Random finds (2018, week 27) — On the fallacy of obviousness, shuhari and the choice for ‘Betterness’, and being one’s true self

Mark Storm
23 min readJul 6, 2018
Chameleon Villa located in Buwit, a village in the lush interiors of the southwest coastal area of Bali, was designed by Word of Mouth House. Given such a spectacular location, the challenge was to create an architecture that truly connected with its surroundings and that integrated well with the topography of the site.

I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.” — Michel de Montaigne

Random finds is a weekly curation of my tweets and, as such, a reflection of my curiosity.

With this week: are humans truly blind to the obvious?; mastery and the case for better, not bigger; authenticity and the ‘self’; boredom and quiet time; the unmatched beauty of colours; beautiful architecture from Japan and China; and, finally, wise words from Brunello Cucinelli.

The fallacy of obviousness

“Scientific experiments don’t generally attract widespread attention. But the ‘Gorillas in Our Midst’ (1999) experiment of visual attention by the American psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris has become a classic,” writes Teppo Felin, a professor of strategy at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, in The fallacy of obviousness.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), Daniel Kahneman argues that the experiment reveals something fundamental about the human mind, namely, that humans are “blind to the obvious, and that we also are blind to our blindness.” The notion of blindness captures much of the current zeitgeist in the cognitive sciences. But according to Felin, it also “fuels excitement about artificial intelligence, especially its capacity to replace flawed and error-prone human judgment.”

But are humans truly blind to the obvious?

No, says recent research. It suggests that this claim — so important to much of the cognitive sciences, behavioural economics, and now AI — is wrong.

But how could such an influential claim get it so wrong?

“From the perspective of psychophysics, obviousness — or as it is called in the literature, ‘salience’ — derives from the inherent nature or characteristics of the environmental stimuli themselves: such as their size, contrast, movement, colour or surprisingness. In his Nobel Prize lecture in 2002, [Daniel] Kahneman calls these ‘natural assessments.’ And from this perspective, yes, the gorilla indeed should be obvious to anyone watching the clip. But from that perspective, any number of other things in the clip […] should then also be obvious.” — Teppo Felin in The fallacy of obviousness (Photograph by Richard Saker)

Felin says it is hard to argue with the findings of the gorilla experiment itself. Most people who watch the clip miss the gorilla but this doesn’t necessarily mean that humans are ‘blind to the obvious.’ Preoccupied with the task of counting how often a basketball is passed between people, missing the gorilla is hardly surprising. In retrospect, the gorilla is prominent and obvious. “But the very notion of visual prominence or obviousness is extremely tricky to define scientifically, as one needs to consider relevance or, to put differently, obviousness to whom and for what purpose?,” Felin writes.

But if the gorilla experiment doesn’t illustrate that humans are blind to the obvious, what exactly does it illustrate? What is an alternative interpretation, and what does it tell us about perception, cognition and the human mind?

“The alternative interpretation says that what people are looking for — rather than what people are merely looking at — determines what is obvious. Obviousness is not self-evident. Or as Sherlock Holmes said: ‘There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.’ This isn’t an argument against facts or for ‘alternative facts,’ or anything of the sort. It’s an argument about what qualifies as obvious, why and how. See, obviousness depends on what is deemed to be relevant for a particular question or task at hand. Rather than passively accounting for or recording everything directly in front of us, humans — and other organisms for that matter — instead actively look for things. The implication (contrary to psychophysics) is that mind-to-world processes drive perception rather than world-to-mind processes. The gorilla experiment itself can be reinterpreted to support this view of perception, showing that what we see depends on our expectations and questions — what we are looking for, what question we are trying to answer.

At first glance that might seem like a rather mundane interpretation, particularly when compared with the startling claim that humans are ‘blind to the obvious.’ But it’s more radical than it might seem. This interpretation of the gorilla experiment puts humans centre-stage in perception, rather than relegating them to passively recording their surroundings and environments. It says that what we see is not so much a function of what is directly in front of us (Kahneman’s natural assessments), or what one is in camera-like fashion recording or passively looking at, but rather determined by what we have in our minds, for example, by the questions we have in mind. People miss the gorilla not because they are blind, but because they were prompted — in this case, by the scientists themselves — to pay attention to something else. The question — ‘How many basketball passes’ (just like any question: ‘Where are my keys?’) — primes us to see certain aspects of a visual scene, at the expense of any number of other things.”

