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A Decade of Discoveries, Dates with Ideas, & Models of Engagement

Resource: 10 Learnings from 10 Years of Brain Pickings


Brainpickings began, not as an ambitious project with the anticipation of a large legacy or following, but as an honest effort to keep track of her own adventures in inquisitiveness. She initially shared her reflections and resources privately with a friend and this list expanded to seven people. Now she has several million followers and her work has been “included in the Library of Congress archive of “materials of historical importance.””

Popova’s story is a great source of inspiration for anyone interested in the field of personal knowledge management. There’s great value in writing for yourself, making sure that you stay in touch with what excites you, and building a digital footprint of your explorations and discoveries.

There’s more to reading and writing than discovering and dispensing advice. Being present with an idea or an inquiry is an art form unto itself and it’s rewards, though more difficult to put into words and package into a product, are life-changing and enduring.

Maintaining flexibility in your beliefs is essential for learning. Don’t get stuck on a particular mental model. Study across various genres and expose yourself to things that challenge you.

Make time for play, meditation, solitude, and aimless activity. These are essential for the creative work of making interesting and unconventional connections that happens below the conscious mind.

Study, write, and create for the long-haul. Cat memes might be the thing that everyone wants right now, but your work will be far more likely to stand the test of time if you aim after things that challenge you and nourish you independently of their contemporary popularity.

Give yourself the chance to put things out there that might turn the tide of people’s interest. We can inspire people to become more interested in substantive work if we’re afraid to engage and share substantive work.

Be religious with your sleep. Be religious with your spiritual practice.

Practice unabashed curiosity and refuse to be ashamed of anything that enhances you. If it stimulates critical thought and creativity, consume it. If it builds intelligence and integrity, indulge it. If it moves you in the direction of who you want to become, let it move you. If you’re doing things that make you better, stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. There’s more than one right way to explore the world. If you find it easier to engage new perspectives through travel, then travel far and wide. If you find it more fulfilling to curl up on your couch and read novels without ever leaving your apartment, do not lower your gaze in the presence of those who are always visiting new places. Does it make you healthier and smarter when you buy less stuff? Buy less stuff. Does it make you feel cranky, guilty, and uninspired because you’re micromanaging the amount of stuff you have? Stop trying to be something you’re not ready to be and just follow the path that works for you. Have the guts to read whatever the hell you want to read, listen to whatever the hell you want to listen to, and go wherever the hell you want to go. Be enchanted by whatever you damn well please. Personal growth isn’t about impressing other people with your particular mechanism or means for personal growth. It’s about generating the outcomes and experiences that you get to freely decide you want. Don’t apologize for how you actualize. Just actualize.


“Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.”

“Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities.”

“Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.”

“Don’t be afraid to be an idealist. The commercial enterprise is conditioning us to believe that the road to success is paved with catering to existing demands — give the people cat GIFs, the narrative goes, because cat GIFs are what the people want. But E.B. White, one of our last great idealists, was eternally right when he asserted half a century ago that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down” — a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society. Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial — in our individual lives and in the collective dream called culture.”

Resource: Ideas Worth Dating (Video 4:14)


Dating ideas is a lost art. Just as it’s possible to propose or get married too quickly, it’s also possible to overcommit on an idea without having first laid the proper philosophical foundation.

We need to make more time for flirting with ideas, feeling them out, asking introductory questions, getting to know them, and taking a light-hearted casual approach to seeing if there’s anything there to warrant further exploration. This approach allows us to take take more intellectual risks since it doesn’t equate listening or watching or reading with believing or supporting or endorsing. And by allowing us to take more risks, we reduce the possibility of intellectual solipsism — getting stuck in our one limited way of thinking. You’re more likely to be open-minded and intellectually versatile if you don’t look at the process of engaging ideas as a high-risk activity — In the same way that you’re more likely to meet lots of different people and make better decisions if you don’t treat everyone like a marriage candidate.

TED talks are often criticized because they aren’t “deep.” Some people are afraid that our world will get filled with armchair experts who think they’re experts on Quantum Physics just because they watched a few youtube videos. I think the reverse. TED talks make big ideas accessible. Even if they oversimplify the ideas, they provide an opportunity to preview things and see if further inquiry is desirable. TED talks are like movie trailers for ideas.

