Tag: Austin Kleon

Saturday seductions

Having a Bank Holiday in the UK on a Friday has really thrown me this week. So apologies for this link roundup being a bit later than usual…

I do try to inject a little bit of positivity into these links every week, but the past few days have made me a little concerned about our post-pandemic future. Anyway, here goes…


Radio Garden

This popped up in my Twitter feed this week and brought joy to my life. So simple but so effective: either randomly go to, or browse radio stations around the world. The one featured in the screenshot above is one close to me I forgot existed!


COVID and forced experiments

Every time we get a new kind of tool, we start by making the new thing fit the existing ways that we work, but then, over time, we change the work to fit the new tool. You’re used to making your metrics dashboard in PowerPoint, and then the cloud comes along and you can make it in Google Docs and everyone always has the latest version. But one day, you realise that the dashboard could be generated automatically and be a live webpage, and no-one needs to make those slides at all. Today, sometimes doing the meeting as a video call is a poor substitute for human interaction, but sometimes it’s like putting the slides in the cloud.

I don’t think we can know which is which right now, but we’re going through a vast, forced public experiment to find out which bits of human psychology will align with which kinds of tool, just as we did with SMS, email or indeed phone calls in previous generations.

Benedict Evans

An interesting post that both invokes ‘green eggs and ham’ as a metaphor, and includes an anecdote from an Ofcom report towards the end about a woman named Polly that no-one who does training or usability testing should ever forget.


Education is over…

What future learning environments need is not more mechanization, but more humanization; not more data, but more wisdom; not more
objectification, but more subjectification; not more Plato, but more Aristotle.

William Rankin (regenerative.global)

I agree, although ‘subjectification’ is a really awkward word that suggests school subjects, which isn’t the author’s point. After all of this, I can’t see parents, in particular, accepting going back to how school has been. At least, I hope not.



What Happens Next?

This guide… is meant to give you hope and fear. To beat COVID-19 in a way that also protects our mental & financial health, we need optimism to create plans, and pessimism to create backup plans. As Gladys Bronwyn Stern once said, “The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.”

Marcel Salathé & Nicky Case

Modelling what happens next in terms of lockdowns, etc. is not an easy think to understand, and there are many competing opinions. This guide, with ‘playable simulations’ is the best thing I’ve seen so far, and I feel I’m much better prepared for the next decade (yes, you read that correctly).


Sheltering in Place with Montaigne

By the time Michel de Montaigne wrote “Of Experience,” the last entry in his third and final book of essays, the French statesman and author had weathered numerous outbreaks of plague (in 1585, while he was mayor of Bordeaux, a third of the population perished), political uprisings, the death of five daughters, and an onslaught of physical ailments, from rotting teeth to debilitating kidney stones.

[…]

The ubiquity of suffering heightened Montaigne’s attentiveness to the complexity of human experience. Pleasure, he contends, flows not from free rein but structure. The brevity of existence, he goes on, gives it a certain heft. Exertion, truth be told, is the best form of compensation. Time is slippery, the more reason to grab hold.

Drew Bratcher (The Paris Review)

Montaigne is one of my favourite authors, and having recently read Stefan Zweig’s bioraphy of him, he feels even more relevant to our times.


Clarity for Teachers: Day 42

There’s a children’s book that I love, The Greentail Mouse by Leo Lionni. It plays on the old theme of the town mouse and the country mouse. In this telling, the town mouse comes to visit his cousins in their rural idyll, and they ask him about life in the town. It’s horrible, he says, noisy and dangerous, but there is one day a year when it’s amazing, and that’s when carnival comes around. So the country mice decide to hold a carnival of their own: they make costumes and masks, they grunt and shriek and howl and jump around like wild things. But then, at some point, they forget that they are wearing masks; they end up believing that they are the fierce creatures they have been playing at being, and their formerly peaceful community becomes filled with fear, hatred and suspicion.

Dougald Hine

Dougald Hine is taking Charlie Davies’ course Clarity for Teachers and is blogging each day about it. This is from the last post in the series. I’m including it partly to point towards Homeward Bound, which I’ve just signed up for, and which starts next Thursday.



BBC Archive: Empty sets

Give your video calls a makeover, with this selection of over 100 empty sets from the BBC Archive.

