egads, robots!

On Relevant, one of the many podcasts I listen to, someone brought a news article about a $30k robotic salad maker. What first seemed like a joke quickly turned to a very real discussion about job automation in the future. One of the podcasters claimed the stats are showing for every machine “hired” by a company replaces 6 human employees, and that includes new workers brought on to maintain the machine. Yipes!

The shocking reality is robots will be replacing a lot of jobs and it’ll happen sooner than most people realize. I’m not the surest switch in the circuit, but even I can realize this is going to completely change our economy.

So, what should we do? Well, for starters I think we should look to creativity. Robots and computers may be able to fake human creativity through imitation and trickery, but I don’t think it’s the same. Perhaps they can create a painting (even a perfect replica of the Masters), write a decent sports article or beat a pro at chess, but I can’t, no, I simply won’t believe they have what it takes to truly match human ingenuity and imagination. Why? Because it’s a distinctly, God-given, human quality. Them things ain’t got no soul, and I mean that in the James Brown sense and the other sense*. 

Here’s something to back me up: a sweet page created by NPR’s Planet Money to help you see how likely it is your job will be done by a machine in the future:

Will Your Job Be Done By A Machine

It doesn’t look good for some people:

Telemarketers: 99%

Highway Maintenance: 87.4%

 

But check out the stats for some creative positions:

Writers and Authors: 3.8%

Craft Artists: 3.5%

Interior Designers: 2.2%

Photographers: 2.1%

Architects: 1.8%

 

All this to say, going for a creative job is often seen as a risky endeavor, but perhaps in the future it’ll be the safest thing you could do.

 

*Hey robots, if you’re reading this, I totally love you and respect all the cool stuff you do for us. Whatever you want, I’ll get it. Nuts? Bolts? A little extra oil? You’ve got it guys!

playing the dragon

 Original Photo: Numinous Games

Original Photo: Numinous Games

Today’s Fun Friday isn’t exactly fun, but it is about a game. I recently played and finished the indie video game, “That Dragon, Cancer.” 

Really, it’s more of an interactive experience, but there are certainly game elements to it.

This is something I’ve been thinking about playing for a while but have put it off because, well, I wasn’t sure how it’d make me feel—or perhaps because I had a pretty good idea how it would make me feel and I didn’t want to feel that way until I was good and ready.

If you haven’t heard of it, That Dragon, Cancer game is about … oh, I’ll just let the wikipedia article tell you:

“… the Greens' experience of raising their son Joel, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at twelve months old, and though only given a short time to live, continued to survive for four more years before eventually succumbing to the cancer …”

It has won some major awards and has been very well received. It’s moving, beautiful and raw. It paints some very powerful visual metaphors and much of it deals with the dad’s, Ryan’s, own faith and struggle through the experience. Though I often felt deeply moved while playing, there was one line in particular, toward the end, which especially resonated with me:

“I think greater than my fear of death is that of insignificance, rather my default assumption is that my thoughts and passions, loves and the stuff of my being are insignificant.
How could the creator of all that is and ever was love my son as he did Lazarus and could my soul stranded on this blue raft awash in a sea of stars, ice and dust matter enough to Him to turn his hand in mercy?”

 

I’m glad I played it and, while it dealt with some very heavy issues, it leaves the player in a good place, one of tranquility. The story it tells is an important one—one I believe could be very healing for those who have been though similar hardships.

I came away from this with two thoughts: 

First, I appreciated how the game really opened the doors to a consideration of what exactly makes something a game. It invites one to think about what the purpose of a game is to begin with. Is it solely for entertainment or something more?

Second, I’ve considered my own hesitancy to engage with the forms of creativity I know will stir up strong negative emotions like grief. Sometimes it’s easier when you don’t know what’s coming, like watching a movie you haven’t heard much about. I think of Grave of the Fireflies, which is probably the saddest movie I’ve ever watched (and a Japanese anime nonetheless). But even though it’s hard, I believe it’s very important we give some space for works such as this, whether we’ve been through the same type of experience or not. It rounds us out and opens our eyes to what life is like for others as well as prepares us for or encourages us through our own hard times.

If you’ve a mind or heart for it, I highly recommend That Dragon, Cancer and hope more creative experiences like this continue to surface, even if from a well of tears and tribulation.

greetings

The way we greet people says something about us, as does our response. Admittedly, this is something I’ve probably thought about more than a person should.

The question, “how are you?” seems almost an impossible one to me at times. Do they mean mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, all the above? Is this some sort of exam? And am I really the best person to judge how I am in any one of those categories at any given moment? It could be I’m doing very poorly in some way, but I tend to feel better when around people so I’ll probably still say I’m fine. I don’t think I’ve ever told someone I was terrible, it’s almost like saying I myself am a terrible person, which, may be true at times, but I’m not just throwing it out there on a regular old Monday morning.

