Sunday, February 27, 2011

Where Your Next BIG Idea Is Lurking

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder -How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-fly Planning Make the World a Better Place, by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman, (read by Scott Brick)

I have always secretly believed that you have to be able to tolerate a little chaos - sometimes even a lot of chaos - to get to the really good stuff - whatever that might be.  I could be making excuses for my clutter.  Or, I may simply be living my own "perfect mess" which would be the balance between a pristine desk (something I have never achieved any where) and the bedroom so full of clutter that you have no place to lay your head (something I have always managed to avoid).

The most important thing is that a truly perfect "perfect mess" is that it is the ideal environment for unexpected things to happen - for discovery, creativity, invention, and even productivity.  Plus you get to save all the time and money costs of getting and staying organized.

The perfect mess creates the opportunity for unexpected connections that may be, for example, between friends or contacts who don't know each other or between articles on unrelated topics.  But the real key is that a little mess may allow a note from a friend to "touch" an interesting article and make some utterly unexpected connection.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson (Read by Eric Singer)

Steven Johnson talks about " the adjacent possible."  I love that idea.  One little idea -- like Sony's idea of making a tape player small enough to carry around and listen to a few tapes -- open an "adjacent possible" that led to the iPod.

Finding those links, identifying the adjacent possibles of an idea, it turns out, involves a bit of messiness.  Johnson uses examples of everything from open source software to open office systems for product development to demonstrate the importance of unexpected connections and the value of sharing.

Johnson also values the chaotic creative space of a free-flowing journal.  He says that in the 17th and 18th century, people read books in fits and starts and could be jerking their ways through several books at a time.  Virtually all educated men (and presumably women) kept a "common place book" where they made notes and recorded insights. 
Alexander Pope even devised a rather obscure, but nonetheless popular system for creating a flexible index to keep track of his scattered notes.

From the resulting jumble and juxtaposition of notes from various books and ideas, the diarists were able to make new connections.  Johnson says they more or less re-created and re-configured the ideas they read about and studied.

A notebook is also an important way to keep track of hunches.  Sometimes, he says, a hunch evolves over years.  It is something you come back to every now and then maybe from slightly different perspectives until the hunch gels - maybe because it ended up on a page with the one thing needed to complete the thought and make it whole.

Work Like DaVinci: Gaining the Creative Advantage in Your Business and Career, by Michael J.Gelb and read by the author.

Michael Gelb uses DaVinci's notebooks to identify seven principles that he claims contributed to DaVinci's genius.  For better or worse, he names the principles in Italian. If you speak Italian, that is probably okay, but it is a little gimmicky.  On the other hand, the ideas in the book are actually useful and that puts the book ahead of the field for most of the self-help-personal-growth genre. 

One of the best ideas is simply to do the obvious thing that DaVinci did.  He kept a journal.  This is not the diary kind of journal or even the "morning pages" Julia Cameron made popular a few years ago.  This is random, disorganized, free-flowing notes of thoughts, lists (even shopping lists), reminders, sketches, and anything else you can coax out of a pen. 

It is a kind of mind map (a term coined by Tony Buzon) of just about everything.  The idea is that this kind of spontaneous, disorganized flow allows ideas and insights and plans and inventions and everything else to hook up with each other in new ways.

Taken together, these books offer some interesting ideas about creativity and productivity.  For a couple of bucks, you can get a notebook and start keeping notes -- on ideas, books, movies, something that is happening, your feelings, something you read,  your shopping list or your to do list.  It's a beginning. 

Then, go back and look it over at least once a week.  And be willing to be surprised by where you have been, what you trigger, and what you find.  You may just discover your next great idea lurking there.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, and the Birth of Hollywood by Howard Blum

WOW!  Terror, mystery and the Birth of Hollywood?  If an author could really deliver all that, this would be one terrific book.
Howard Blum does that and more.  On the East coast, you have DW Griffith reluctantly stumbling into the movies and literally creating the modern movie industry.  On the West coast, you have Harrison Otis building the Los Angeles Times and determined to squelch a fledgling union movement.

