• Almost no one is creative

    7 days ago 4 comments

    Response to a blog post about printing Yoda heads. Is *just* reproducing someone else's work being a maker? Is copying the same thing as doing original work?


    I can add some suspiciously depressing observations: almost no one is creative.

    There’s a psychological test for this, called the “Creative Achievement Questionnaire”, you can find it online and take it yourself. Don’t do that.

    Seriously, don’t take that test – it’ll only make you depressed and want to give up being creative.

    The median score for this test in the general population is… wait for it… zero. About 70% of the adult population scores zero on this measure of creativity.

    Of further note, creativity follows a Pareto distribution; meaning that the amount of creativity people have is an inverse exponential curve: most of the creativity is generated by a small number of people, and the vast majority of people who even score on the creativity scale score below 5.

    About 70% of the population score zero, of the remaining 30% we see that 70% of *those* people score a 1, and of the 30% of the 30%, about 70% of *those* people score 2, and so on.

    About half a million books are published each year, the square root of that number have half the sales (Pareto distribution…), the square root of the square root take up 3/4 of all sales, and so on. Stephen king sells a lot of books, while the vast *vast* majority of writers have no sales at all.

    It’s depressing, really.

    As a further observation, I note that the vast majority of articles and videos of people doing “science” is actually people reproducing what other scientists have done. Ben Krasnow is mostly a reproduction shop (with a little bit of science), Tech Ingredients is somewhat sciency, but just about everyone else is just reproducing something “neat and interesting”, and claiming that it’s “Science!” for audience appeal.

    Also depressing.

    There are mitigating factors and some nuance in the Creative Achievement thing, but article commentary is the wrong place for discussion. Contact me on .IO if you want more details.

  • The psychology of Version Two

    02/25/2021 at 19:22 1 comment

    wrote a blog post "What If I Never Make Version Two?

    Looking at the issue from a psychological perspective.


    The psychology of happy

    Happiness has been studied over the last few decades, and those findings might be relevant.

    We can start with the definitions: "Happy" is generally taken to mean "joyful", but it can also mean "satisfied"; as in: "I am happy with the results". Looking through the literature, it's not clear to me whether the findings on happiness are specific to "joyful", which would be Serotonin, or "satisfied", which would be Dopamine. My take is that the research doesn't make the distinction, so the results might be applicable to both.

    The key observation about happiness is that we never achieve it because we keep moving the goalposts. No matter the difficulty of achieving a happiness goal, achieving it doesn't make you happy - it only means that you focus on the next goal.

    Getting good grades doesn't make you happy because now you have to get better grades. Getting into an Ivy League college doesn't make you happy, you focus on the stress and workload and competition with the other students. Getting a good job doesn't make you happy because now you have to get a better job. It's always more pay, a bigger house, less stress, and a generally better life.

    Happiness is always on the other side of the cognitive horizon(*).

    We could apply this to projects as well. If we take the "satisfied" definition of happiness, then we're never "happy" with our projects because they can always be improved. This leads to philosophical discussions of when (or if) to continue to version 2, which lead to Kristina's post.

    One useful result from studies of happiness is that it helps if start noticing things that already exist that you should be happy about. "Gratitude" exercises (google that) can increase your personal happiness: write down 3 things to be grateful for, do this each day for 30 days, and your brain learns correlation and changes your world view to notice the things that make you happy.

    (As an aside, being happy makes you more effective in just about every positive way: you learn faster, make fewer mistakes, have more energy, get along better with people and so on.)

    Can a similar campaign make people more satisfied with their projects?

    Let's propose a similar process.

    Each day for 30 days, write down 3 project things/aspects that you are satisfied with: things that you did well, that that are particularly pleasing, elegant, or robust. Things that you probably wouldn't change in version 2. These can be specific physical aspects ("that new stitching pattern was especially robust"), or abstract ("using shell commands instead of function calls makes a lot of sense").

    Also, each day for 30 days write down 3 project things that you are *not* satisfied with... but also write down what the better solution is: rebuild with better materials, rework the PCB layout, find a different chip to use. Whatever it is, write down just a sentence or two describing the proposed solution.

