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Creativity is Not Quantifiable, Unless you are Creative

On 30, Jan 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Creativity is not a quantifiable attribute.

The very definition of creativity is that it transcends quantity, making it a very real yet also mystical attribute.

We live in a world where metrics is becoming more and more prevalent. Everything is measurable. In fact, metrics are invading the personal space of our lives. “Quantified self” is a movement that does exactly that. According to Wikipedia,

The Quantified Self is a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical). Such self-monitoring and self-sensing, which combines wearable sensors (EEG, ECG, video, etc.) and wearable computing, is also known as lifelogging. Other names for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning are “self-tracking”, “auto-analytics”, “body hacking” and “self-quantifying”.

Do metrics in our daily lives help us become better people or are we turning into robots?

In his state of the union address, Obama talked about statistics of the United States, bringing up numbers to illustrate the large scale impact while using anecdotes to bring human connection and emotion into the picture.

The amount of statistics that we have access to today is far more vast than anything we have ever seen before.

But as we’ve seen, basing things off of statistics can greatly limit creativity. Basing education off of standardized tests have caused the quality of education, specifically the ability for students to be creative, to tank.

I’ve always been an advocate for productivity, generating results, and making a significant difference, but I’ve also written extensively about creativity. I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive.

Being able to innovate a creative solution is only half the battle. The other half lies in the execution. The two are very different lines of thinking, but they go hand in hand in order to bring something off the ground.

Don’t let statistics get in the way of your creativity, but don’t be afraid of using statistics to improve your game.

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

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On Habits

On 21, Jan 2014 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Human behavior is oftentimes nothing more than a collection of habits.

Whether it be everyday routines or reactions in emergencies, the pattern of habit can ultimately explain most physical, emotional, and spiritual behaviors.

Waking up in the morning and brushing your teeth is a habit (maybe it isn’t for some people), so is your response when your roommate jumps on you to wake you up in the morning.

Habits can be formed or broken consciously or unconsciously. Habits form because the brain is always looking for ways to take shortcuts and save time and energy.

Gretchen Rubin explains it extremely well in this presentation at 99u.

The short answer is that everyone has different tendencies to build or break habits, and understanding yourself is an extremely powerful way to understanding where you belong.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’m giving away a copy of The Power of Habit this month!

photo credit: ルーク.チャン.チャン via photopin cc

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Structures are meant for Serving People

On 30, Sep 2013 | No Comments | In Productivity, Work | By Daniel Kao

Structure is a two edged sword.

On one hand, children are graded and organized long before they can ask the questions of why or how, putting them in a system of compliance that they most likely don’t understand. People are often raised up into structures without having a complete picture of the heart behind the structure or what the structure is for.

But on the other hand, structures can be used as a resource to help people move forward. Many of the organized movements that had the impact that they did was largely due to the organization and structure of the leaders.

The purpose of a structure is to support the goals of the people. When people, become servants of structure, people limit themselves. They aim too low and succeed.

I’m sure you’ve met people who have told you they want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. But if the profession is seen as the end, rather than the means, its easy to get caught in the rat race of serving structure. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be in a certain industry, but the value comes when you understand where your work is taking you.

Whenever people ask me what I want to do, I tell them that I do awesome. I tell them that I want to change the world and positively influence people’s lives. I tell them that I have a passion for connecting and communicating, and that technology is one of the mediums that I am learning to leverage.

Don’t serve structure. Allow it to serve you.

photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc

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Deliberately Reading Less – The Information Diet

On 29, May 2013 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Connection today is more powerful than it has ever been before.

On a daily basis, thousands of tweets fill my stream, hundreds of posts fill my feed, countless emails fill my inbox, new TED talks are uploaded, and all my favorite blogs have new updates. While the access to and amount of information is incredible, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with it all.

But the reality is that you don’t have to be up to date with everything that is happening in order to make a dent in the world. Being well informed has little correlation with the impact they have.

It’s tempting to want to follow every single blog and news source in the world to see what other people are up to. It feels good to know what has been done and what has not. But the truth is, it’s easier to listen to something than it is to do something.

The effectiveness of the content that is consumed depends not only on the content itself, but the space and context that it is consumed. Reading a news article without actually doing anything about it makes the news merely informative entertainment.

In designer’s terms, negative space refers to the space around and between the subject of an image or design element. It’s often the white or blank space that subtly adds meaning and significance to the positive space, or the subjects in focus.

