Brain Pickings

Illustrated Flowcharts to Find Answers to Life’s Big Questions

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Flowcharting your way to happiness, or why you should be looking for people who intimidate you.

From ever-inventive designer Stefan G. Bucher of You Deserve a Medal and Daily Monster fame comes 344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic Fulfillment — a delightful pocket-sized compendium of flowcharts and lists illustrated in Bucher’s unmistakable style to help you figure out life’s big answers, in the vein of today’s inadvertent running theme of self-help-books-that-aren’t-really-“self-help”-books.

Besides Bucher’s own questions, the tiny but potent handbook features contributions from 36 beloved cross-disciplinary creators, including Brain Pickings favorites Christoph Niemann, Stefan Sagmeister, Marian Bantjes, Doyald Young, and Jakob Trollbäck.

Let’s be clear: I want this book to be useful to you. There are many great how-to books and biographies out there, and even more gorgeous collections of current and classic work to awe and inspire. But looking at catalogs of artistic success won’t make you a better artist any more than looking at photos of healthy people will cure your cold. You’ve got to take action!” ~ Stefan G. Bucher

(Sure, this may be somewhat remiss in overlooking the basic mechanism of combinatorial creativity, but it’s it’s hard to argue with the need to make ideas happen rather than just contemplating them.)

Though Bucher designed the book as a sequence, it also works choose-you-own-adventure-style and, as Bucher is quick to encourage, asks for hands-on interaction — dog-earing, marginalia, doodles. “If you keep this book in mint condition, I’ve failed,” he says.

We are all different people, but we face a lot of the same questions. The point of this book is to give you lots of questions you can use to look at your life — in a new way, with a different perspective, or maybe just in more detail than you have before — so you can find out how you work, what you want to do, and how you can get it done in a way that works for you. Specifically.” ~ Stefan G. Bucher

Thoughtfully conceived and charmingly executed, wonderfully playful yet infinitely useful, 344 Questions is the kind of treat in which anyone with a beating heart and firing neurons would find delight — and, more likely than not, find some big answers, too.

Page images copyright © 2012. Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders

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Portraits of Workspaces

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What salt-water taffies have to do with hard hats, mannequins and kindergarten playrooms.

Workspaces have their own unique curiosity to them. Unlike homes, which are tailored around just a few residents, a work environment’s design must blend utility, efficiency, and comfort for all the different people who work within its walls. And it’s these people filling the space that give it another design dimension; we inevitably imbue these environments with our design aesthetic and personalities, as we spend countless waking hours inhabiting them. Perhaps this is what makes workspaces so compelling to document.

We’ve compiled a few exceptional projects found on The Behance Network that document people at work, from those who blend seamlessly into their workspaces to the delightful misfits.

POINT OF SALE

In Point of Sale by Shane Butler, dozens of trade-related accessories end up defining the space for these employees.

MANNEQUIN WORKERS BY DYLAN COLLARD

In Mannequin Workers, Dylan Collard goes inside a mannequin factory, where the human form is everywhere, making those with real flesh and blood both stand out and blend in.

AT WORK PORTRAITS

In is At Work Portraits, Rüdiger Nehmzow explores a flawless and sleek scientific workplace, where the setting seems to overwhelm the people within it.

ANOTHER VIEW

Another View by Mitar Simikic captures people at home and lending their personality to their workspaces, be it a woodpile out back or a kindergarten classroom.

PORTRAITS OF WORKERS

In Portraits of Workers @ Sofidel SPA by Alessandro Puccinelli, workers pose within the steely expanse of their workspace, both proud of and dwarfed by the machinery they operate.

Mell Perling is a community manager at Behance, where she writes about creative work at the Behance team blog and @TheServed on Twitter. She currently lives in Brooklyn.

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Redirect: A New Way to Think About Psychological Change

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How Aristotle went about cultivating virtue, or what Susan Sontag can teach us about self-improvement.

In our ceaseless quest for self-improvement and our relentless pursuit of happiness, most of us have had some brush with the world that lives on the spectrum between self-help books and legitimate clinical psychotherapy. But a compelling new (non-self-help) book suggests many of these methods might be derailing rather than propelling our progress. In Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, social psychologist Timothy Wilson reveals insights from three decades of empirical evidence indicating that what is true of culture is also true of individuals: Our experience of the world is shaped by our interpretations of it, the stories we tell ourselves, and these stories can often become so distorted and destructive that they completely hinder our ability to live balanced, purposeful, happy lives, so the key to personal transformation is story transformation.

Let’s pause here and observe that this seems pretty commonsensical. What’s more, most of us believe that our character and circumstances are so unique that the universal human psychological flaws, biases, and shortcoming we are keenly aware of simply don’t befall us personally. Yet, in one domain of life or another, we find ourselves stuck in thought patterns and behavioral cycles we lack the tools to escape. This, Wilson demonstrates, is a pathological storytelling problem based on the stories we’ve led ourselves to believe and the behaviors that stem from them.

We could solve a lot of problems if we could get people to redirect their interpretations in healthier directions.”

Of course, this isn’t news to anyone who has ever dabbled in cognitive-behavioral therapy — an entire branch of psychotherapy designed to address precisely that. But Wilson argues that there’s a new way to redirect people’s personal interpretations, one that doesn’t require one-on-one sessions and can address a wide array of personal and social problems, from severe trauma to everyday distress.

This new approach is based on the work of Kurt Lewin, who helped found the field of social psychology in the 1930s and 40s, and is rooted in three specific psychological interventions: story-editing — a set of techniques designed to reshape people’s narratives about themselves and the world in a way that results in lasting behavioral change (cue in the famous words of Susan Sontag, one of my big heroes: “I write to define myself — an act of self-creation — part of my process of becoming.”); story-prompting — redirecting people down a particular narrative path with subtle prompts; and do good, be good — an approach that dates back to Aristotle, premised on changing people’s behavior first, which in turn changes their self-perception of the kind of person they are based on the kinds of things they do. Wilson shows how these story-editing techniques have been used to make people happier, improve parenting, solve adolescent behavioral problems, and even reduce the racial achievement gap in schools.

Sample Wilson’s findings in his recent RSA talk. (And rest assured he is much more eloquent and captivating a writer than he is a speaker, bless his heart, as some of the most acclaimed academics tend to be.)

Images via Flickr Commons

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.