    Three aspects, drawn from everything you have ever done. Reduce that number accordingly if you are a freshly-minted adult without many projects to draw from.

    At the end of 30 days take a look at any project and note both the satisfactory things and the unsatisfactory ones and their proposed solution.

    Is it worth going to version 2? Do you want to spend the time, will the results be useful enough, will it teach you something, will it make more money? Will the value of version 2.0 be worth the extra effort/time/money needed to product it?

    If the answer is no, then make a conscious decision to be *satisfied* with the project. Write down that you completed the project, it satisfies its goals, and improvements would have negligible value.

    Be happy about completing a project, as a goal.

    (Also, it helps to give yourself a treat when you complete a project: do something that you know will make you happy, and be...

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  • Finish your projects

    02/11/2021 at 15:04 0 comments

    Hack your Dopamine levels to encourage finishing projects

    Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with completing tasks (among other functions). When we complete an object of desire, it triggers a dopamine release that makes us feel good.

    (It's really more complicated than this, but a good definition for an overview.)

    The brain is also a correlation engine, so if you associate completing tasks with “nothing”, your brain can learn that completing tasks leads to "nothing", so... why do it?

    Additionally, there is a trade-off between the good feeling of accomplishment and any pain you feel on the way, and the brain can correlate that as well.

    Thus: be sure working at your bench is comfortable. If every time you work on a project you get back aches (or similar), your brain will notice even if you don’t. If you accidentally burn your fingers or hit your thumb with a hammer, take a break and do something else for a few minutes: don’t let your brain associate the pain with the project. (Eating a slice of cake helps.)

    Thus: be sure your goals are clear, finite, and measurable. Set a clear end-point for a project, something where you can say “now it’s done”, put it on a shelf, and move on. Dopamine doesn’t respond to fuzzy, indistinct goals.

    Thus: Put an emotional payoff into your project. Decide *why* you want to do a project, and if possible make the outcome more emotionally (not intellectually) valuable to you. Promise yourself that the money from sales will go towards that camping trip you’ve always wanted to take, and keep fantasizing about that trip and how good it will be. Fantasize about all the attention you will get at the next con while wearing the costume. That sort of thing.

    Many times projects falter because they become too large. Dopamine is “future expected reward”, and if that future never comes your brain can learn to avoid projects.

    This: Keep the project finite and focused. Don’t keep adding features or bonuses ad infinitum – focus on a specific end goal or end date. If you really want to add features, write them down for a hypothetical “version 2” and focus on completing version 1 for now.

    This: For large projects, and projects that seem short but become large, break the project into clear, specific sub-goals. Version the different levels of complexity, or break the project into overall steps: finish the design, build one prototype, test the prototype, then take a specific amount of time thinking about the project. Are there enough bugs to update the design? Should you move to production? Should you send test-cases to friends to evaluate?

    This: For each sub-task completed, celebrate! Promise yourself that if you complete such-and-such goal, you’ll do something you consider fun and rewarding. Tailor the celebration to the level of the goal (ie – smaller celebrations for sub-goals, big celebrations for major milestones). Go to a dinner theatre with your spouse, go to the arcade and play skee-ball for a day, spend the day nudist hiking – anything that you will find enjoyable and charged with emotion.

    (The key here is emotion: find something that you consider fun, and meter it out as a reward for doing something useful.)

    Check: Are you putting things off because you’re tired? Check your vitamin D level. Improve your sleep quality. Get some blood work and see if you’re deficient in something (maybe Iron) or have a low-grade infection. See if you can eliminate some stress in your life – stressful friends, for instance. Switch your project time to mornings instead of evenings.

    There’s a lot of science behind goal setting that’s backed up by psychological studies. It’s not hard to learn, and it definitely can make a difference in attaining your goals.

    Managing lack of energy after work

    Many creative types (writers especially) have faced the same problem. Their solution is to get up two hours early and do all their creative stuff before everyone else...

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