“[A]s Albert Einstein put it in 1926: ‘Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.’ The same applies whether we are talking about chest-thumping gorillas or efforts to probe the very nature of reality.” — Teppo Felin in The fallacy of obviousness (Photoprahy by Yousuf Karsh, 1948)

Felin’s “central concern is that the current obsession with human blindness and bias — endemic to behavioural economics and much of the cognitive, psychological and computational sciences — has caused scientists themselves to be blind to the more generative and creative aspects of human nature and the mind. Yes, humans do indeed miss many ‘obvious’ things, appearing to be blind, as Kahneman and others argue. But not everything that is obvious is relevant and meaningful. Thus human blindness could be seen as a feature, not a bug.”

Adding, “Humans do a remarkable job of generating questions, expectations, hypotheses and theories that direct their awareness and attention toward what is relevant, useful and novel. And it is these — generative and creative — qualities of the human mind that deserve further attention. After all, these and related aspects of mind are surely responsible for the significant creativity, technological advances, innovation and large-scale flourishing that we readily observe around us. Of course, humans continue to make mistakes, and any number of small- and large-scale problems and pathologies persist throughout the world. But understanding the more generative and creative capacities of the human mind deserves careful attention, as insights from this work can in turn help to solve additional problems, and lead to further technological advances and progress.”

Shuhari and the choice for ‘Betterness’

“The concept of mastery is a powerful one, too often lost in multitasked, cross-functional times. We pride ourselves in being jacks-of-all-trades, mildly good at many things on our way up the ladder, but master of absolutely none,” Paul Bennett writes in ‘Betterness: Mastery in the Modern Age.’

Here is Bennet’s unabridged essay, which was published in The Alpine Review N°2 — Returns (2013). Even if you are not interested in sushi or intricacies of roasting coffee, it’s still a wonderful read about the choice for ‘Betterness,’ not ‘Biggerness.’

The photographs, by Toshiyuku Yano, are from a guest house in Kyoto, Japan, designed by B.L.U.E. Architecture Design Studio. The architects have tried to preserve as much as they could of its traditional timber-structure, while at the same time updating the house to meet the demands of modern life. This has resulted in a spontaneous “hybridism,” the architects said.

I’ve been going to Japan for years, but a couple of years ago, my experience of being there went to a whole other level.

Sukiyabashi Jiro Ginza, a small, nondescript 10-seat restaurant, hidden in a basement attached to the Ginza Metro Station, was a real revelation. In less than 40 minutes, and without any particular pomp or the now all-too familiar Portlandian jazz-handed delivery that makes me grind my teeth in your average Californian restaurant (“Today’s special is a purse of wasabi-crusted Davies River snapper floating above a mélange of microgreens and sea-vegetables harvested at dawn…”) I ate, quite simply, the best thing I have ever eaten: fresh sushi delivered in the simplest way possible, no excess words or gestures. Karei, expertly glazed sole, was followed by sumi-ika, squid on a bed of perfectly sweet-acidic rice, with the obligatory toro, tuna nigiri, so soft and caramelly it literally dissolved in my mouth…the taste progression kept on going and going. No flourishes, just a simple handing over at Jiro’s pace, not mine (the one time in my life that being considered a fast eater has proven to be good manners), a gentle nod, no need to watch you roll your eyes in ecstasy, no need for self-gratification, no need to have you do anything other than quietly relish the moment. Fifteen pieces of sushi and a small, perfect, sweet egg dessert later, I left, having paid 400 bucks for an experience that, to this day, I have not forgotten. It is worth noting that I hate eating in restaurants alone, but felt completely comfortable here. I speak no Japanese, but was not chided for not doing so. A simple finger-point at what I think was something akin to “Feed Me Anything You Want” on the menu, and I was off. Jiro does Dream of Sushi, and now, thanks to him, so do I.

