Brain Pickings

Science, Storytelling, and “Gut Churn”: Jad Abumrad on the Secrets of Creative Success

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On diving head-first into the unknown.

Since 2004, Radiolab has been sparking a singular kind of magic at the intersection of science and storytelling, redefining not only public radio but also the “role of scientific culture in modern society,” to borrow Richard Feynman’s words.

In this fantastic talk from The 99% Conference, Radiolab mastermind and MacArthur genius Jad Abumrad takes us behind the scenes to explore the tribulations and triumphs of building a novel paradigm from the ground up.

At the heart of it, he argues, is the notion of the “gut churn” — that scrambly, uncomfortable, anxious fight-or-flight feeling that comes with doing something uncontrollably new that could go uncontrollably wrong, at once an intensified version of Rilke’s comfortably philosophical notion of living the questions and a living testament to the idea that uncertainty is what fuels science.

Countering that — and sustaining the creative spirit through it — is the same kind of intuition about the right direction that guides great scientists. Staying the course requires constant creative rejuvenation — Jad recommends beloved graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister’s sabbatical strategy.

Listen and enjoy:

To whatever degree Radiolab represents change, we didn’t plan it. I don’t think change can be planned — I think it’s only something that can be recognized after the fact.

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton for The 99%

Complement with Jad on sound, science, and mystery and his philosophy of “pointing arrows.” Radiolab, like Brain Pickings, is noncommercial and made possible by audience contributions — I proudly make mine monthly. Join me in supporting them with a donation.

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