Who hasn’t wanted to host a pub quiz from the Queen Vic, conduct a job interview from the confines of Fletch’s cell, or catch up with friends and family from the bridge of the Liberator in Blake’s 7?

I love this idea, to spice up Zoom calls, etc.


People you follow

First I search for my new item of interest, then I filter the results by “People I Follow.” (You can try it out with some of my recent searches: “Roger Angell,” “Captain Beefheart,” and “Rockford Files.”) Depending on the subject, I might have pages and pages of links, all handily selected for me by people I find interesting.

Austin Kleon

In his most recent newsletter, Austin Kleon referenced this post of his from five years ago. I think the idea is a great one and I’ll definitely be doing this in future! Twitter move settings around occasionally, but it’s still there under ‘search filters’.


68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice

Perhaps the most counter-intuitive truth of the universe is that the more you give to others, the more you’ll get. Understanding this is the beginning of wisdom.

Before you are old, attend as many funerals as you can bear, and listen. Nobody talks about the departed’s achievements. The only thing people will remember is what kind of person you were while you were achieving.

Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.

Kevin Kelly (The Technium)

The venerable KK is now 68 years of age and so has dispensed some wisdom. It’s a mixed bag, but I particularly liked these the three bits of advice I’ve quoted above.


Header image by Ben Jennings.

Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again

Today’s title comes courtesy of Nobel prize winner André Gide. For those with children reading this, you’ve probably got a wry smile on your face. Yep, today’s article is all about parenting.

I’d like to start with a couple of Lifehacker interviews: one with Mike Adamick, author of Raising Empowered Daughters, and the other is with Austin Kleon, best known for Steal Like An Artist. Adamick makes a really important point for those of us with daughters:

Kids, and I think especially girls, are expected to be these perfect little achievers as they get older. Good grades, good at sports, good friends. There’s so much pressure and I wanted her to know, and I think I make a compelling example, that everyone messes up all the time and it’s okay.

Mike Adamick

Towards the end of the interview, Adamick goes on to say:

You get to define what your circles look like, and you can do tremendous good in your social, work, and family circles by playing a more active role in helping our girls not have to navigate a sexist society and by helping our boys to access their full emotional selves, not just a one-size-fits-all masculinity that can so easily slide into anger and entitlement. We’re all in this together, and we have a lot more power than we imagine we do.

Mike Adamick

It’s hard to realise, as a straight white man that, despite your best intentions, you’re actually part of the problem, part of the patriarchy. All you can really do is go out of your way to try and square things up through actions, not just words. And that includes in your role as son and husband as much as parent.

Austin Kleon, being an author and artist, frames things in terms of children and his work. This image he shares (which I’ve included as the header for this article) absolutely slayed me. Although I try to explain to my own children what I’m doing when I’m using my laptop, I’m pretty sure they just see the very different things I’m doing as just ‘being on the computer’.

He gives the kind of advice that I sometimes give to soon-to-be fathers:

During a birthing class, my father-in-law, who was a veteran parent at that point, was asked if he had any advice for the rookie parents. He stood up and said, “You’re going to want to throw them out the window. And that’s okay! The important thing is that you don’t.”

Austin Kleon

Parenting is the hardest, but probably most rewarding, job in the world. You always feel like you could be doing better, and that you could be providing more for your offspring. The truth is, though, that they actually need to see you as a human being, as someone who experiences the ups and downs of life. The vicissitudes of emotional experience are what makes us human — and, perhaps most importantly, our children learn from us how to deal with that rollercoaster.


Also check out:

  • You Don’t Have to Define What Type of Parent You Are (Offspring) — “My standards vary based on the day of the week, the direction of the wind and my general mood. I have absolutely no idea what kind of parent I am other than hopefully a decent one.”
  • Parents: let your kids fail. You’ll be doing them a favor (Quartz) — “The dirty secret of parenting is that kids can do more than we think they can, and it’s up to us to figure that out.”
  • Parents Shouldn’t Spy on Their Kids (Nautilus) — “Adolescence is a critical time in kids’ lives, when they need privacy and a sense of individual space to develop their own identities. It can be almost unbearable for parents to watch their children pull away. But as tempting as it may be for parents to infiltrate the dark corners of their children’s personal lives, there’s good evidence that snooping does more harm than good.”

