Firestarter Labs

Can you ride the surge?

I woke early this morning with my typical excitement about a new insight. Today it was an idea sparked by a video clip that I had seen the evening before. In the clip below, the venerable Tom Peters talks about the importance of action.

“whoever tries the most things wins. it is not about thinking”

Tom Peters

What resonated with me was that, even if this was a stone-cold fact, most of us will rationalize it away when it comes to our own projects. As described by Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow, our wonderfully perplexing 2-system brains are infinitely capable of such rationalization. The dialog might be something like:

Logical brain: Hey! He’s right, we should just build that thing!

Emotional brain: (afraid of being exposed) It’s safer inside the cave! Plus it’ll be just as easy to do after we watch the cat videos.

Logical brain: You’re probably right. Let’s watch the cat videos and then we can work on our plan. Planning is important. Planning is just like action…better even. With the perfect plan, we can build the perfect thing. With the perfect plan, the work will be easy.

As is often the case, this idea collided with another… This time from a TEDx talk by Steve Garguilo’s “The Science of Taking Action.”

“people are much more interested in collecting ideas than actually doing anything with them”

Steve Garguilo, author of Surge: Your Guide to Put Any Idea Into Action

Steve argues that we all feel a surge of energy when we encounter good ideas. That surge of good feelings can lead to action, if you have trained yourself to adopt a bias toward action. However, most of us simply get overconfident. We tell ourselves we’ve had an awesome breakthrough and it’s time to celebrate. This new idea is so amazing. I’m so excited that it’ll be a piece of cake to put it into action…later.

Frankly, I had that feeling as I outlined this post. I felt a surge of confidence “hey, I’ve got this all outlined now, so it’ll be easy to publish it later…after I do (who knows exactly what)”. Damn. Given what we know about our brains (we are evolutionarily designed to be energy misers, and we’re also easily distracted by shiny objects) it isn’t at all surprising that we delay. No, what is truly shocking is that we can repeatedly fall into this same trap. I do it all the time.

I am completing this post because I recalled a specific experience of my own. Back in 2012 I took a splurge trip to Vancouver, Canada. While checking into the (exceptional) Rosewood Hotel Georgia, I noticed something strange about a painting hanging on the wall across the lobby. It seemed to be moving. I walked toward it and my perception of movement increased. Was it a video display? No. It was a “reverspective” painting by British artist Patrick Hughes and it generated an illusion of movement like nothing nothing I had seen before.

A Reverspective by Patrick Hughes

I was really taken by the concept. On the spot, I decided to take up the challenge of creating my own. I took photos and a video, and… promptly forgot all about it. Years later I stumbled upon the old photo and felt the surge of excitement again. This time, I rode the wave. I created the crudest possible prototype, and it worked!

My first reverspective prototype

I’d love to say that that it was smooth sailing from there on, but it wasn’t. In all my excitement about the prototype, I became obsessive. I really wanted the next piece to be impressive, perfect, maybe even better than the work of Patrick Hughes.

There were also now real costs. The high-end giclee prints cost over $100, and I had to cut them up and apply them to a three dimensional shape. I was afraid I’d mess up. I was afraid I’d waste the print. Even if I got it mostly right, I was afraid everyone would see all the flaws. I didn’t know what I was doing.

It took me another two years to finally find the the strength to assemble my first “real” reverspective. That’s a little embarrassing to admit. At the time it became a funny story to tell because everyone loved this piece. Everyone. How could I take so long to finish it?

Did I learn my lesson? Surprisingly, no. It’s only now, after years of seeking to come to grips with the sources of my resistance, that I finally feel like I’m hitting my stride. Now I regularly pursue new reverspective ideas. I credit the adoption of an “experimenter’s mindset”. When it comes to experiments, there are no failures. Only data.

Now, let’s up the challenge and see if I can train myself to more reliably ride the surge of excitement I feel, when I feel it.