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Being Useful, The Uselessness of Art, Creativity as Spiritual Practice, Capturing Ideas, & Small Deltas of Novelty

Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen on Unsplash

Resource: How to be useful to others by Derek Sivers
Link: (article)


Work out loud. Letting people see you do what you do is an act of generosity. The worst thing that can happen is they ignore it, but there’s a chance someone somewhere will be positively influenced by it. Hiding your work doesn’t benefit anyone…not even yourself.

Don’t be too easy or too cheap if you want people to respect you and value what you do. When you’re too accessible, people don’t take what you offer as seriously because they know they can always get ahold of you or come back to you when they need. When people have to sacrifice for something, they take it more seriously.

Your reaction to content can be more interesting than the content itself.


On how your reaction to content can be more interesting than the content itself:

“The poem the reader reads may be better than that which the writer wrote. Try to make things that can become better than what you thought you were doing. ” -Brian Eno per

On working out loud as a form of service:

“Do everything in public and for the public. The more people you reach, the more useful you are. The opposite is hiding, which is of no use to anyone.” -Derek Sivers

How you can serve others with your strong experience:

“Strong opinions are very useful to others. Those who were undecided or ambivalent can just adopt your stance. But those who disagree can solidify their stance by arguing against yours. Even if you invent an opinion for the sole sake of argument, boldly sharing a strong opinion is very useful to others.” -Derek Sivers

On the value of not being to cheap, charging what you’re worth, and attaching a cost to commitment:

“People given a placebo pill were twice as likely to have their pain disappear when told the pill was expensive. People who paid more for tickets were more likely to attend the performance. People who spend more for a product or service value it more, and get more use out of it.” -Derek Sivers

Resource: Art is useless, and so am I by Derek Sivers


Uselessness and worthlessness are not the same thing. Something is useless if it’s primary purpose is something other than utility. Things that exist for leisure and recreation fall in this category. They are useless, but quite meaningful. Something is worthless if it offers no value to our lives. Since art is not a tool invented for making life easier, although it often has that affect, it is useless.

In order to become more useful, we have to give ourselves time and space to be useless. We need the opportunity and freedom to indulge in things that are pleasant and nourishing even though we justify them in a business sense.

Life is a combination of the value you offer and the value you receive. Both of these things are improved by your willingness to be useless.


“Art is useless by definition. If it was useful, it would be a tool.”

“I heard the “art is useless” idea from a conversation with Kevin Kelly. When he said it, I stopped in my tracks and disagreed, so I’m guessing you might, too. But let the idea sink in a bit, and notice that it doesn’t say “worthless”. Art can be valuable, and someone might find a concrete use for it, but usefulness was not its purpose.”

“The ‘art is useless’ conversation originated in Oscar Wilde’s introduction to THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY; “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” A reader named Bernulf CLegg wrote to Wilde asking him to explain and Wilde replied with a handwritten letter seen here -J.J. Vicars (comment from Derek Sivers post).

Related resource: Art is Useless Because… (Letters of Note)

Oscar Wilde explaining what he meant regarding the uselessness of art

“Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility…”

“A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.”

Resource: How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Unblock the “Spiritual Electricity” of Creative Flow (Brainpickings)


Creativity is a form of spiritual practice. Like worship, prayer, meditation, and fasting, it develops character, brings us into a fuller awareness of our own vastness, and makes us feel connected to something larger than ourselves.

Spirituality is not about religion nor does it necessarily involve meeting a belief requirement about God.. Spirituality is about experience. Namely, it’s about the experience of unearthing our potential and finding freedom/power through a process of submitting (exercising faith in) to a flow of energy that comes from some place deeper than our waking-state consciousness. The source of spirituality can be God, but it can also be your Deep Self or subconscious mind.

Your inner critic is your biggest enemy. The You will never destroy this enemy. It can only be evaded day by day through your determination to face the blank page in spite of it.