Idleness always produces fickle changes of mind

If you’ve never read Michel de Montaigne’s Essays then you’re missing a treat. He’s thought of as the prototypical ‘blogger’ and most of what he’s written has survived the vicissitudes of changes in opinion over the last 450 years. The quotation for today’s article comes from him.

As Austin Kleon notes in the post that accompanies the image that also illustrates this post, idleness is not the same as laziness:

I’m… a practitioner of intentional idleness: blocking off time in which I can do absolutely nothing. (Like Terry Gilliam, I would like to be known as an “Arch Idler.”) “Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing,” I wrote in Steal Like An Artist.  (See Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing, Robert Louis Stevenson’s An Apology for Idlers, Tom Hodgkinson’s “The Idle Parent,” Tim Kreider’s “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” etc. )

Austin Kleon

There’s a great post on The Art of Manliness by Brett and Kate McKay about practising productive procrastination, and how positive it can be. They break down the types of tasks that we perform on an average down into three groups:

Tier 1: tasks that are the most cognitively demanding — hard decisions, challenging writing, boring reading, tough analysis, etc.

Tier 2: tasks that take effort, but not as much — administrative work, making appointments, answering emails, etc.

Tier 3: tasks that still require a bit of effort, but in terms of cognitive load are nearly mindless — cleaning, organizing, filing, paying bills, etc.

Brett and Kate McKay

As I’ve said many times before, I can only really do four hours of really deep work (the ‘Tier 1’ tasks) per day. Of course, the demands of any job and most life admin, mostly form into Tier 2, with a bit of Tier 3 for good measure.

The thrust of their mantra to ‘practise productive procrastination’ is that, if you’re not feeling up to a Tier 1 task, you should do a Tier 2 or Tier 3 task. Apparently, and I have to say I’m obviously not their target audience here, most people instead of doing a Tier 1 task instead do nothing useful and instead do things like checking Facebook, gossiping, and playing games.

The trouble is that with new workplace tools we can almost be encouraged into low-level tasks, as an article by Rani Molla for Recode explains:

On average, employees at large companies are each sending more than 200 Slack messages per week, according to Time Is Ltd., a productivity-analytics company that taps into workplace programs — including Slack, calendar apps, and the Office Suite — in order to give companies recommendations on how to be more productive. Power users sending out more than 1,000 messages per day are “not an exception.”

Keeping up with these conversations can seem like a full-time job. After a while, the software goes from helping you work to making it impossible to get work done.

Rani Molla

Constant interruptions aren’t good for deep work, nor are open plan offices. However, I remember working in an office that had both. There was a self-policed time shortly after lunch (never officially sanctioned or promoted) where, for an hour or two, people really got ‘in the zone’. It was great.

What we need, is a way to block out our calendars for unstructured, but deep work, and be trusted to do so. I actually think that most workplaces and most bosses would actually be OK with this. Perhaps we just need to get on with it?


Also check out:

The importance of marginalia

Austin Kleon makes a simple, but important point, about how to become a writer:

I believe that the first step towards becoming a writer is becoming a reader, but the next step is becoming a reader with a pencil. When you underline and circle and jot down your questions and argue in the margins, you’re existing in this interesting middle ground between reader and writer:

Kleon has previously recommended Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren’s How to Read a Book, which I bought last time he mentioned it. Ironically enough, it’s sitting on my bookshelf, unread. Anyway, he quotes Adler and Van Doren as saying:

Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it. Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author. Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author….Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements…It is the highest respect you can pay him.

I read a lot of non-fiction books on my e-reader*, so the equivalent of that for me is Thought Shrapnel, I guess…

Source: Austin Kleon

* Note: I left my old e-reader on the flight home from our holiday. I took the opportunity to upgrade to the bq Cervantes 4, which I bought from Amazon Spain.

On living in public

In this post, Austin Kleon, backpedaling a little from the approach he seemed to promote in Show Your Work!, talks about the problems we all face with ‘living in public’.

It seems ridiculous to say, but 2013, the year I wrote the book, was a simpler time. Social media seemed much more benign to me. Back then, the worst I felt social media did was waste your time. Now, the worst social media does is cripple democracy and ruin your soul.

