for designers, design students, and anyone who wants to change their point of view."

Something else I enjoyed: doing this Core77 Q&A about The Art of Noticing with the wonderful Allan Chochinov. It's quite comprehensive on the book's origins and goals, and includes some nice interior views highlighting the Mendelsund / Munday illustration work. It also reveals why there are 131 exercises, if you've ever wondered.

One quote: "If you spend your life reacting to others, that doesn't leave room for you to be, you know, a person."

3. Random Endorsement: "Look at Art. Get Paid."

I really like the sound of this initiative that "pays people who wouldn’t otherwise visit art museums to visit one as guest critics of the art and the institution." Hyperallergic reports.

4. Another Random Endorsement: "Uninteresting Photographs"

A Twitter account offering just what it says on the tin. "I felt despair so intense that the sensation recurs like malaria whenever I walk into an office of any kind," the founder explains. "So I guess I wanted to make a photography feed that inspires that same feeling.” Via The Outline (which I've been enjoying lately.)

5. One Last Random Endorsement: This Security Camera

Photo by @tombobnyc

6. Well Noticed: "Arted-Up Payphone" at New York Taco Place

I'm a longtime devotee of The Payphone Project, a site that obsessively chronicles payphones in New York City. Here the author evaluates a defunct phone that's been absorbed into restaurant decor and branding:

"With no explanation it makes the payphone look like an essential part of the Taco Dumbo Midtown experience, as if you cannot visit this establishment without paying proper respect to randomly appointed technological obsolescence."

7. Icebreaker of the Week

This week's icebreaker comes from Dave Adair. "For years," he writes, "I've enjoyed asking friends and strangers":

If you're going to win the lottery, would you rather win $10 million, or $100 million?

He explains: "Most people look cross-eyed and ask, 'Is that a trick question??' I ask it because I think $10 million would make you comfortable without ruining your life, while $100 million might ensure that you couldn't really trust new people you meet, and guarantee a stream of financial requests that could be overwhelming. More interestingly, the question leads to conversations about what people really care about if money is not an issue." Thanks, Dave!

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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