David Gelb’s documentary [Jiro Dreams of Sushi] does incredible justice to this experience, but nothing can replace the feeling of being there, of seeing the minute interactions: the gentle steadying of the fish atop the delicate pile of rice, the tiny motions to centre the nigiri perfectly on the plate, the final, and surprisingly slow brush of oil to produce the necessary gleam on the fish surface. Nothing was performed, as it is in many of today’s restaurants, nothing was excessive in either movement or gesture. All I saw was the passion. The nuance. The mastery. The betterness.

It would be easy and reductive to describe this whole experience as ‘Japanese,’ a culture known for its shuhari, the martial arts-derived philosophy of things done well, a set of concentric circles, ‘shu’ meaning to obey, to learn the fundamentals, sits inside ‘ha,’ meaning to detach, specifically to detach from one’s ego, both sitting inside the final circle, ‘ri’ which means to separate, or to transcend. Whilst this particular concept of watching, then detaching, then transcending is very Japanese in its origin, the notion of mastery is something that occurs in cultures around the world, and one that has particular relevance today.

“In matters of architecture, Japan has been on the cutting edge for a long time. its vernacular style was a precursor to millennialism, and the inspiration of revolutionary architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and many others. Needless to say, this traditional Japanese style does not feel dated in anyway and certainly not in the case of this guest house designed by B.L.U.E. architecture studio in Kyoto, Japan. The project manages to combine traditional and contemporary styles for a result that is both cozy, and perhaps timeless.” — designboom (photography by Toshiyuku Yano)

The Barn Roastery opened in Berlin in September of 2012. Describing their Brew Bar as “rather a taste lab than a coffee shop,” they use a vintage 1955 Probat roast machine that has been completely modernized with Cropster roast Profiling software, artistry meets state of the art. Their people, passionate to say the least, are evangelical about coffee: in their 650+ word “Coffee Guidelines,” they state: “No good comes out of dirty equipment. It is second nature to us to keep all of our equipment clean at all times. A Formula One driver would certainly not start the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo in a dirty car — we keep that picture in mind when we are doing our job creating a good cup of coffee.” To say the least, this place is approaching its business as a shuhari journey. But, they have taken it a stage further: banning milk in coffee, sugar, music and even…strollers. They ask you if it is “your first time” when you come in, and give you a small guide detailing the experience when you tell them that it is. On their Facebook page they write:

“As such we have created a space without music and laptops where people can talk or listen to each other. Our menu is very reduced and catered towards adults. We do like children but we would ask parents to look after them while they are with us. Children cannot access the areas of production. This is very dangerous. Whilst many of our regular customers understand our concept in our coffee shop in Auguststrasse, we have spent countless times explaining to others why they cannot enter our shop with their prams. With this experience in mind, we have decided to have a clearer entrance to our new space. A high volume of prams would make it extremely difficult to handle evacuation in case of fire. So we have decided to have none. We really want to concentrate on our coffee brewing mostly and not arguing why this or that is not possible. We understand that this is not for everybody, but some will appreciate it a lot.”

Photography by Toshiyuku Yano

I completely understand that this is not for everyone, and I for one appreciate it a lot, craving a quiet coffee shop where I can get away and simply relish the act of drinking great coffee. One comment of many on Facebook says: “So refreshing to read about a business that’s allowed to do exactly what they set out to do. There was no need in stating this was not in the United States.”

Or perhaps for me it is answering something deeper — to relinquish my need for endless control over everything, to be actually directed towards the best of something by a bona fide expert in that topic, someone passionate and more knowledgeable than me, curating something that has deep personal meaning to them. It does seem that mastery and a declaration of fearless independence, the application of the rules on one’s own terms go hand in hand, both in the pace of Jiro’s restaurant and The Barn Roastery’s stroller-blocking bar on their front door. Amusingly, San Francisco’s Mission-based (and therefore, undeniably hipster) coffee shop Four Barrel has taken this to the extreme, banning Instagram photos of their coffee and controversially posting a sign in their back alley declaring that patrons cannot “talk about annoying hipster topics, or who you fucked last night. You shouldn’t do that anyhow, but our neighbours actually can hear you.”

