Brain Pickings

The Interface is the Message: Aaron Koblin on Visual Storytelling at TED

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What 10,000 sheep have to do with Johnny Cash, Marshall McLuhan and the evolution of storytelling.

I was thrilled to see my friend Aaron Koblin, presently of Google Creative Labs, take the TED stage earlier this year. I’m an enormous data viz geek, I’m deeply interested in the evolution of storytelling, and have been a longtime supporter of Aaron’s work. This talk is an excellent primer to both the discipline itself and Aaron’s stellar projects within it, but also an insight-packed treasure chest even for those already immersed in the world of data visualization. Perhaps most interestingly, Aaron revises iconic media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s revered catchphrase, “The medium is the message,” to a thought-proviking, culture-appropriate modernization: “The interface is the message.”

An interface can be a powerful narrative device, and as we collect more and more personally and socially relevant data, we have an opportunity and maybe even an obligation to maintain the humanity and tell some amazing stories as we explore and collaborate together.” ~ Aaron Koblin

Aaron mentions a number of projects previously featured on Brain Pickings: The Sheep Market, A Bicycle Built for 2,000 and The Johnny Cash Project, if you’d like to take a closer look.

For more on the kind of magic Aaron is making, you won’t go wrong with Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design — easily the most comprehensive compendium on data visualization candy around.

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Little Bets: A New Theory of Creativity and Innovation

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What Chris Rock has to do with Steve Jobs, Stanford and the secret of cross-disciplinary creativity.

Innovation theory is great, but the dangerous disconnect there is that no matter how compelling the ideas, theses and arguments, we often fail to make the leap between how this theory both applies to our everyday real-life experience and is a reflection of the everyday experience of real-life innovators. This disconnect is exactly what Peter Sims’ addresses in his excellent new book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries — a fascinating, eloquent and rigorously rooted in reality exploration of the creative process in innovaton. At its heart lies the concept of the “little bet” — a small, low-risk action taken to discover, develop and test an idea, a potent antidote to some of innovation and creativity’s greatest obstacles: perfectionism, risk-aversion, endless rumination.

The seed of this book was planted while I was attending Stanford Business School. One of the most common things I would hear people say was that they would do something new — take an unconventional career path or start a company — but that they needed a great idea first. I had worked before then as a venture capital investor, and in that work, I had learned that most successful entrepreneurs don’t begin with brilliant ideas — they discover them.” ~ Peter Sims

From how Chris Rock crafts new comedy routines with small audiences to hone his delivery to how Amazon’s Jeff Bezos extracts insights about opportunities from smaller markets, Sims enlists an incredible range of creative, strategic and business innovators to illustrate how “little bets” work — architect Frank Gehry, Twitter founders Evan Williams and Jack Dorsey, musician John Legend, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, companies like Pixar, Google, General Motors and many, many more — swiftly swaying from psychology to business strategy to neuroscience to theory of mind and just about everything in between.

Lucky people increase their odds of chance encounters or experiences by interacting with a large number of people.

And since we’ve already established how much I love book trailers, it’s worth noting Little Bets gets bonus points for this one:

More than anything, Little Bets is a living testament — the opposite of a fluff-lined “manifesto” — to the power of life experience in innovation, of insights and principles and creative codes developed through years of being intellectually and creatively active, curious, and awake in the world, rather than staring at the PowerPoint slide on the screen of an MBA lecture hall. And what makes the “little bets” approach most noteworthy is that it applies to anything from artistic endeavors to policy to social entrepreneurship to real-time media and beyond.

One of the things that constantly surprised me was how many similar approaches and methods spanned across the vastly different fields. Story developers at Pixar, Army General H.R. McMaster, a counterinsurgency expert, and Frank Gehry use the same basic methods and of course make lots of little bets. They even use similar language and vocabulary – like “using constraints’ or ‘reframing problems’– but they all learned their approaches through their experiences, not in school. General McMaster may have said it best when he said that the parallels between these very different experts were ‘eerie.’” ~ Peter Sims

Part Spark, part Making Ideas Happen, part something else entirely, Little Bets is one of the most compelling journeys into the roots of creativity to come by in a long time. Amazon has a fantastic, revealing Q&A with Sims that will give you a taste of this gourmet meal from the kitchen of true innovation.

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Cement Eclipses: Tiny Street Art Sculptures by Isaac Cordal

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What tiny people have to do with the sleepwalking hypnotism of urban routine.

I love the work of London-based street artist Isaac Cordal, whose makes big social commentary by way of street art sculptures with tiny human figurines. Since 2006, Cordal has been placing minuscule cement pieces on streets, sidewalks, walls and other corners of the city across Europe, exploring “the voluntary isolation of human beings” from nature. Cement Eclipses is a beautiful new 256-page anthology of images from the project, many never-before-seen, offering a thoughtful look at his tiny-big gifts to the public and inviting an exploration of their meaning in a sociocultural context.

Cement eclipses is a research project of urban space that runs between the fields of sculpture and photography. The sculpture is used as a starting point and photography as a witness to the execution of installations for later viewing or exhibition.” ~ Isaac Cordal

My favorite has to be this piece titled Sleepwalker, which adds to the come-hither allure of the tiny scale the ephemeral mystery of playing on shadow:

Vulnerable and expressive, the vignettes in Cement Eclipses are as much a conversation about solitude as they are an invitation to examine our role as citizens and fellow human beings in a shared urban reality.

via Colossal

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