Monday, December 29, 2008

A tool for creativity

Being the pretentious snob that I am, I've always carried a slick leather-bound Moleskine notebook to write down my thoughts and ideas since college. But recently I realized that ironically it's the slickness that ruins creativity.

I churn out better ideas when I'm doodling on a cheap notepad or a torn sheet of paper. Why? Because on a Moleskine page, you don't want to make it all messy. You want to have something cool written down without any waste. It's hard to describe but creative ideas come when you let go and jot down whatever comes to your mind. Neat, creative ideas rarely come pre-packaged. So a napkin or a sheet of paper is a perfect place to let your thoughts unleash and produce great ideas.

Moleskine is nice and elegant. I love it. But the book of my choice when brainstorming is a plain spiral notebook.

Try and see the difference. You'll probably use up more pages but at the end of the day have at least a few good ideas to work with.

It's all psychological. Pick a cheap notebook for your ideas. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Art of Social Intelligence: An Anecdote

Social intelligence is a form of art.

I was reading Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence (highly recommended) and came upon a fantastic anecdote that demonstrates an art of social intelligence at its best:

One afternoon he [Terry Dobson, who in the 1950s was one of the first Americans ever to study the martial art aikido in Japan] was riding home on a suburban Tokyo train when a huge, bellicose, and very drunk and begrimed laborer got on. The man, staggering, began terrorizing the passengers: screaming curses, he took a swing at a woman holding a baby, sending her sprawling in the laps of an elderly couple, who then jumped up and joined a stampeded to the other end of the car. The drunk, taking a few other swings (and, in his rage, missing), grabbed the metal pole in the middle of the car with a roar an tried to tear it out of its socket.

At that point Terry, who was in peak physical condition from daily eight-hour workouts, felt called upon to intervene, lest someone get seriously hurt. But he recalled the words of his teacher: "Aikido is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it."

Indeed, Terry had agreed upon beginning lessons with his teacher never to pick a fight, and to use his martial-arts skills only in defense. Now, at least, he saw his chances to test his aikido abilities in real life, in what was clearly a legitimate opportunity. So, as all the other passengers sat frozen in their seats, Terry stood up, slowly and with deliberation.

Seeing him, the drunk roared, "Aha! A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!" and began gathering himself to take on Terry. But just as the drunk was on the verge of making his move, someone gave an earsplitting, oddly joyous shout: "Hey!"

The shout had the cheery tone of someone who has suddenly come upon a fond friend. The drunk, surprised, spun around to see a tiny Japanese man, probably in his seventies, sitting there in a kimono. The old man beamed with delight at the drunk, and beckoned him over with a light wave of his hand and a lilting "C'mere."

The drunk strode over with a belligerent, "Why the hell should I talk to you?" Meanwhile, Terry was ready to fell the drunk in a moment if he made the least violent move.

"What'cha been drinking?" the old man asked, his eyes beaming at the drunken laborer.

"I been drinking sake, and it's none of your business," the drunk bellowed.

"Oh, that's wonderful, absolutely wonderful," the old man replied in a warm tone. "You see, I love sake, too. Every night, me and my wife (she's seventy-six, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench..." He continued on about the persimmon tree in his backyard, the fortunes of his garden, enjoying sake in the evening.

The drunk's face began to soften as he listened to the old man; his fists unclenched. "Yeah ... I love persimmons, too ...," he said, his voice trailing off.

"Yes," the old man replied in a sprightly voice, "and I'm sure you have a wonderful wife."

"No," said the laborer. "My wife died..." Sobbing, he launched into a sad tale of losing his wife, his home, his job, of being ashamed of himself. Just then the train came to Terry's stop, and as he was getting off he turned to hear the old man invite the drunk to join him and tell him all about it, and to see the drunk sprawl along the seat, his head in the old man's lap.

That is emotional brilliance.


That perpetual and radiating cheerfulness and positivity the old man must have shown and exuded in such a tense situation is quite frankly something I would like to achieve. Studies have shown that emotions are highly contagious. If you can remain in that calm and happy state no matter what situation you're in, people will be drawn to you.