Kleon quotes Warren Ellis, who writes one of my favourite newsletters (his blog is pretty good, too):

You don’t have to live in public on the internet if you don’t want to. Even if you’re a public figure, or micro-famous like me. I don’t follow anyone on my public Instagram account. No shade on those who follow me there, I’m glad you give me your time – but I need to be in my own space to get my shit done. You want a “hack” for handling the internet? Create private social media accounts, follow who you want and sit back and let your bespoke media channels flow to you. These are tools, not requirements. Don’t let them make you miserable. Tune them until they bring you pleasure.

In May 2017, after being on Twitter over a decade, I deleted my Twitter history, and now delete tweets on a weekly basis. Now, I hang out on a social network that I co-own called social.coop and which is powered by a federated, decentralised service called Mastodon.

I still publish my work, including Thought Shrapnel posts, to Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. It’s just not where I spend most of my time. On balance, I’m happier for it.

Source: Austin Kleon

Profiting from your enemies

While I don’t feel like I’ve got any enemies, I’m sure there’s plenty of people who don’t like me, for whatever reason. I’ve never thought about framing it this way, though:

In Plutarch’s “How to Profit by One’s Enemies,” he advises that rather than lashing out at your enemies or completely ignoring them, you should study them and see if they can be useful to you in some way. He writes that because our friends are not always frank and forthcoming with us about our shortcomings, “we have to depend on our enemies to hear the truth.” Your enemy will point out your weak spots for you, and even if he says something untrue, you can then analyze what made him say it.

People close to us don’t want to offend or upset us, so they don’t point out areas where we could improve. So we should take negative comments and, rather than ‘feed the trolls’ use it as a way to get better (without even ever referencing the ‘enemy’).

Source: Austin Kleon

Do the tools you use matter?

An interesting post from Austin Kleon on whether tools matter. It was prompted by the image accompanying this post, which met with some objections when he shared it with others:

On my Instagram, a follower was very upset with the above cartoon, saying it was “mean” and “hurtful” and not smart and ungrateful to my fans, and that I should try to “remember what it was like to be a beginner.”

He defends his position, partly by telling stories, but also by stating:

There are actually very good reasons for not wanting to teach young artists. There are good reasons for not answering a question like, “What brand of pen do you use?” or questions about process at all.

If you are just starting off and I tell you exactly how I work, right down to the brand of pen and notebook, I am, in a some small sense, robbing you of the experience of finding your own materials and your own way of working.

It’s been interesting seeing Bryan Mathers’ journey over the last five years. I’ve seen him go from using basic apps which work ‘just fine’ to reaching the limits of those and having to upgrade to more powerful stuff. That’s a voyage of discovery, but along the way it’s absolutely useful to find out what other people use.

Kleon points out that we can do better than tool-related questions:

So, yes, the tools matter, but again, it’s all about what you are trying to achieve. So a question like, “What brand of pen do you use?” is not as good as “How do you get that thick line quality?” or “How do you dodge Writer’s Block?”

I’m a fan of a great site called Uses This (formerly ‘The Setup’) which asks a range of people the hardware and software they use to get stuff done. The interviews are always structured around the same four questions, but the best responses are ones that take the idea and run with it a bit.

Note to self: update the version of this I did back in 2011.

Source: Austin Kleon

How we get influence backwards

Austin Kleon reflects on the following quotation from Jean-Michel Basquiat:

You’ve got to realize that influence is not influence. It’s simply someone’s idea going through my new mind.

In other words, the person who’s doing the influencing doesn’t know they’re doing the influencing. We say that an artist or writer was influenced by someone, but that’s the wrong way around:

When we say, “Basquiat was influenced by Van Gogh,” that isn’t really correct, because it implies that Van Gogh is doing something to Basquiat, when actually the opposite is true.

Kleon continues to quote K.K. Ruthven:

Our understanding of literary ‘influence’ is obstructed by the grammar of our language, which puts things back to front in obliging us to speak in passive terms of the one who is the active partner in the relationship: to say that Keats influenced Wilde is not only to credit Keats with an activity of which he was innocent, but also to misrepresent Wilde by suggesting he merely submitted to something he obviously went out of his way to acquire. In matters of influence, it is the receptor who takes the initiative, not the emitter. When we say that Keats had a strong influence on Wilde, what we really mean is that Wilde was an assiduous reader of Keats, an inquisitive reader in the service of an acquisitive writer.

I like things that make me think differently about things I take for granted, especially ones that have been encoded into language.

Source: Austin Kleon

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