Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Checkpoint IV

Checkpoint IV

As we leave the eighth week of classes and head into the final scramble to earn our grades and our pride, there is only ever one thing to do: it. What is 'it' you ask? An astute question, and one that I myself found pondering, rejecting, resenting, understanding, and finally accepting.

For anyone well-versed in Greek  and Roman mythology, Nike is the goddess of victory. For all other purposes it is a shoe brand, a shoe brand which borrowed Victory's name align itself with success. But Nike's well honed motto has nothing to do with the Greeks, Romans, Olympics, gods, or even victory itself. The brand's motto is: 'Just Do It.'

What the devil is 'it' and why is doing it so important?

Let's apply this to work, education, or creative problem solving. How does one suppose it feels to be in the depth of despair over how to develop a creative product in a very short period of time with no right answers and an unfathomable burden of work to do once 'pretend' answers are guessed at? One assumes it is life draining, frustrating, paralyzing, heart wrenching, and just plain difficult.

But one also assumes, given a hard working person of quality, pride, and fighting spirit, that anyone in such a position is working very hard every moment of their lives on the project, or at least thinking about it in those rare instances it cannot be worked on. How  must it feel then  to be told that the solution to one's dilemma, the way to get more work done, the method for solving those difficult problems is to, simply, 'just do it'?

Last year I downloaded an app called Unstuck. The goal of this app is to help a person diagnose where they were stuck on a project and what they needed to do in order to break free and accomplish what they originally set out to accomplish. Perhaps I was hoping for some insight into the human condition, some psychology or workflow 'secret' that everyone else knew but somehow I didn't.

Why were people able to complete projects I couldn't, to a level I couldn't? Why was I always frustrated and stressed; how could I avoid falling into huge pitfalls where I spent large chunks of my time solving problems that maybe really didn't need to be solved for the project to have a meaningful impact? How could I think properly and increase my own efficiency?

After I had answered its questions and gone through its exercises, Unstuck revealed the answer it presumed I had been waiting for: "Just Do It."

I was mad.

Earlier in the week, two separate people who I'd talked to about my difficulties getting the work done had both said the answer was to, "Just Do It," and I'd gotten similarly upset on both occasions. What do you mean?! I thought in offended exasperation. I've been doing nothing but working! I'm working so much I'm working in my dreams!

For you see, "Just Do It," rather implies that you haven't been doing what you're supposed to have been doing. The sound of those words implies that you were off playing video games, partying with friends, hanging with the BF, or skipping class to visit an amusement park, and that the secret magic answer to your problems is simply to stop goofing off and actually work.

Add this to a situation in which a person has actually deprived themselves of all games, comfort, companionship, and relaxation in order to slave and slave over their work, and "Just Do It" is an undeserved slap in the face. Anyone might be entitled to be a little mad.

And yet....

Perhaps, one might imagine, the problem is not in the advice itself, but the interpretation of the words. Maybe the problem is that when we hear 'Just Do It' we hear 'You're not trying,' but the advice being imparted to us is something different all together.

Let's look at each of the words in sequence. The first word is 'Just.' This word has a few meanings, but its connotation includes overcoming some kind of hurtle. That is to say that we use 'just' when we are trying to get past objections and uncertainties and throw down a finalized answer that undermines all opposition and distractions. Therefore we can already see that "Just Do It" implies that something, some kind of antagonist or unpleasant cloud is getting between us and our work.

Consider how a mother might say, "Just do your Homework," to a child who is playing video games. This is not the first thing she announces when she walks into the room and finds her gaming bundle of joy. Probably she said, "Do your Homework" first, and then the child offered some feedback ("But I'm fighting Dr. Zorgan! But I don't want to! But I did it yesterday!"). It is this obfuscation, this cloudiness, this set of distractions to which she then applies the 'Just.'

Consider this second example. "Mother, I don't know how to do this problem," says a child, to which the mother responds, "Just do it to the best of your ability, and then come to me when you're done." IN the first example, its easy to see how the word 'Just' could be misinterpretation as a termination of pleasure (And therefore "Just Do It" implies you've been goofing off.)

But here we see 'just' in a different light. 'Just' is used to banish apprehensions. It clears the way by some means or another, for action to occur. The problem, "I don't know how to do this," is shut down by simple means of the word 'just.' 'Just' negates the stopping points (And everything that follows after 'just' clarifies that no consequences exist for failure to perform perfectly, only failure to perform at all.)

This brings us to our second word, 'Do.' 'Do' is a powerful word, but it implies some kind of physically manifested action of some sort.  When we 'do' something, we create, we instruct, we attack, we bowl, we jump, we fish, we write a paper, we ask a person out, but we don't just sit in a windowsill with our fist on our chin and think for a long while.

However, I was already not in a thinking phase. I was in a working phase, and work simply was getting done incorrectly, inefficiently, unnecessarily, or just simply not fast enough. How could I overcome this with the word 'Do?'

Let's look at Nike brand shoes. The name of Nike brand suggests that victory follows in its wake, yet the company motto does not promise victory. The slogan isn't "Just do it and you'll succeed," or "Just do it and your dreams will become true." It is only, "Just do it." And yet the connection of Nike to its motto suggests that "Just do it" and victory are somehow linked.

They are. Unless you do something, you can't succeed. Nike doesn't promise success because it know there are lots of wrong answers. IN fact, you are going to fail to shoot a basketball a great many times before you learn to shoot it 'right.' Furthermore, in many cases we are looking for 'right' answers, when there are no right answers. Just variations on a theme. And some are more pleasant to us than other; but rarely is there a single optimal solution for any problem.

"Do" in "Just Do It" Means don't permit paralysis. Even if you must make a decision by flipping a coin, make it. Then stick to it. (This advice itself is problem-rift, you should always be able to quickly evaluate if a switch is going to yield you net profit or failure', but it's very important to realize that if you change your mind you're redoing work, and sometimes when you have a certain amount of work done you need to quickly re-scope and make something different than what you already planned that still meets your needs.)

"Do It" means you constantly have to act. You need to make decisions and then act on them. You need to constantly be putting yourself into a state of Flow, and minimize frustration between flow states.

"It." The final word is "It." It deserves a paper all its own. "It" is an undefined noun, genderless. Deciding what "It" is, that is, what you are making, what you are getting into Flow over, what you are carving away haziness and uncertainty in order to fail and succeed over, can be very difficult.

"It" needs to be simplified, reduced, possible, managed, recorded, and analyzed. Nothing stinks more than getting into a Flow state over the wrong "It"- except never getting into a Flow state at all. "It" needs to be decided quickly, decisively, with vision, and also furthermore it needs to be small and concise enough to be doable, with the core always visible. Before getting into a Flow state, know if "It" is really what you need, or if this is just you trying to make a perfect 'right' choice instead of the one that is going to get your project done.

Ah. After all that. We can now see that, "Just Do It," doesn't mean, "You've been goofing off and need to buckle down." Rather it means something bigger. Something about banishing fears, accepting the possibility of failure, identifying the core components, and falling into a flow state

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