Brain Pickings

Words Without Words: A Visual Dictionary

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If we could re-learn our SAT words, this is how we would do it.

We love, love, love words and language, especially whenever lingo-love and beautiful design meet. So we’re all over Words Without Words by Slovakian-born, Stanford-educated, Los-Angeles-based designer Veronika Heckova — a lovely visual dictionary of words with abstract, complex or underused meanings.

The project is part Radiolab homage to words, part Johnny Carrera’s visual dictionary of curiosities, and altogether wonderful.

Thanks, Yuriy.

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PICKED: Escape Vehicle No. 6

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As much as it provides a zeitgeist of “how society is now,” modern art also has the capacity to inspire us by combining media, objects, environments and concepts in ways which challenge our understanding or simply make us sit back and go, “Now that’s cool.”

Simon Faithfull was commissioned by Artscatalyst to produce his piece Escape Vehicle no. 6 — a generic office chair attached to a balloon and filmed, live, as it rises 30 kilometers into the edge space before hurtling back to earth. The video itself is haunting: You follow the chair rising through clouds, and watch the sky get darker before the chair floats, almost silent, in an environment with temperatures of -60º, where humans could simply not exist.

Part of the fascination of art like this comes from its ability to scale our perspective — to change how we look at endeavours. We typically associate a journey to space with multimillion budgets, enormous engineering and rousing soundtracks. With Escape Vehicle No. 6, your eyes remain transfixed on this incredibly mundane (or, as Simon calls it, “pathetic”) object undergoing an extraordinary journey — a proxy for own dreams, aspirations and sense of adventure as human beings.

Vikas Shah writes Thought Economics, where he interviews some of the world’s most influential thinkers, from CEO’s to astronauts to artists and more. By day, Vikas is founder and CEO of strategy consultancy Thought Strategy. You can follow him on Twitter.

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PICKED: Waste Land

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The world’s largest landfill, Jardim Gramacho, lies in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where an eclectic group of local “catadores” — self-assigned pickers of recyclable materials — live, work and play. Jarred by the disconnect between these pickers’ bold creative spirit and the desolate conditions of their lives, acclaimed artist Vik Muniz decided to help. So he set out to change their lives through the very material of their livelihoods, creating powerful portraits of the garbage pickers that hover between dignity and desperation, selling them as high art, and giving all the money back to the community.

 

Waste Land is British filmmaker Lucy Walker‘s fantastic documentary about this beautiful social experiment, following Vik from his homebase in Brooklyn to his native Brazil for nearly three years as he collaborates with the pickers on these portraits and eventually helps them form a political association that empowers their existence. The film swept Sundance last year, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Thanks, Carr!), and is out on DVD this week.

The moment when one thing transforms into another is the most beautiful moment. That moment is really magical.” ~ Vik Muniz

It’s not just that Waste Land is a beautiful piece of cinematic storytelling. It’s also the kind of film that will make you look a bit more closely at your own life in a heartfelt, non-pedantic way, and maybe, just maybe, make you want to live a richer, fuller life.

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Enchantment: Guy Kawasaki’s Guide to Success

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De-fluffing authenticity, or why your cause is your only yellow brick road to success.

Why is it that we caress our iPhones so tenderly? What is it about putting on a pair of Nikes that makes us run faster and jump higher? How come merely seeing Facebook’s blue logo gives us a rush of connectedness and belonging? Business guru Guy Kawasaki may be equally celebrated and reviled for his unique brand of media entrepreneurship, but one thing is certain: The former Chief Evangelist at Apple knows a thing or two about stirring passion and building cults around it. That’s precisely what he captures in his new book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions — an essential handbook for making ideas resonate, sitting at the intersection of business, creativity and persuasion.

It causes voluntary change of hearts and minds and therefore actions. It is more than manipulating people to help you get your way. It transforms situations and relationships. It converts hostility into civility. It reshapes civility into affinity. It changes skeptics and cynics into believers.” ~ Guy Kawasaki

Kawasaki offers a thoughtful guide to transforming both personal and professional interactions from transactional what’s-in-it-for-me’s into lasting, trusting, meaningful connections. Ultimately, he makes a case for what we all intuitively believe — that success is the product of, above all, being a good person — but wraps this ethos in grounded case studies and examples from some of the world’s most passion-driven brands.

Enchantment of others, or yourself, is a process, not an event. It’s like fitness: you don’t stay fit without continuous effort. Maybe it’s an Asian thing: simple to learn but a lifetime to master. The best way to keep yourself enchanted is to enjoy the process. We had a saying in the Macintosh Division: “The journey is the reward.” If you can embrace this attitude, you’ll be enchanted and enchant others for a long, long time.” ~ Guy Kawasaki

We couldn’t help but find Kawasaki’s thinking remarkably similar to the ethos of Polaroid inventor Edwin Land circa 1942, perhaps bespeaking an essential ingredient of entrepreneurship.

The 99% has an excellent interview with Kawasaki. Still not convinced you actually need to read it? Take Guy’s Realistic Enchantment Aptitude Test — a 23-question self-exam that tests just how masterful your enchantment skills are and where you may need help.

The pillars of enchantment are likeability, trustworthiness, and greatness. Greatness refers to the quality of your product, service, idea — in other words, your cause. Sharing your dream is a key part of enchantment.” ~ Guy Kawasaki

Enchantment is out this month and is already shortlisted for our selection of the best business books of 2011.

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