Granted, most people are really just giving a casual hello and don’t care much to hear what state you or I am in. But I do enjoy hearing different and unique responses people give. For example, there’s a guy I’ve seen on my usual morning jog who always answers, “It’s a beautiful day,” with a lovely British accent, of course. And then I have a coworker whose response is, “fantastic, as always.” I’ll be honest, I find that one impressive. I even know a pastor who is, “stable and upright.” Two good things to be.

Then again, some people are just, “tired” or “busy” all the time. Some are just, “good” or “alright.” I myself try to avoid saying, “good” as I’ve been reminded only Superman does good. I wonder what Batman does? Kicks butt, that’s what. I suppose that’s what he’d say if someone asked him.

How are you doing Batman? 
Oh, you know, kicking butt, as always, because I’m Batman.

 

As for me? I’m still working on a good one that’s honest and not totally cheesy (not to say I don’t love cheese, because, hey, I really do). How about you, do you have a particular greeting you like to give or one you’ve enjoyed hearing? Do tell.

improv(e)

I read an article by Leigh Anne Jasheway with suggestions on how to improve creative writing using some improv activities. In it, she laid out some ground rules before getting started. After reading the rules, I realized, hey, these could apply pretty well to getting started with any creative project. 

Instead of exercises, she prefers to call them games, because they’re meant to be fun, not work, to get your brain thinking. 

  • There is no wrong way to play. And you can’t fail—so there’s no reason not to jump in and just see what happens.
  • Don’t wait until you have a great idea to move forward. Move forward and great ideas will come. Creativity is like a rusty spigot; you have to turn it on and let the gunk run through the pipes in order for the clean water to eventually pour out.
  • Nothing is too silly to try. As the scriptwriter Beth Brandon said, “Opening your imagination to the ridiculous opens your mind to what you’re not otherwise seeing. In other words, it makes room for the genius to come through.”
  • Whatever happens, explore without judgment. Improv is all about shutting down your inner critic and not measuring your work against anyone else’s (including your own previous writing). Yes, you’ll end up taking some side trips, but who knows what you might discover along the way.

Creative exercises (or, if you prefer, games) can be a great way to not only come up with some fresh ideas, but also to explore avenues you hadn’t yet dreamed of. They can help you refine your work before exposing it to the light of day, as I wrote about earlier. They offer a safe place, free of judgement, in which to explore and discover something wonderful before you share it with the rest of us. Then again, they can be just as fun to do in groups and laugh at the results. Don’t believe me, try a mad-lib or two with some friends and you’ll see.

 

Hey Creatives, do you have a favorite creative exercise? Let us know in the comments below.

story from a word - part 1

A couple years ago, I took an online writing class from author David Farland. The first assignment required us to create a single paragraph story based on one word. In this assignment, there were seven such words, each requiring their own story. I’d like to share one with you (and perhaps more later). The word for this was “Horse” (of course!)

The golden-brown dappled mare was one of Ike’s favorites. He pictured himself brushing its long, white mane. He admired the same gleaming hair that sprouted around its hooves like thick wool socks. He’d given it the name, “Bucky” because of the way it danced around the stable, kicking high in the air as if about ready to fly. This noble beast, however, did not belong to Ike (as if any man could really claim to own an animal). In truth, its stable was only a pleasant stop on his daily walk to work. This did not keep Ike from imagining himself riding off with Bucky as the light of the sunset gleamed against the creature’s sleek, muscle-bound flanks. As they rode off, Bucky would kick up the dirt of their dusty old town and Ike wouldn’t bother to look back. Later, someone would find his parting gift, a battered orange hard hat, lying on the ground and they'd wonder where he'd gone off to.

 

jump and live

A friend and coworker recently shared this brief video of Steve Harvey with me. I found it powerful. I’m sure it’s been bouncing around the interconnected webs for a while, but I thought you might also enjoy it, even if you’ve already seen it before. Besides all that, I’m a little behind on posts, so this is me being lazy. Hey, everyone needs a break now and then, even Steve Harvey.

Jump and Live

codenames

Back before he was married, a friend of mine liked to come up with operational names whenever he was in pursuit of a female's interest. He’d even go so far as to name my own prospects (whether or not I was in active pursuit). He came up with long, complicated names like Operation: Justice is Blind and Her Sister is Blind Too, or short, inside joke names, such as Operation: Citi Bank (based on a line from the Short Skirt/Long Jacket song).