Photography by Toshiyuku Yano

It’s interesting how the scale of many of these enterprises allows them to be this defensive about their philosophy, how many of them seem adamant that they will not grow, that they will stay small and refine rather than somehow grow and lose themselves, their sense of passion and somehow their sense of control over their own destiny and mastery. Unshackled by corporate behavior manuals and training modules, they seem to have made a choice: that of Betterness, not Biggerness.

My laptop started to grind slower and slower as I was typing that last paragraph, so I just performed a ‘force quit’ on it, to see what was wrong. Eleven programs were running consecutively, that was the problem. I looked through the list and tried to convince myself I needed to be using them all at once. Not a particularly deep metaphor, just a reality for many of us. We pride ourselves on our multitasked, cross-functional states of being, proudly talking in our cars, loudly running full meetings over the trailers in movie theatres, uploading entire presentations long after the captain has told us to fasten our seatbelts and turn off our technology on the runway. I lived in Singapore for many months of last year and was amazed at how people constantly smashed into each other on the subway and in malls, heads down, playing a video game or watching the news. In business, people pride themselves in changing jobs every year, of accelerating up the ladder, of getting to the top fast, of doing many things, of running eleven programs at once. I wonder if this is working, if all of this ‘jack-of-all-trades-ness’ is forcing any sense of progression and mastery out of our systems.

I had an experience recently where the most senior member of a client team prided himself on being “new to the job, in fact, new to this business,” and then proceeded to direct his team and us down several blind alleys despite the fact that we kept asking his more experienced yet junior colleagues to help explain to him the nuances of what he seemed blatantly unaware of. I’m not for a second suggesting that everyone needs to dedicate themselves to a lifetime of vocational study of a single subject, but at least valuing or seeking that out in others will help you make smarter decisions in the long run. Too often people pride themselves on having a grasp of a subject line rather than an understanding of the content, and it shows.

Photography by Toshiyuku Yano

To us as designers, skill, craft and an ongoing pursuit of excellence are fundamental; both economically, as our clients are paying us top-dollar to be the best, but also as an organizational asset. We work hard at our own journeys of becoming better, at coaching ourselves and others forward, of developing a sense of personal progression and self-improvement; it shows up in our interactions with each other and again ultimately to our clients that we care about the continued honing of our skills. Design is on many levels vocational; it is, a much-underused word today, a talent, and it needs to be nurtured, fostered and fed. Keeping ourselves in the flow of that, of feeling like we are advancing, is important. Of becoming better, not of getting bigger.

So, what advice do I have? Interestingly at IDEO we have started talking about three phases of our own collective career development as we progress up the organization, three levels of ‘guided mastery,’ and there seems to be a logical connection back to the fundamentals of shuhari.

The centre, the first level, or shu, is to see oneself as the apprentice, of being in ‘learning mode,’ relishing the act of not-knowing, at whatever stage of your career you are at, hopefully acquiring new skills, behaviors, and of course, craft, whether it is design, research, business operations or finance, everything is about understanding how to bring artistry to bear on that discipline. This can apply to someone who is just joining the company, someone who is starting client or enterprise leadership, or someone at a very senior level who is in the process of evolving or reframing their role. I’ve done this myself many times: shifting geographies, roles and foci, so I speak from experience. Taking the time to both learn and, more importantly, self-reflect, is the best career advice I could give anyone.

The next level, the second concentric circle, the ha, is what we would describe as ‘fluency.’ This is about the ability to let go, about finding your own ‘creative confidence,’ as IDEO founder David Kelley would call it, but I would categorize it as ‘post-ego’ behavior — the ability to be calm, to be empathic, to understand and relish in deep collaboration with others, to learn broadly and to enjoy how other people can both reflect back your ideas and build on them, but help keep you in check. We use the phrase ‘T-shaped people’ to describe this internally — the cross-stroke represents a desire to be broadly empathic, to understand and respect the disciplines of others, while the down stroke represents depth in your chosen craft, a sense of personal purpose and passion. I am no way saying that we are devout as Jiro and we are certainly not booked up for a year in advance, but we have firmly let go of our collective ego and have developed an approach that does not rely on external creative flourishes and massive personal validation: like him, we are calm and keep on making our sushi, quietly.

