Some books acquire a cult following. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami is one of them. Through the pages of this book, Murakami delves on running and writing. And this passage that describes the time he decided to shut down his bar and transition to a full-time novelist had our attention over the weekend.
“So my new, simple, and regular life began. I got up before five a.m. and went to bed before ten p.m. People are at their best at different times of day, but I’m definitely a morning person. That’s when I can focus and finish up important work I have to do. Afterward I work out or do other errands that don’t take much concentration. At the end of the day I relax and don’t do any more work. I read, listen to music, take it easy, and try to go to bed early. This is the pattern I’ve mostly followed up till today. Thanks to this, I’ve been able to work efficiently these past twenty-four years. It’s a lifestyle, though, that doesn’t allow for much nightlife, and sometimes your relationships with other people become problematic. Some people even get mad at you, because they invite you to go somewhere or do something with them and you keep turning them down.
“I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance. I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of my readers would welcome whatever life I chose for myself. Shouldn’t this be my duty as a novelist, and my top priority? My opinion hasn’t changed over the years. I can’t see my readers’ faces, so in a sense it’s a conceptual type of human relationship, but I’ve consistently considered this invisible, conceptual relationship to be the most important thing in my life.
“In other words, you can’t please everybody.
“Even when I ran my bar I followed the same policy. A lot of customers came to the bar. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and said he’d come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it the other way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar. This realization lifted a weight off my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure that the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to make sure he did, I had to make my philosophy and stance clear-cut, and patiently maintain that stance no matter what. This is what I learned through running a business.”
In this issue
- How innovation happens
- Understanding productivity
- Karma and professionalism
How innovation happens
On Collaborative Fund, Morgan Housel, author of the bestselling book The Psychology of Money, takes us back to a 1908 feature by The Washington Post to throw light on how innovation happens, and what drove Thomas Alva Edison.
He writes: “Edison had already changed the world at this point, becoming the Steve Jobs of his time.
“The Post editors asked: ‘Is the age of invention passing?’
“Edison’s answer was predictable:
“‘Passing?’ he repeated, in apparent astonishment that such a question should be asked.
“‘Why, it hasn’t started yet. That ought to answer your question. Do you want anything else?’
“‘You believe, then, that the next 50 years will see as great a mechanical and scientific development as the past half century?’ the Post asked Edison.
“‘Greater. Much greater,’ he replied.
“‘Along what lines do you expect this development?’ they asked him.
“‘Along all lines.’”
It might now seem to us that Edison was being realistic. But how did he turn out to be so right? The question is interesting especially in the context of other stories we have read, such as the suggestion by Charles H. Duell, who was the Commissioner of the US patent office in 1899, to shut the patent office down, “because everything that can be invented has already been invented”.
Housel explains it thus: “Edison was successful because he understood the process of scientific discovery. Big innovations don’t come at once, but rather are built up slowly when several small innovations are combined over time. Edison wasn’t a grand planner. He was a prolific tinkerer, combining parts in ways he didn’t quite understand, confident that little discoveries along the way would be combined and leveraged into more meaningful inventions.”
Think productivity and the first thing that comes to mind are organizers, TBD lists and other tools to execute tasks. But that is missing the point, writes Dan Shipper. “It is all of those things, but it is also brains and bodies, memes and neurotransmitters. It is fingers that click keys, and furrowed brows, and emotions both fantastic and terrible. It is relationships: colleagues, managers, acquaintances, mentors, friends, and family. They push, pull, and undergird all of the work that we do in a much more significant way than any single software tool ever could.
“Underneath productivity is psychology, both individual and social. Underneath psychology is biology and neuroscience. And wrapped up in these layers, both supported by and supporting, is the humanities: literature, poetry, and philosophy.
“If you want to understand productivity you could spend all of your time at the top of the stack. But my theory is that going deeper down—into psychology, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and literature—is going to give me far more mastery over what comes further up.
“When you go deeper into the stack you realize this: in order to be productive, you need to have an end toward which you are working. You also need to have a means or a strategy to get there.
“Ideas in psychology, philosophy, and literature can help you understand your ends—to choose them more consciously, and to choose new ones if the ones you’ve already chosen aren’t serving you.”
Karma and professionalism
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