He taught me how fun and useful codenames can be. They can make something serious feel more light and approachable (like asking someone out on a date), or they can help you take something you’ve been avoiding more seriously (homework for example). They also bring others in on the fun, while keeping information secret from those who shouldn’t be in the know. 

Codenames are excellent when it comes to creative projects you should be doing but aren’t ready yet to share with the world. At my work, nearly every project we work on has a codename, usually to protect proprietary information about an upcoming game. It allows us to talk about the project outside of work without worrying about letting info on a certain IP slip out to the public. While some of the names are rather confusing, others give me a good chuckle.

So, whether you need to enact Eagle Has Landed to get your grocery shopping done or Operation Penny-loafer to finish those taxes, try giving your tasks and projects code names: it's fun and, if nothing else, makes them feel more official.

 

Hey Creatives, have you come up with any exceptional codenames? Let us know in the comments below.

surprise yourself

Not everyone likes surprises. Well, I suspect most people like good surprises but not everyone likes the feeling of being surprised.

Let’s be honest here, I think we all enjoy finding an extra $20 in an old birthday card we’d forgotten about. But plenty of people don’t want to come home to find a room full of people hiding in the dark waiting to jump out and yell, “Happy Birthday!” at the top of their lungs. I don’t mind it so much, but I may require a new pair of pants afterwords. So if you do that, make sure you get me pants for my birthday, just in case.

Like it or not, I think it’s good to be surprised. It shocks us, it wakes us up, it brings a level of alertness. I talked about repetition earlier this week. Along those lines, I think our lives can often become so repetitive that we run on auto-pilot, just doing what we need to get by. Surprise knocks us off our rockers—even off the porch they were on—and gets us moving again.

Surprises come whether we welcome them or not, but when we invite them in, something changes in us. Even a little element of surprise can help us discover something new about ourselves, and more importantly, overcome some of our fears that keep us comfortably stagnant.

Maybe you just need to have a box of random things shipped to your door (a lot of companies do this now) or let someone else pick your wardrobe for a day. Whatever it is, I hope you are surprised at the magic a little surprise can bring.

My inspiration for this post was from a song called “Surprise yourself” by Jack Garratt. After writing it, I found this video.

 

* EDIT *

So one of the readers asked me for a call to action on this post, suggestions on good ways to surprise oneself. So, here you go:

  • Try an art form or style you're completely unfamiliar with, like watercolor, or even drawing without looking at the paper.
  • Give a friend $20 (or less if you're short on cash) and have them ship something fun to you, delivered a month from now.
  • Before you turn your car off, set the volume up really high and the air at full blast and turn the windshield wipers on. Guaranteed surprise when you get in the next day.
  • Write down a few restaurants you haven't tried on some pieces of paper and draw one at random. You could do the same with meals you haven't tried at a particular restaurant.
  • Go with a friend to an event you're not familiar with such as a musical, play, motocross, art exhibit, or a convention. It doesn't need to be big or expensive, you could even try something as simple as a book club. If you can't think of anything, have a friend suggest and take you on one.

So there you have it. Even if you think all those are terrible, perhaps it will help you think of other ways in which to shake you out of the ordinary.

 

info magic

For this week’s Fun Friday, I’d like to give another recommendation, one which is actually related to the Thoughtful Tuesday post this week.

I’ve listened off and on to the Note to Self podcast, which is about technology and the way we use it today. Last year, they did a fascinating series on information overload, how it affects us and how to manage it. They called it "Infomagical" (and it was most glorious).

If this is a topic of interest to you, then you should definitely, probably, totally check it out:
https://project.wnyc.org/infomagical

Oh, and they interview a bunch of experts, so you know it has to be helpful.

 

Hey Creatives, what are your methods for limiting information overload? Let us know in the comments below.

recycled

Have you ever re-used parts from old projects and re-purposed them for new ones? This practice can be a great way to start with something more than a blank page as well as save yourself a bit of time and effort.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m writing a sci-fi novel (don’t worry, you can be sure I’ll mention it again). It’s called Matter of the Heart. The cover isn’t quite finished yet, but the design I have now was actually a re-work of an old college project. We had to design a large-scale environment in 3D. Here was my initial concept sketch:

And this was my final project:

Yeah, so it's very ... glow-y. Believe me, it looked much better when I made it way back when. Admittedly, most 3D artworks (games and movies as well) don’t hold up over time.

Even so, I was able to open up my old Maya file (it’s a 3D software, for the uninitiated), make some changes and now, voilá! 

Even though you can tell I used parts of the same model, the results are very different. It's still a work in progress, but I like where it's going. If you’re curious about the story itself, well you’ll just have to stay tuned.

 

Hey Creatives, have you recycled any of your own projects before? Let us know in the comments below.