The final, third circle, the ri, is the level of abstraction that we would describe as ‘teaching.’ ‘Transcendence’ is a heavy word, for us it simply means getting over yourself and helping others. Quite simply, we take our craft and the craft of others very seriously, and help make sure that we are present and nurturing of one another. Personal progression is marked as much by the people you have helped as things you have done, and by the people that have helped you. Whilst nowhere near the stringent guidelines of The Barn Roastery, we equally care about our people, their success and the elevation of the respective craft in all that we all do. I think collectively, that we are a T-shaped organization — broad and supportive at our core, but still deep and focused where it matters.

Photography by Toshiyuku Yano

So, back to Jiro. One thing he espouses is “Once you decide on your occupation … you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success…and is the key to being regarded honorably.” The value of not just enjoying your work, but of “falling in love with it,” as he says, is critical. Too often we separate things we do for money and things we love, or things we do vs. things we want to get better at, and any sense of personal mastery gets pushed to the side. I turn 50 this year, a milestone for many and I am no exception, and in getting myself mentally steeled for the pending meltdown, I have been looking at people, who, from the outside, seemed to age well, with dignity, wisdom and passion. Picasso stands out as someone who got better as he got older, and his seminal quote: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child,” has always inspired me, of a dignified ageing with an increased curiosity, of a lifetime spent refining and honing a skill, of a sense of becoming personally better.

Being one’s true self

‘Be the authentic you’ is something we hear so often that we never question whether it is true or not. However, “things said too many times by too many people warrant careful consideration, because they just might be wrong and in consequential ways,” warns Henrich Greve, a professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD, in You Can Have More Than One True Work Identity.

“In an article in Administrative Science Quarterly, Brianna Barker Caza, Sherry Moss and Heather Vough argue that there is not necessarily a connection between consistency (being the same) and authenticity (being one’s true self). The problem with saying that authenticity demands consistency is that one’s true ‘self’ is not a unified whole. Our many thoughts, beliefs and roles can all be fully ours even though they are not always consistent with each other. People are smart enough to handle more than one role, and they are flexible enough to wear more than one professional hat,” Greve writes.

The researchers followed the careers of 48 multi-talented professionals who were genuinely interested in pursuing more than one career at a time.

“Unsurprisingly, the demands of authenticity were a burden for these multi-careerists. Internally, a number of them questioned their own authenticity, mentioning they suffered from the imposter syndrome or saw themselves as the classic ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ On a social level, many felt misunderstood and discounted by others. As one woman wrote in her blog, she dreaded the question: ‘What do you do?’ Participants felt the weight of others’ judgements, which sometimes led them to question their own abilities, especially in the early stages of their multi-tracked career.”

In Show your map, Richard Martin writes that the ‘What do you do?’ question demands a simplified response. Reality, however, is invariably more shambolic. It resembles “a hyperlinked web of avenues followed and retraced, jump cuts to elsewhere, occasional returns, disappearances and new beginnings. It is a ball of wool, a tangle of spaghetti, rather than a long straight line or a ladder extending ever-upwards. There are parallel paths too, simultaneously followed, within this entangled mess.” (A Map of Days, by Grayson Perry)

“The multi-careerists knew that they were asked to be authentic, and that this implied being the same always, but they also felt that these demands were unnatural. This led to an internal conflict: Was being authentic according to others compatible with being authentic according to themselves?,” Greve writes.

“In such a battle, there can be no winner, but the subjects of this study usually found a truce that worked well for them. On the one hand, they had to draw lines between who they were by creating strictly compartmentalised work routines, allowing them to be fully immersed in each job. They also carefully considered how they presented themselves. However, this did not involve ‘acting’ — it involved presenting the part of themselves that belonged to the specific job they were doing at the time. To do this, they came up with a shorthand, a single phrase to describe themselves in a specific context, for the sake of avoiding puzzling looks. Sometimes they could even present a more complete self, but they did so selectively. Another common strategy was to detach themselves from certain people as to create a psychological distance with others’ judgement.

On the other hand, they incorporated their multiple roles and identities within their sense of self, and saw this incorporation as authentic and valuable. A way to achieve this was to identify a common thread or theme, such as a specific skill (e.g. writing) or an overarching purpose (e.g. empowering youth). Over time, participants did away with society’s demand for consistency because they could shape their careers and benefit (and allow others to benefit) from the learning and flexibility that these multiple identities provided.”

