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Notes Psychology

Chapter 5: Awaken the Dimensional Mind (Mastery)

Mozart’s Rebellion

Mozart was a gifted child, who surprised everyone around him with his musical genius. But for his entire youth, and up until his mid-twenties, he was imitating other people’s styles of music rather than developing something uniquely his. His father was very involved in his career, and money was always an issue. Mozart always had a gloomy looking face, and only looked happy when he was playing the piano.

During his twenties, he was still being told what to play, and to not try anything too different. But he finally rebelled against his father, on many different occasions, and determined to invoke his own style, even if it came at a financial cost.

To be a master, you have to shine your own light, you need to be creative. And to do so, you must connect with the child inside of you, that was fascinated by the world and open to its possibilities. But that is not enough, since this childhood wonder and flexibility must be combined with a deep knowledge of your subject. Most people are on the extremes of this spectrum. They are very knowledgeable about their subject but inflexible, or they are too flexible and creative but have no depth in knowledge.

The master is both a child and an adult, a creator and a consumer. But there are many challenges with developing your creativity. One challenge is that creativity and consumption are opposites, and it is difficult to reconcile a dichotomy. Society preaches easy dichotomies for people to understand such as “good vs evil” and “strong vs weak” but reality is much more complicated than that.

The Two Sides

Masters know how to resolve this contradiction by accepting both sides of their nature. They accept the part of themselves that wants to know, that wants to consume knowledge, and take carefully calculated steps. But they also accept the part of themselves that is adventurous and bold, that is willing to go outside the realm of the predictable.

But it is not simply a matter of accepting one’s contradictory nature, but also earning the capacity to do so. It is not possible for an amateur to produce like a master simply by embracing their opposing natures. They must fill their minds with knowledge before they can do so. Mozart did this for most of his life. Coltrane, perhaps the most innovative Jazz artist in history, did this with multiple styles and musicians over the course of ten years.

Tips for Creative Work

There is no substitute for hard work, there are no short cuts such as drugs. Even those who may be considered prodigies or young geniuses, never accomplish much without sustained effort over a long time. A big impediment to creative work is impatience. Learn to enjoy the process and the slowness of it – it will make a difference not only on your levels of anxiety, but on the quality of your work.

If you are creating a book, for example, it is useful to think about the “how” rather than the “what.” The “what” represents the idea or plot or inspired writing, and this is something you might feel you ought to change if things aren’t going well. But it is often the “how” that you are missing. That is, it may be that your ideas are not organized properly, that the structure of the text is lacking. If you fix the structure, you fix the text.

Another idea is that the creative brain has a way of shutting off sometimes after a period of frantic activity. You may get an idea that excites you and suddenly you feel a rush of ideas come over you, but then you notice that this fades away, and now the idea you had is dead or stale. Masters overcome this difficulty by accepting it and moving on. They take a break from what they are doing, or they go do something else.

It is also useful to read broadly. Rather than focus on one subject, which will not allow you to make novel connections between ideas, it is useful to read journals from many different disciplines. This helps your mind find interesting patterns that are not obvious and exciting to explore.

Sometimes, the “what” matters. The reason your project is failing might be because you are doing the wrong thing. If you make the wrong choice, early on, either because you had the wrong considerations (money, fame) or because you don’t know enough about what interests you, then you may find yourself on a path that gets boring with time. And this signals the ultimate death of creativity, it is at this point that you find yourself completely reluctant to go on further.

Ideas Evolve

Greene recounts the interesting story of Paul Graham, the founder of Y-Combinator. His breakthrough came unexpectedly. He graduated with a PhD in Computer Engineering from Harvard. His favorite thing to do was art and painting, and he would do this until the money ran out, and then he would consult software companies. He did this until the age of 31, and then got tired of this pattern, and decided to pursue something more profitable – an internet business.

He had a eureka moment when he woke up on a mattress on the floor of his friend’s apartment. He came up with the first web application. He raised 10,000 dollars to invest in the idea – eventually he sold the business to Yahoo for 50 million dollars, before starting Y-Combinator.

The insight from this story and countless others from history is that innovations rarely occur from the top-down. The usual pattern of behavior is that a young man, eager for success and/or fame, looks for a business idea that will work, without going through a significant learning period. And then they become disappointed when they realize that what they have built wasn’t valuable.

It is wise to allow things to happen organically, to not force things too much, to go into detours, and knowledge journeys that don’t seem to immediately make sense, if you want a truly innovative idea.

Read Mastery

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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