Making No Choice In An Age Of Many

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How do you make your media choices?  As Serdar notes in an excellent column, choices are complicated; we often have so many we play it safe.  A thousand movies present options so overwhelming we go with a sequel.  The next One Piece episode will deliver something you liked ten episodes ago.  Choice makes us flee to safety too often – and our existing technology and culture encourage it because it’s profitable.

Our media diet is poorer for this paradox – I’m tired of all the sameness even when it’s good sameness like Marvel.  Anyway, the post is excellent, go read it.

I relate to this subject as I’ve been cultivating my reading lately.  I wanted to read new works – or ones I missed – and re-read beloved books from my past to ground myself.  Thus I’m going through a delightful mix of Taoist mysticism, writing advice, informative non-fiction, novels I loved, and fiction that I selected carefully.  One week I’m reading about breath meditation, the next is re-reading Asprin’s “Another Fine Myth.”

I found this cultivation takes continuous effort.  Do I really want to read this book?  Will this book provide a benefit for me?  Have my priorities changed?  Am I the kind of person who will spend $16.00 on a fascinating translation of a short, obscure document on health practices of centuries past (answer: yes).

I’ve realized that cultivating our reading – or any media consumption – takes effort, discipline, and practice.  It’s also something no one taught us how to do – and why would we they?  People assume you pick up media selectivity somewhere, and isn’t all this choice a good thing anyway?

We’ve been thrust into a world of choice we never expected with little training to deal with it.

Sometimes I speculate, “could someone write a book or teach a class on media selectivity?”  Is there a way to get people on board with more careful media choices?  Of course, we know that would just be another work viying for attention; what are the odds someone could be the Marie Kondo of media choice?

Right now all I and my friends can do is encourage people to make choice, share our findings, and go on.  If you’re doing the same, please share – maybe we can cultivate our media diets together.  Perhaps that’s the best – or only – way.

Steven Savage

Questioning Your Way To Solidity

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Fiction is a canvas upon which you can do anything, and that’s why its limiting. When you can do anything, you have so many options you become paralyzed.

My friend Serdar talks about this, by comparing it to how many brands of Toothpaste we have:

“Choice paralysis is, as you can guess, a major issue in creative work. Because you have complete control over what you put into a story, that can manifest as being stranded between too many choices, and you end up in a Toothpaste Meltdown, goggling at the screen and drooling into your keys.”

He goes on to analyze how the choices you make are best shaped by what fits the story you want to write, and asking the right questions. This is something I see (to no one’s surprise) in my work using Agile methods.

Agile methods are obsessed with asking “what is valuable for the customer/end user/etc.” The basic idea is find what’s important, rank things in order of the importance, and start from the top. If you’re not sure, then you have to ask more questions about who your audience is, what they want, etc.

That one word, Value, helps say so much.

In my recent work on my novel, A School of Many Futures, I started a massive edit after getting editoral, prereader, and my own feedback. What helped me was asking what chapters, scenes, etc. did anything for the audience. The result shocked me.

  • Two chapters merged into one, moving the plot along.
  • Several scenes were thus combined, making them richer and snappier.
  • An entire sub-subplot and mini-character arc emerged from the above deeply enriching the overall story.
  • A cat who appears perhaps twice, became a useful way to exposit (hey, people talk to cats).

All because I asked what matters to the audience. What had value, to them.

This doesn’t mean I shirked on worldbuilding – this is me. It just meant that I found a way to tell the story, in the world, that worked better for the reader. I violated none of my obsessively detailed continuity, I merely found which option told the story best.

So next time you’re stuck with the “toothpaste conundrum” in your writing, ask what your audience wants and write it down. Then sort these ideas in order of what is important to them. Start from the top and go through your list.

Even if the audience is just you, you might be surprised at what you really want . . .

Steven Savage

The Creativity Paradox Revisited

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My friend Serdar commented on my issues of the Creativity Paradox recently. I focus on the issues of creative paralysis, fear, miscommunication, and safety, but he had some insightful words on Creative Paralysis.

Creative Paralysis is when you have too many choices in a creative effort – something i’m sure we’ve all faced. Creative efforts are fueled, in part, by coming up with ideas, so the very act of creativity can paralyze you.

He calls out the famous toothpaste paradox and notes that:

“If you go shopping and you see 40 varieties of toothpaste and you have no idea how to distinguish one from the other in a meaningful way, you just stare at the shelves in front of you for minutes on end and have no idea what to do next.”

Now if you’re me, this is where you stick with a brand, but that brings in the issue of safety, and I’d like to get back to this whole toothpaste thing.

Serdar notes that the problem is that you don’t have a way to distinguish toothpaste from each other in a *meaningful* way. In his own programming efforts, he’s seen people creatively paralyzed and his answer is to “pick what is personally relevant to you.”

I’d note that this in turn comes back to something that I bring up in Agile and Agile Creativity a lot – the importance of value. When you’re planning, creating, evaluating you have to be able to evaluate the *Value* of something you’re doing. That lets you decide what to do, what not to do,a nd what to just toss the hell away.

When you have creative paralysis, you’re not evaluating value.

So when you face this paradox, try these things:

  • Take the list of whatever creative options you’re trying to choose from.
  • Force-rank them in order of the value provided – no item can be of equal value to the other. If you have to write down the value.
  • As painful as this can be, quickly you’ll see things fall into place because you’re starting to think “what really matters.”

This may help you but also uncovers an issue with many creative ideas – we want to value each inspiration equally. We can’t. We have to make choices or we make no choice and do nothing. All inspirations may be equally interesting, but they’re not equally interesting *for our goals.*

– Steve