Julia Cameron on art as spiritual practice:

“Art is a spiritual transaction. Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance — often visible to us, but invisible to those around us. Difficult as it is to remember, it is our work that creates the market, not the market that creates our work. Art is an act of faith, and we practice practicing it.”

Julia Cameron on thinking of spirituality in its broadest terms:

“Think of it as an exercise in open-mindedness. . . . Remind yourself that to succeed in this course, no god concept is necessary. In fact, many of our commonly held god concepts get in the way. Do not allow semantics to become one more block for you. When the word God is used in these pages, you may substitute the thought good orderly direction or flow. What we are talking about is a creative energy. . . . There seems to be no need to name it unless that name is a useful shorthand for what you experience.”

Julia Cameron on the naturalness of being creative:

“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity. . . . I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature, that blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem.”

Julia Cameron on her experience of reverently submitting to the creative process:

“I learned to turn my creativity over to the only god I could believe in, the god of creativity, I learned to get out of the way and let that creative force work through me… I learned to just show up at the page and write down what I heard. Writing became more like eavesdropping and less like inventing a nuclear bomb. It wasn’t so tricky, and it didn’t blow up on me anymore. I didn’t have to be in the mood. I didn’t have to take my emotional temperature to see if inspiration was pending. I simply wrote. No negotiations. Good, bad? None of my business. I wasn’t doing it. By resigning as the self-conscious author, I wrote freely.”

Julia Cameron on how opening ourselves to the energy of creativity makes us more human:

“If you think of the universe as a vast electrical sea in which you are immersed and from which you are formed, opening to your creativity changes you from something bobbing in that sea to a more fully functioning, more conscious, more cooperative part of that ecosystem.”

Julia Cameron on identifying and evading our greatest enemy:

“We are victims of our own internalized perfectionist, a nasty internal and eternal critic, the Censor, who resides in our (left) brain and keeps up a constant stream of subversive remarks that are often disguised as the truth. . . . Make this a rule: always remember that your Censor’s negative opinions are not the truth. This takes practice. By spilling out of bed and straight onto the page every morning, you learn to evade the Censor.”

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen


Don’t be dogmatic about the digital vs paper-based debate on tools for note-taking and idea-capturing. Different tools facilitate different ways of thinking and all of them are useful. Orient your life around the best combination of tools that not only make you more efficient, but that also make you more effective.

Have a folder, bucket, or place you can put ideas related to a specific project will help you generate more creative ideas for that project.

Don’t let your capturing tools become a black hole. If you save everything, you eventually lose the value of saving anything.


“If you don’t have a good system for storing bad ideas, you probably don’t have one for filing good ones, either. “

“Many times, while coaching clients, I find that the mere act of creating a file for a topic into which we can organize random notes and potentially relevant materials gives them a significantly improved sense of control. It’s a way of physically, visibly, and psychologically getting their “arms around it.”

“For those who have become increasingly digitally oriented, it is tempting to try to eliminate paper altogether. Theoretically that shouldn’t be a problem, with all the digital note-taking, scanning, and character-recognition tools available. In practice, however, paper still provides high value for most of us. Handwritten note taking is not going away, for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the universality of the tools and the range of graphic representations available. We tend to think differently when we express with different equipment, and many people find that writing and drawing by hand unwraps a broader palette of ideas. “

“Remember that the computer is a bit of a black hole, and as memory and storage capacity continue to expand and new cool applications for pieces of this functionality continue to proliferate, it becomes easier to keep everything and then lose a coordinated orientation of your active stuff. “

Resource: General & Surprising by Paul Graham


The most valuable ideas are both general (large-scale application) and surprising (non-obvious). This combination is rare. When people say things like “there’s nothing new under the sun,” they’re referring to the realm. This realm, however, isn’t the only arena where exciting discovery happens.

In addition to the most valuable ideas, there are moderately valuable ideas. This is the realm most ripe with opportunity. We generate moderately valuable ideas by adding “small deltas of novelty.” This can be done by making the surprising a little more general or the general a little more surprising.