When it comes to acquiring new information, the negative space between information that you consume matters just as much as the information you consume. The negative space is what allows you to process and synthesize your own thoughts about the content you are taking in.

There’s nothing wrong with reading every single business book in the world. There’s nothing wrong with keeping yourself updated with every blog post someone puts out. But there comes a point where you can no longer be merely a consumer.

Take time after reading an article or book and ask yourself what it actually means to you. Let the new ideas spin gears in your head and inspire you to actually do something. It helps to regularly block out input from information sources, and organize your own thoughts in the negative space.

photo credit: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML via photopin cc

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Keeping it Simple, Stupid

On 23, Mar 2013 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Simple is not stupid.

Simplicity breeds consistency, which in turn creates reliability. Creating anything reliable and consistent, while innovating the way people live is how movements are started. And once these innovations reach millions, many of them will wonder why they never thought of the same idea.

There’s a certain elegance to the way that simple applications solve problems.

Simple is not just a way of doing things, or the features of a product, after all, there is a difference between a simple product that excels and a cheap product that disappoints. Simple is not cheap.

Simple is a new way of thinking about things, often reducing it’s problem to it’s most basic. The counter-intuitiveness of simplicity is that it isn’t stupid.

Movements gain momentum when ideas are clear and easy to express and understand, easily unifying multitudes of people.

Minimalism is a statement. It’s about taking away until you’re left with something that just works. It’s about removing the bells and whistles that often make something attractive, and clearing the toolkit until you only have a couple tools left.

But simplicity is not about what you do or what you do it with. Even if you put the fancy tools away in a box, it’s about releasing your creativity from the box.

Minimalism is about taking away. Simplicity is about thinking away. Simplicity can be manifested as minimalism, but is not defined by it.

World class chefs can create astounding dishes with only a handful of ingredients put together with only a handful of techniques. Skilled photographers can take jaw dropping pictures with a point and shoot. Talented authors can paint vivid pictures and convey fabu thoughts with pen and paper.

Stupid is not simple.

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Flow States: Understanding Your Productivity Zone

On 11, Mar 2013 | No Comments | In Productivity | By Daniel Kao

Understanding flow is something that no one taught me when I was younger, and only have I recently been thinking about. Flow, in this article, is defined as the zone of productivity when a person gives their complete, undivided attention to an activity, often to the point of losing track of time, and occasionally even other human needs (sleep, food, restroom breaks).

A friend recently sent me an email asking if breaking activities into one hour chunks was an effective way to be productive. Essentially, he was proposing a modified version of the pomodoro technique, which some people swear by.

However, an aspect that stands out about the pomodoro technique and similar techniques is the rigid time frame that can potentially end up interrupting flow. The reason the pomodoro technique works is because it is using time as a physical and tangible inspiration to become more productive.

Having an external motivator like time is often necessary, especially under circumstances where the activity at hand is not the most appealing, or you would otherwise have no desire to do the activity.

After I realized that something like the pomodoro technique was a way to inspire flow, I decided I would rather figure out a way to directly get into flow and maintain flow rather than using a measurement of time to inspire productivity.

The unfortunate truth is that relying on a time keeping device to manage your productivity can potentially train a person to value a length of time over productivity and creativity. And unfortunately, that’s exactly how the school system is set up with class and break periods.

Everyone at some point in their life has experienced flow without restraint from time, as those are the experiences when you lose track of time.

Getting into flow looks different for each person and looks different for each activity, but their are a couple of common attributes to every flow state.

  • People in a flow state aren’t easily distracted – When a person gives their undivided attention to something, nothing can easily distract them from what they are doing. Thus, finding an environment without distraction is generally helpful to maintain flow, but is not necessary if flow is strong enough.
  • People in a flow state generally do things faster – People who are highly focused in on learning something new generally learn a lot faster and a lot better. If information is coming in faster, it generally requires a much higher state of focus in order to comprehend and process all of it as it comes in. Driving a car at 120 mph definitely requires more focus than driving a car at 20 mph.
  • People in a flow state care about the activity they are doing and understand why they are doing it – Also known as driven by an internal passion or bigger picture, flow states are usually accompanied by a somewhat deep desire to accomplish something. Therefore, a good place to start to get into a high level of focus is to figure out why you are doing something, and then dig even deeper.

Here are also some interesting stories on flow if you’re interested – Steven Kotler – Hacking Flow & Ultimate Human Potential at SuperheroYou.

But of course, understanding how flow works is only a piece to productivity, and learning how to implement flow into a healthy physical and emotional lifestyle is a whole other topic.

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