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The Communal Character of Creativity, The Advantages of Reading Over Conversing, Narrating Your Work, & Using the Calendar as a Trigger

Resource: Frank Chimero on the Shape of Design and the Harmonics of Influence 
Description: Thoughts from a designer on what makes good design and how creativity is communal in character.


The telltale sign of good design is that it spreads. It spreads through the heart and mind of the maker and moves its way into action. It spreads through users who feel inspired to share it with other people that might find it valuable.

Being inspired by other people’s work is neither a disservice to us nor the people who inspire us. Creativity is a shared experience. As we put our ideas out there, other creators gain more ideas to work with and vice versa.

Good design accounts for the messiness inherent in life. It can’t be too methodical because that would only make it functional under methodical conditions. Life is messy and methodical. Good design needs to be the same.


“What is the marker of good design? It moves. The story of a successful piece of design begins with the movement of its maker while it is being made, and amplifies by its publishing, moving the work out and around. It then continues in the feeling the work stirs in the audience when they see, use, or contribute to the work, and intensifies as the audience passes it on to others. Design gains value as it moves from hand to hand; context to context; need to need. If all of this movement harmonizes, the work gains a life of its own, and turns into a shared experience that enhances life and inches the world closer to its full potential.” –Frank Chimero

“Marshall McLuhan said that, ‘we look at the present through a rear-view mirror,’ and we ‘march backwards into the future.’ Invention becomes our lens to imagine what is possible, and design is the road we follow to reach it. But, there is a snag in McLuhan’s view, because marching is no way to go into the future. It is too methodical and restricted. The world often subverts our best laid plans, so our road calls for a way to move that is messier, bolder, more responsive. The lightness and joy afforded by creating suggests that we instead dance.” —Frank Chimero

“When we build, we take bits of others’ work and fuse them to our own choices to see if alchemy occurs. Some of those choices are informed by best practices and accrued wisdom; others are guided by the decisions of the work cited as inspiration; while a large number are shaped by the disposition and instincts of the work’s creator. These fresh contributions and transformations are the most crucial, because they continue the give-and-take of influence by adding new, diverse material to the pool to be used by others.” -Frank Chimero

“…we accept the light contained in the work of others without darkening their efforts. One candle can light another, and the light may spread without its source being diminished. We must sing in our own way, but with the contributions and influence of others, we need not sing alone.” -Frank Chimero

Resource: Proust on Why We Read 
Description: Reflections on reading from Marcel Proust


The work of a writer is akin to the work of a translator. The writer’s goal isn’t to invent something new as much as it is to capture, clarify, and convey what’s already there. The author is a translator for the stories that swim about in his own soul.

Writing allows you to gain the same quality of insights from another as does conversation, but writing has the added benefit of giving you the chance to process those insights with the powers lent to you by solitude. The dynamic of a conversation compromises our ability to concentrate. Reading gives us ample room for this kind of concentration. A different set of mental powers is available to us in solitude.

Reading is an intervention exercise from within. It’s a way of telling ourselves what we need to know, but through another’s voice.

Books give us desires, not answers. They give us provocations, not conclusions.

The books we read are like calendars and diaries that bring us back to an awareness of what our lives were like at the times when we read them.


Proust on writing as translation:

“I realised that the essential book, the one true book, is one that the great writer does not need to invent, in the current sense of the word, since it already exists in every one of us — he has only to translate it. The task and the duty of a writer are those of a translator.”

On the advantages of reading over conversing:

“Reading, unlike conversation, consists for each of us in receiving the communication of another thought while remaining alone, or in other words, while continuing to bring into play the mental powers we have in solitude and which conversation immediately puts to flight; while remaining open to inspiration, the soul still hard at its fruitful labours upon itself.”

On the tendency of books to give more questions than answers:

“This is one of the great and wondrous characteristics of beautiful books (and one which enables us to understand the simultaneously essential and limited role that reading can play in our spiritual life): that for the author they may be called Conclusions, but for the reader, Provocations. We can feel that our wisdom begins where the author’s ends, and we want him to give us answers when all he can do is give us desires. He awakens these desires in us only when he gets us to contemplate the supreme beauty which he cannot reach except through the utmost efforts of his art… The end of a book’s wisdom appears to us as merely the start of our own, so that at the moment when the book has told us everything it can, it gives rise to the feeling that it has told us nothing.”

On reading as an internal intervention

“Reading is at the threshold of our inner life; it can lead us into that life but cannot constitute it. What is needed, therefore, is an intervention that occurs deep within ourselves while coming from someone else, the impulse of another mind that we receive in the bosom of solitude.”

Resource: Nuts and Bolts: Narrating Our Work by Jane Bozarth
Description: A description of what it looks like to learn out loud.


Narrating your work improves your learning process. By learning to frame and articulate what you’re doing, you develop a better understanding of your own process. A different level of understanding is required in order to explain what you’re doing to someone else.

When documenting your work, start with what’s easy and natural for you. Use existing channels to showcase what you’re doing. It shouldn’t feel like you’re creating more work. It should feel like you’re extending your work in a creative direction.

Learning spawns a desire for more learning.

When others see you learn, it inspires them to learn and this in turn inspires you.


“By sharing what we are doing and how we are learning, we distribute the tacit knowledge otherwise so hard to capture; invite feedback and encouragement from others; invite others to learn with us; document our work and learning for future use; and tie our learning to the efforts of others.” -Jane Bozarth

“There are so many lessons to glean from this case. They include the social aspect of publishing your learning, getting feedback and encouragement from friends and helping other friends as they learn; the fact that enthusiasm can be contagious; the willingness to share and not keep everything to yourself; the real way that knowledge is shared; the organic ways that networks grow. ” -Jane Bozarth

“And more to be learned here: that learning often spawns the desire for additional learning (like Web design and photography); the futility of believing we can “capture” knowledge as discrete pieces of data in a spreadsheet; that “generations” has nothing to do with anything; the ways in which social technologies can accelerate learning and give it geographic reach; and the value of a community truly committed to improving practice.” -Jane Bozarth

Resource: Getting Things Done


It’s okay if you don’t want to decide on something right now as long as you have a system for reminding you of those things when a decision needs to be made.

Your calendar can be a very effective trigger system to call things to your attention at a future date. This is especially useful for future events that have RSVP deadlines. You may not know what you want to do about that event now, but the calendar can trigger you on the day before the deadline to make a decision.


“If you have a project that you don’t really need to think about now but that deserves a flag at some point in the future, you can pick an appropriate date and put a reminder about the project in your calendar for that day. It should go in some day-specific (versus time-specific) calendar slot for the things you want to be reminded of on that day; then when the day arrives, you see the reminder and insert the item as an active project on your Projects list. “

“You probably get notices constantly about seminars, conferences, speeches, and social and cultural events that you may want to decide about attending as the time gets closer. So figure out when that closer time is and put a trigger in your calendar on the appropriate date.”

“It’s OK to decide not to decide—as long as you have a decide-not-to-decide system. “

“Once in a while there may be a significant decision that you need to make but can’t (or don’t want to) right away. That’s fine, in terms of your own self-management process, as long as you’ve concluded that the additional information you need has to come from an internal rather than an external source (e.g., you need to sleep on it), or there is a good reason to delay your decision until a last responsible moment (allowing all factors to be as current as possible before you choose how to move on it). But in order to move to a level of OK-ness about not deciding, you’d better put out a safety net that you can trust to get you to focus on the issue appropriately.”

“ask yourself, “Is there any major decision for which I should create a future trigger, so I can feel comfortable just ‘hanging out’ with it for now?” If there is, put some reminder in your calendar to revisit the issue. “

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