Delta: Mathematics. an incremental change in a variable, as Δ or δ.

When you focus on introducing small deltas of novelty, the odds are high that you’ll repeat yourself and be unimpressive in many (if not most) of your efforts. Keep trying anyway because you might eventually add the small degree of nuance that amounts to a moderately valuable idea. And in today’s world, moderately valuable ideas might be the most useful ideas.


On what makes for the rarest and most valuable insights:

“The most valuable insights are both general and surprising. F = ma for example. But general and surprising is a hard combination to achieve. That territory tends to be picked clean, precisely because those insights are so valuable. Ordinarily, the best that people can do is one without the other: either surprising without being general (e.g. gossip), or general without being surprising (e.g. platitudes).”

Moderately valuable insights as the realm of opportunity:

“Where things get interesting is the moderately valuable insights. You get those from small additions of whichever quality was missing. The more common case is a small addition of generality: a piece of gossip that’s more than just gossip, because it teaches something interesting about the world. But another less common approach is to focus on the most general ideas and see if you can find something new to say about them. Because these start out so general, you only need a small delta of novelty to produce a useful insight.”

The value of small deltas of novelty:

“A small delta of novelty is all you’ll be able to get most of the time. Which means if you take this route your ideas will seem a lot like ones that already exist. Sometimes you’ll find you’ve merely rediscovered an idea that did already exist. But don’t be discouraged. Remember the huge multiplier that kicks in when you do manage to think of something even a little new…And of course, ideas beget ideas. (That sounds familiar.) An idea with a small amount of novelty could lead to one with more. But only if you keep going. So it’s doubly important not to let yourself be discouraged by people who say there’s not much new about something you’ve discovered. “Not much new” is a real achievement when you’re talking about the most general ideas. Maybe if you keep going, you’ll discover more.”

Resource: There go the grownups by Frank Chimero


Being a grownup is a culturally relative concept that carries a lot of baggage like owning a home, having children, being a recipient of traditional university education, etc. As more options for how we can design our lives open up, many of us are growing up in a world where we don’t meet that traditional definition. Enter the concept of being an adult. An adult is simply someone who takes responsibility for creating their lives and navigating their experience as they choose.

Many people who bemoan the immaturity of young adults are only doing so because they’re dogmatically wedded to an outdated or non-universal concept of what it means to be a grownup. We don’t have a crisis stemming from a lack of adults. There are more adults than ever…even if they make us uncomfortable with their non-traditional ways of traveling, housing, working, etc.


On the difference between being a grownup and being an adult:

“I’ll draw a line between being a “grown-up”—which comes with all the expected obligations like marriage, children, home-ownership, etc—and being an adult—living well within a dignified role in society, educating yourself so you can contribute, honoring responsibilities, having empathy, being a citizen, defining and living the life you want, and the other good stuff that makes the world get along a little better than it would otherwise. I am an adult, but I am not a grown-up. There are many, many more like me.”

Grownups are on the decline, but adults are blossoming as much as ever:

“Grown-up is a flavor of adulthood that’s been the dominant version for the last century or so. Grown-up is the 20th century adult. Here in the 21st century, the changes that sprung up at the end of the last are finally taking root—choices about how to live a life, educate yourself, participate in a community, and rear a family (whether that’s with a partner and kids, a network of close friends, or some combination of all that). There’s greater variety in adults, so if you have a narrow criteria, you’ll leave worrying that the world is stuck in arrested development. You might even go off and write an opinion piece for the Times.”

On the emergence of broader understandings of what it means to be an adult:

“The social pressures around becoming a “grown-up” are lessening. This doesn’t mean people aren’t becoming adults…I look forward to fewer noun-based versions of adulthood (spouse, house, kids) and more verb-based visions of adulthood. The future is a lot less scary if you believe an adult is someone who wields autonomy, empathy, and responsibility with an even hand. I’ve been looking around, and come to realize that there’s just as much of that—and maybe even more—than ever before.”

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