And then someone blows up the Times building killing 21 workers.  It is called "The Crime of the Century."  So, who could possibly solve the Crime of the Century?  None other than the World's Greatest Detective.  And remember, all of this is true.

William J. (Billy) Burns is hired by the Mayor of Los Angeles to track down whoever is responsible for the bombing.  While Billy and his men are searching the country for bad guys, DW Griffith is really getting into making movies.  Along the way, he discovers Mary Pickford and develops a filming technique called "close ups." 

He also came up with the brilliant idea of shooting movies in California over the winter, although it took him a while to leave New Jersey permanently.

Billy eventually breaks the case and gets the culprit, but then Clarence Darrow is hired to handle the defense.  Darrow, as it turns out, is dealing with several major life issues -- a passionate extra marital love affair, career crisis, and fears for his health among them.

I really have to stop there.  The surprises are too good to play around with.  You really have to experience this book for yourself.

I listened to this story and it was brilliantly read by John H. Mayer.  I am sure his fine reading contributed to my enjoyment of the book.  I am also sure that I would have liked it just as much if I had read it.

If you like really bad bad guys and really good good guys and don't mind too much if the good guys are sometimes rotten and the bad guys are -- well, mostly worse than you ever imagined -- you will love this story.  You will learn some history that was somehow left out of your history books. 

You may even find some interesting parallels with things going on right here right now.  Did someone say something about history repeating itself?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

About Buffalo Book Blog

I am writing a book blog because I read -- or listen to -- a lot of books.

I usually have at least three books going at a time. One of my great joys is listening to a good book while I do other things such as wander through the grocery store, drive to work, or fold laundry. I usually go through three to five audio books a week and I thank the Goddess of Good Reading for my local library that has a great collection of MP3 and WMA books.

Awhile back, I acquired an e-reader. I chose a Nook really for just one reason. I am profoundly uneasy with the idea of getting all my books and other reading material from a single source. Even if that source sells or otherwise provides everything that can be sold or provided. For reading, we must always have choices.

Unlike most of my bookish friends, I liked the concept of e-readers the moment I heard of it. For about the size and weight of a small notebook, I can have with me dozens, even hundreds of books to satisfy a momentary whim or look up a favorite quote. I can haul my entire library to the beach and never break a sweat. With that realization, it took me about three seconds to get over the book-in-my-hand-smell-of-the-paper thing.

Recently, I listened to Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson. I expected the book to be what a friend calls "oomi goomi" (I think the term is self-explanatory). It was not. It was full of genuinely good, concrete ideas for generating more good ideas.

One of the things I learned is that people in the 1800s read several books at a time and often kept notes on their readings in a kind of unrestrained, disorganized way with random thoughts flung helter-skelter over the page and often with a sprinkling of personal observations, shopping lists, and drawings. The unusual juxtaposition of ideas and disjointed thoughts - basically, the clutter of the page - actually inspired some great new thoughts, ideas, and inventions.

WaHoo! I am the Queen of Clutter and I am sure I can clutter up a page as well as anything else. I have started keeping a thoroughly disjointed notebook with great expectations. With the Nook enabling my inclination to read several books at a time, I can always have whatever I want to read right at hand. Bring on the ideas!

In my blogs, I plan to make it clear if I am listening to a book or reading it. The experience is different and, I think, significant. For example, I got hooked on Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Lady Detective series about an African woman who becomes the only lady detective in Botswana. The stories are enchanting; the characters are engaging, the incidental cultural insights are enlightening. What's not to like?

I gave sets of the books to friends who, by and large, were not able to work up much enthusiasm for them.

I think the difference was just that I listened to the stories as they were read by an accomplished actress with a lovely lilting voice who pronounced the name of every person and every place exactly right. The overall charm of the stories, I think, was greatly enhanced by the listening experience.

I like listening to fiction and seldom go back to listen to a fiction book a second time. That is not always true, but often enough that I am happy to use the library for fiction.

On the other hand, I like to read or listen to non-fiction books a second time and some times, several times. They are, therefore, generally a good investment.

So, I am blogging to share my thoughts on some of my favorite books. I hope this will be a place where other readers will come to share their comments, thoughts, and favorites as well.