The Goalless Goal Dept.


If you have forty-five minutes or so to kill, you could do far worse with it than to watch this video, in which a number of innaresting postulates are, um, postulated:

  • Setting an objective can block its own achievement.
  • This can be an obstacle to creativity and innovation in general even if you have no particular achievement.
  • You can only find things by not looking for them.
  • It is in your interest that others do not follow the path you think is right.

Bear in mind, I'm no fan of most of what passes for purportedly counter-intuitive wisdom (BREAK THIS ONE RULE AND YOU TOO CAN THINK AND GROW RICH). This lecture, though, hits on a few things that I can confirm on my own.

The biggest is the difference between "convergent consensus" vs. "diverse treasure hunting". The former is when you know exactly what you're looking for (THE NEXT HUNGER GAMES) and you pursue it with single-minded determination (DIVERGENT). The latter is when you just go looking, period, and keep whatever you happen across that looks nifty. The wider the net is cast, and the more you bring on back home, the greater the pool of goodies to draw on in the first place.

Let me draw a distinction between this and the proper pursuit of a goal. Most quotidian tasks can be reduced to a simple, mechanical list of activities without losing anything. If you're headed to the post office, the meat market, and the hardware store, it makes little sense to work in a detour to the Grand Canyon just because it's picturesque. But creative work isn't just the fulfillment of a shopping list, and that goes double for the business of devising genuinely creative creative work.

Another distinction worth making: This isn't the same as not knowing the territory others before you have trod. Remaining studiedly ignorant of tradition, good craftsmanship, and smart work habits is less about proud nonconformity and more about self-sabotage. Little in this world is less fun than tediously re-learning how to boil water or make shoes, as Paul Goodman once put it. But none of this should be confused with the actual making of the new thing. Known techniques are the ladders you stand on to reach the higher shelves where the new things are found (and for that reason are vital; you can seriously throw your spine out of whack trying to reach up that far on your own) — but they're not the new things themselves.

The other thing I keep coming back to is how the truly new thing is always of the here-and-now, whatever the here-and-now happens to be I always thought it was weird, counterproductive even, to look for "the next X" when the "next X" is, well, impossible. Every single thing that we like to reduce to some kind of deterministically reproducible phenomenon is, at bottom, only its own thing happening at its own moment in time in its own context. You never get another 1977 to have another Star Wars in (or a 1982, or a 1998); you only get what's here and now. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make the most of it. Move forward.


Tags: Buddhism Zen creativity creators psychology


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2016/02/20 10:00.

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