In Working Notes of a Practising Neo-Generalist (#18) — On towers, maps and résumés I write about how Ian Sanders and Richard Martin have learned to deal with ‘labels,’ their multi-dimensional interests and the challenge of finding a ‘simple’ answer to the question ‘What do you do?’

“And that’s when I realised I had to start building a single tower of Lego, and one that would reflect the real me. The one that would get me noticed for the right reasons.

I had to take those bricks, and that experience, and repurpose them into one big tower. The small towers got broken up and the bricks went into building the foundations of the big, single-focused, tall one.

The good news is I didn’t need to ditch all the multi-dimensional stuff. Because much of that makes me who I am — part of my offering is being across multiple disciplines, industries and being agile. But it’s making sure everything is aligned and that I’m headed in the right direction. That’s the difference when you’re building just one tower.” — Ian Sanders, What I wished I’d known earlier in my career. Build a single Lego tower, not multiple ones

“‘What do you do?’ is a conversational gambit that many people dread hearing. How to respond? What if you consider yourself hyphenate, a multifaceted individual who, for pleasure or for income, does many things? What if you find it difficult to communicate this in a digestible way? What if your personal sense of identity and self-worth is founded upon the avoidance of neat labels and the impulse to categorise? Do you filter and select, presenting just part of who you are? Often this is the most convenient path to take.” — Richard Martin, Show your map

“A self-portrait as a fortified town, the wall perhaps my skin. Each day I worked on it I finished by marking the point with the date to highlight the passage of time in the production of art to reflect the forming and reforming of one’s identity. The ‘self’ I think is not a single fixed thing but a lifelong shifting performance. My sense of self is a tiny man kicking a can down the road.” — Grayson Perry, A Map of Days

And also this …

“I’m dying of boredom,” complains the young wife, Yelena, in Chekhov’s 1897 play Uncle Vanya. “I don’t know what to do.”

If Yelena were around today, says Clive Thompson in How Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative, she would pull out her smartphone and find something diverting. But what if boredom is a meaningful experience — one that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?

“That’s the conclusion of two fascinating recent studies. In one, researchers asked a group of subjects to do something boring, like copying out numbers from a phone book, and then take tests of creative thinking, such as devising uses for a pair of cups. The result? Bored subjects came up with more ideas than a nonbored control group, and their ideas were often more creative. In a second study, subjects who took an ‘associative thought’ word test came up with more answers when they’d been forced to watch a dull screensaver,” Thompson writes.

“Maybe traversing an expanse of tedium creates a sort of cognitive forward motion. […] Philosophers have intuited this for centuries. Søren Kierkegaard described boredom as a prequel to creation: ‘The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings.’”

“Boredom is the gateway to mind-wandering, which helps our brains create those new connections that can solve anything from planning dinner to a breakthrough in combating global warming. Researchers have only recently begun to understand the phenomenon of mind-wandering, the activity our brains engage in when we’re doing something boring, or doing nothing at all,” writes Manoush Zomorodi, the host and managing editor of Note to Self, in What Boredom Does to You. (Illustration Zohar Lazar by for WIRED)

The problem, the psychologists worry, is that these days we don’t wrestle with these slow moments. We eliminate them. This might relieve us temporarily, but it shuts down the deeper thinking that can come from staring down the doldrums.

“So here’s an idea: Instead of always fleeing boredom, lean into it. Sometimes, anyway,” Thompson suggests. “When novelists talk about using Freedom, the software that shuts down one’s Internet connection, they often say it’s about avoiding distraction. But [Thompson suspects] it’s also about enforcing a level of boredom in their day — useful, productive monotony.”

Sandi Mann, not only the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good but also the psychologist who ran the experiment with the cups, gets some of her best thinking done when she is commuting by care and can’t self-distract with her phone. According to her, emotions have an evolutionary benefit. Through her experiments, she was able to prove that people who are bored think more creatively than those who aren’t. “When we’re bored, we’re searching for something to stimulate us that we can’t find in our immediate surroundings,” Mann explained. “So we might try to find that stimulation by our minds wandering and going to someplace in our heads. That is what can stimulate creativity, because once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to wander, you start thinking beyond the conscious and into the subconscious. This process allows different connections to take place. It’s really awesome.”

