The other day my friend Steven Savage was pulling out fistfuls of his hair over the fact that so much of the most valuable advice he felt he had to pass on to fellow creators seemed like, well, just plain common sense. Intuitive was the word that came to mind, and I said something along the lines of, "If the right thing was intuitive, everyone would already be doing it."
The right thing is only occasionally intuitive. Most of us do not set ourselves on fire because there are immediate and terrible disincentives: pain, disfigurement, death, all that fun stuff. But many of us engage in, say, bad financial behavior — this was one of the litany of things Steven felt creators needed to know most about and often don't — because the negative incentives for doing so are often delayed enough that we have no instinctual aversion to them. (Plainer English: we overspend on our credit cards because our credit cards don't turn red and explode when we do so. Maybe they should.)
The right thing isn't always intuitive because of the distance between the time we do the right thing and the time we find out it is the right thing. This distance gets ever more protracted as you deal with mechanisms that by definition have very delayed feedback cycles, so it's easy to delude yourself into thinking that the reason you got a phone call yesterday from someone who haven't seen in ten years was because you drank a different kind of tea this morning. Or that you can pump tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and not really have anything all that bad happen because you live inland and it's still cold in winter, so what's the big deal?
The fruit of the action has dragged you down, to quote Front 242.
Steven was frustrated because something that seemed terribly obvious to him wasn't automatically also obvious to others. I felt for him, but at the same time I couldn't help but point out how his instant moment of insight came from years of pain on his part, maybe not always visible. It's only obvious to him because it's been pounded into him by experience, and he had the luxury of learning from it.
It's hard not to be sucker-punched by the things we take for granted, inwardly — especially when we see how dissimilar they are to what other people take for granted. And it's doubly disconcerting when the other guy is just as creative as you, just as motivated as you, just as [insert attribute here] as you ... but lacking that one thing that to you is second nature.
Is there, after all, any one of us that is not missing something?
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind