No freedom in choice

I haven’t yet decided whether or not I like Malcolm Gladwell. I think I do, but his status as the go-to modern thinker for the unimaginative yuppie has deterred me from his work. My experience of him thus far has been multiple references to the ideas contained in ‘Blink’ and his 10,000 hours theory of virtuosity, which states that in order to become a virtuoso at any skill, you need focused practice to the tune of 10,000 hours. To put that into perspective, you’d need to practice for 6 hours every single day for 4 and a half years. Depressing.

However, I recently came across a Ted Talk of his (another go-to talking point for unimaginative yuppies, albeit a sometimes-entertaining one) that hit a note with me. It’s about spaghetti sauce.

In it, he says that people don’t know what they want, and what they say they want is usually untrue. An example he uses is that of coffee: people will claim to desire a rich hearty roast, when what they really want is weak, milky, sugary coffee. Who would admit to wanting weak coffee? So in order to increase sales, the food industry increased the availability of choice, so that everyone could find the variety of coffee or spaghetti sauce they actually wanted.

While watching the video and thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory, I began thinking about creativity, practice and choice, and how they connect for me. I’m paralyzed by freedom. If you offer me everything, I don’t want to do anything.

When we create, or when we practice, what we’re really doing is making connections. If we choose to consider the sheer number of connections that could possibly be made, we’ll be overwhelmed. It will seem like an insurmountable task. When I started How the Whole-Hearted Live, I only had one goal: make a cool-looking rotoscoped video. So I started doing that. It was only after around 2 months of focus that my mind, having become comfortable with it, began to make connections. It took 7 months before all those little ideas I’d had suddenly drew together, like a complicated knot pulling all the loops into place, and it became one single message.

Similarly, some of my favourite creations have been those that came from simple exercises I’d set myself: can I write a song that only has two chords? Can I make a repetitive phrase interesting by varying the intensity with which I play? Can I write a bass line I like using the phyrgian mode?

I don’t think placing limits on ourselves is limiting at all; I think it frees us from the aimless enthusiasm of our own minds.

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