“The loss of slowness, of time for reflection and contemplation, of privacy and solitude, of silence, of the ability to sit quietly in a chair for fifteen minutes without external stimulation — all have happened quickly and almost invisibly,” writes Alan Lightman in Why we owe it to ourselves to spend quiet time alone every day.

“The situation is dire. Just as with global warming, we may already be near the point of no return. Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves. We are losing our ability to know who we are and what is important to us. We are creating a global machine in which each of us is a mindless and reflexive cog, relentlessly driven by the speed, noise, and artificial urgency of the wired world.”

Lightman believes “we can develop a new habit of mind toward the wired world, but it will take time. […] Although changing habits of mind is difficult, it can be done. With a little determination, each of us can find a half hour a day to waste time. And when we do so, we give ourselves a gift. It is a gift to our spirit. It is an honoring of that quiet, whispering voice. It is a liberation from the cage of the wired world. It is freedom. Decades ago, when I was that boy walking home from school through the woods, following turtles as they slowly lumbered down a dirt path, wasting hours as I watched tadpoles in the shallows or the sway of water grasses in the wind, I was free. We cannot return to that world, nor would we necessarily want to, but we can create some of that space within our world today. We can create a preserve within our own minds.”

Lightman’s latest book, In Praise of Wasting Time, has been published by TED Books/Simon & Schuster (May 2018).

“This striking and almost entirely wordless video from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London beautifully conveys the work of Sachio Yoshioka, the fifth-generation owner of the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop in Fushimi, southern Kyoto. Since taking over the business in 1988, Yoshioka has pivoted from synthetic dyes to traditional Japanese methods that draw extraordinary, rich colours from bark, berries, flowers, leaves and roots. Yoshioka says he is resurrected these pre-19th-century methods from historical documents and textile samples not to preserve history, but because of the unmatched beauty of the colours they create. Split into four parts, In Search of Forgotten Colours: Sachio Yoshioka and the Art of Natural Dyeing details Yoshioka’s work and methods, including his important role creating dyed paper flowers for the annual Japanese Buddhist Omizutori ceremony in the historic city of Nara.”

In Search of Forgotton Colours was director by Mika Kawase and produced by Kazunori Terada, Kenji Hyodo.

Via Aeon

Sublime colours brought back from oblivion — the exquisite effects of natural dyes. (Video by Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

O-office Architects designed Veranda Courthouse for a site on a gently sloping south-facing hillside in a northern suburb of Guangzhou, China. The building is a contemporary reinterpretation of a vernacular courtyard house features a sequence of living areas and bedrooms arranged around a central pond.

The courthouse follows the topography of the land as it drops down gradually from north to south, and seeks to reinterpret the relationship between internal and external spaces. “The symmetrical composition of a traditional courthouse has been re-assembled as a collection of living spaces, connected by a veranda loop,” the architects explained.

Via Dezeen

Veranda Courthouse by O-office Architects utilises the same style of grey brick as the traditional Lingnan courtyard houses — a regional vernacular that utilises green brick and follows the spatial principles of Feng Shui— but replaces the archetypal wooden roof and structural columns with modern steel and reinforced concrete. (Photography is by Chaos Z.)
“I want to take a step backward. Who remembers the last email they sent yesterday? No one. Or the last text message. Emperor Hadrian used to say, ‘The daily business, the daily life, the daily chores, kills the human being.’ I’m not interested in daily chores. We have now swapped information for knowledge, which is not the same thing. I do not want to know. I’m not online. I don’t even have a computer.” — Brunello Cucinelli

“Do you know the word ‘otium’ in Latin, meaning, ‘doing nothing’? The Roman people were all laid back. In all the pictures, they were all laying around. They were doing nothing, just staring. In the winter on a Sunday afternoon, I can spend six hours in front of the fireplace, just looking at the flames and thinking. In the evening, I’m drunk with beautiful thoughts. My wife says to me, ‘What are you looking at?’ I say, ‘The fire.’ We have to take a step backward.” — Brunello Cucinelli in an interview with Om Malik



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought