Separating inspiration from information
from Flickr user Matthew Wynn
This is the third of four posts summarizing replies to the question I posed about how people cope with the vast amounts of information coming at them. In the first part, I described some strategies people use for managing information intake. The second post looked at how people store information. This post will cover separating inspiration from information, and final one will discuss the importance of making time to learn. My apologies for taking awhile to get through this. It’s been a pretty fascinating trip, though.
When I posted about cognitive load and asked for your processes and practices, I was pretty vague in how I framed my question. “Information” is a pretty opaque term. And sure enough, the responses all went over slightly different territory. Kate Haley Goldman applied her analytical eye to my question, and replied, “If I understand you correctly Ed, you’re interested in the processes and tools that we use to manage information. I see that as different than the tools and processes for managing research, connections, inspiration, or products of creation. Or workflow.” Though I was tickled at how thoroughly she’d unpacked the question, the “managing inspiration” part made me sit up and read faster.
“Over the last few months I’ve been thinking quite a bit about separating managing information and managing inspiration. I find Twitter to be useful in all sorts of ways, but I’ve noticed that only occasionally do I find something that makes me think for more than 5 minutes. Or something that truly inspires me there. The content ebbs and flows like a YouTube video of the week, and I find that the buzz of the Twittersphere fascinating and distracting, but rarely provides concepts or insights that stick with me. So I’ve returned to reviewing a much smaller set of sites regularly with my morning coffee (and the Firefox plug-in).”
There is some big truth in what Kate says. I find Twitter to be a great sort of links to useful information, news about what’s going on, and other things. But the information is usually something of short-term importance and relevance. I’ve don’t think I’ve ever gotten a tweet that has lead to me to something truly inspirational. (I’ll have to go back through my Favorites list and double check!) One of my motivations for this whole series was to heed Thoreau’s call to “Simplify, simplify.” and be more directed and less distracted. My answer to this has been to go back and gather loads of resources into an RSS reader and try to be brutal about not even clicking links unless they seem pertinent. My less-directed web surfing has decreased and so far, it feels like a good thing. I’m working on being more like Jasper Visser, and replacing the nagging sensation that I’m missing something with the certainty that I am missing something, and it probably doesn’t matter that much.
The part of Kate’s response that really spoke to me, though, was this,
“The inspiration pieces I manage differently, and it changes depending on the type of inspiration. Truly inspirational researchy things I sometimes try and re-sketch in notebooks, sometimes whiteboarding, generally after talking to someone about it. … For other pieces of inspiration, primarily visual, I’ve been doing some pin boards, which seems more effective for me than bookmarks. I’ve been experimenting a bit with photo and audio more, but nothing very advanced.”
There’s a whole new post here, and I may have to dragoon Kate into having a long conversation about her experiments. One reason this resonates with me is that all of her methods for managing inspiration are kinds of sketching, which I wrote about awhile ago. Taking some idea, internalizing it, and re-expressing it in your own way is crucial to the creative process. So the obvious question this raises for me, members of the great hive mind, is, “What tools do you find most useful for mentally wrestling with content?”
This idea of managing inspiration is intricately engaged with the fourth and final post, which is about taking time to learn. None of the strategies discussed in any of these last three posts have any value if you never have time to use them. In this current austere climate, time spent on professional development, or on anything not directly serving a current funded project, is hard to come by. I’ll wrap up with a post on making and taking time to learn on the job, and recap what I’ve learned and some of the changes I’ve made to my routine based on your wisdom.