Zing Maker 1: Moving Past Uncertainty

Zing Maker 1: Moving Past Uncertainty

Yesterday, I refined my “Zing” theory to help me maintain productive momentum. The basic premise is that there must be something that makes me GO, but since I don’t know what that is I’ve been calling it “Zing” just so I have something to call it. In the past I’ve called it “energy”, but “zing” has a more immediate feel to it; energy is a managed resource that keeps me going for a period of time, but Zing is the starting energy that gets me moving in the first place.

As I made incremental progress on my projects today, I marveled at just how weird my negative automatic responses are. They seem very close-minded, and I should know better, and yet here they are:

  • I dislike making multiple passes to complete one task. I know it’s dumb, but if I find that I have to go downstairs to get something, and then come upstairs only to realize that I’ve forgotten something that is still downstairs, I get kind of irritated. It’s not that I’m physically incapable of it; it’s more like I’ve failed due to a lack of algorithmic elegance in my motion planning. A repeated task feels like a wasted task. The result is that I tend to overplan my trips/repetitions to avoid the potential duplicate trip. It’s like being pennywise and pound-foolish with my time; an extra trip takes like 30 seconds to do. By comparison, planning the ultimate trip takes many minutes of mental checklisting and simulation. By the time I’m done, I’ve probably forgotten what I was going to do in the first place.

  • I like knowing everything before I start. Perhaps it’s more of a distaste for uncertain outcomes, which carry with them the possibility for disastrous consequence. Or so my irrational side tells me. I don’t like being caught unprepared. I don’t like making promises that might be materially affected by unknown circumstances. I hate the idea of trying my best when I believe that I could engineer success given enough specification and analysis up-front. And yet, every truly original and creative act requires that I make that leap into the unknown and try my best. It seems that even the slightest imagined unknown—and I am really good at imagining worst-case scenarios in exquisite detail—will slow me down.


p>I’m not sure how I developed these reactions, but they are now part of me. Some people don’t like spicy food. I don’t like anything that wastes movement due to lack a complete understanding of the situations. That makes me pretty uptight as a creative.

My expanded Zing-producing methodology is, in hindsight, designed to help me remember to unclench my certainty-loving brain so it moves when conditions aren’t perfect. It’s sort of like learning to not belch in public…you really want to, but with effort you contain your gaseous inclinations in consideration of your neighbors. With practice, it becomes automatic, and this brings with it a whole host of unimagined benefits due to not being perceived as a slob. My sister’s boyfriend once commented that when he as single, he never got good tables or good service at restaurants. After he started going out with my sister, he noticed that the restaurant experience improved by an order of magnitude, accompanied with smiles and special dishes provided gratis by the owners. I know my sister does not approve of loud belches in her presence—as her big brother, it’s my job to try to gross her out—so I’m sure her boyfriend must have learned to contain his digestive gusto in the process of wooing her. And now, he can go to nice restaurants with my sister and not get dirty looks from the waitstaff!

But I digress…the point I’m making is that I have an innate dislike of uncertainty and repeated effort, and that I must overcome this. Learning to reframe uncertainty as “opportunity to acquire useful data” and reclassify repeated effort as “mechanical simplicity” will help me keep chipping away at the enormous mountain of tasks that are in front of me. I’ll waste less mental effort trying to be perfect in my knowledge before starting a task, and discover the efficiencies as they are revealed as my efforts push back the fog of uncertainty. Efficiency, then, will come from the increased focus that I gain from tackling just a few things at a time, secure in the knowledge that time and effort are the necessary cost of progress.

There are no shortcuts; these are the principles that I think matter:

  • Pushing through uncertainty yields new experience, which yields new data that lead to new insights that point a few more feet ahead. You will get there when you get there.
  • Excellence comes through creating rough experiences, using them, and then iterating through to refinement.
  • Iteration takes time, as does synthesizing experience into knowledge that did not exist before. This is the way of any creative OR learning task.

I believe this is creative truth. My uncertainties and inane resistances to wasted effort crumble before it, but only when I remember to apply it as a daily habit.

Bring it on, Tuesday!


1 Comment

  1. Tom 9 years ago

    Great article, man. Your description of what stops you really speaks to me – I often realise that I’m procrastinating because I want to do something in the right way in one pass. I realise that’s impossible for exactly the reasons you state, but that doesn’t stop my brain from throwing the brakes on. I shall be hunting for my Zing.