There will always be people in every generation who think they know things without putting in the time. Will some of those people now use TED talks as their latest excuse to claim expert status? You bet. But if it wasn’t TED, it would be something else. And more importantly, the cost is worth it because more people than ever before are able to get exposed to ideas, people, and resources they would have no other way of knowing about.

Flirt with ideas. Take them out for dates. Learning doesn’t always need to be serious. And if flirting around with an idea doesn’t lead to anything big, that’s okay too. It’ll be a learning experience unto itself and you’ll probably get a cool story out of it in the process.

Resource: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen 


Models for Engagement

Last element of the C.O.R.E. Model = E = Engage

The decision to act is intuitive, but our intuition is guided by a good system and good mental models for thinking about our priorities.

Three Models for thinking about our work.

1) The 4-Criteria Model — Context, Time Available, Energy Available, & Priority

2) The Threefold Model — Doing predefined work, Doing what comes up, Defining Your Work.

3) The Six Level Model — (From Top to Bottom) The Horizon, Vision, Goals, Responsibilities, Projects, Next Actions


“The basic purpose of this workflow-management process is to facilitate good choices about what you’re doing at any point in time. At 10:33 a.m. Monday, deciding whether to call Sandy, finish the proposal, or clean up your e-mails will always be an intuitive call, but with the proper orientation you can feel much more confident about your choices. You can move from hope to trust in your actions, immediately increasing your energy and effectiveness. “

“Every decision to act is an intuitive one. The challenge is to migrate from hoping it’s the right choice to trusting it’s the right choice. “

“So how will you decide what to do and what not to do, and feel good about both? The answer is, by trusting your intuition. If you have captured, clarified, organized, and reflected on all your current commitments, you can galvanize your intuitive judgment with some intelligent and practical thinking about your work and values. “

“The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment At 3:22 on Wednesday, how do you choose what to do? At that moment there are four criteria you can apply, in this order: context, time available, energy available, and priority. The first three describe the constraints within which you continually operate, and the fourth provides the hierarchical values to ascribe to your actions. “

“The Threefold Model for Identifying Daily Work When you’re getting things done, or “working” in the universal sense, there are three different kinds of activities you can be engaged in: Doing predefined work Doing work as it shows up Defining your work .”

“The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work Priorities should drive your choices, but most models for determining them are not reliable tools for much of our real work activity. In order to know what your priorities are, you have to know what your work is. And there are at least six different perspectives from which to define that. To use an appropriate analogy, the conversation has a lot do with the horizon, or distance of perception. Looking out from a building, you will notice different things from different floors. Horizon 5: Purpose and principles Horizon 4: Vision Horizon 3: Goals Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountabilities Horizon 1: Current projects Ground: Current actions .”

“Horizon 1: Current Projects Generating most of the actions that you currently have in front of you are the thirty to one hundred projects on your plate. These are the relatively short-term outcomes you want to achieve, such as setting up a new home computer, organizing a sales conference, moving to a new headquarters, and getting a dentist. “

“Horizon 2: Areas of Focus and Accountabilities You create or accept your projects and actions because of the roles, interests, and accountabilities you have. These are the key areas of your life and work within which you want to achieve results and maintain standards. “

“Horizon 3: Goals What you want to be experiencing in various areas of your life and work one to two years from now will add another dimension to defining your work. “

“Horizon 4: Vision Projecting three to five years into the future generates thinking about bigger categories: organization strategies, environmental trends, career and lifestyle transition circumstances. “

“Horizon 5: Purpose and Principles This is the big-picture view. Why does your company exist? Why do you exist? What really matters to you, no matter what? The primary purpose for anything provides the core definition of what the work really is. It is the ultimate job description. All goals, visions, objectives, projects, and actions derive from this, and lead toward it. “

“Minute-to-minute and day-to-day you don’t have time to think. You need to have already thought. “

“Mastering the flow of your work at all the levels you experience that work provides a much more holistic way to get things done and feel good about it. “

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