Who is this blog for? The Triumvirate of Discovery!

To answer the question, “who is this blog for?”, I have to start from a system-wide view of human civilization.

Watch this video of an amoeba in motion:

If you watch carefully, you’ll see the amoeba stick a “foot” out and explore the environment, sometimes stretching the foot far away from the rest of the amoeba. Sometimes these feet are sharp and go in wild directions. Some are more rounded and predictable.

Some of these feet “stick”, pull the amoeba in that direction, and the rest of the amoeba begins to flows in behind it. However, sometimes these feet “slip” and are retracted and reintegrated into the middle of the bulk of the body. Often, the amoeba takes unexpected turns due to being pulled by many different forces.
Through this process, the amoeba creeps along.

The amoeba offers a surprisingly good model for how civilization progresses.

Some people stay in the middle and provide stability. Others shoot out and explore just like the amoeba’s feet do, and if a valuable discovery is made–a new invention, a new method for doing things, a new continent discovered–, it exerts force on the bulk of the amoeba.

With this model in mind, there is better context for the 3 interconnected roles I’m writing to…The Triumvirate of Discovery*[1]:

  • The Creatives
  • The Leading Edge
  • The Supporters
A role is a cognitive structure that helps us navigate the fact that we are different and to help us recognize opportunities to act.  What causes people to occupy one or the other is where they’re most comfortable and feel most alive. But, people that occupy a given role can be extremely different. Here’s a little more about who I’m writing to, and what I want to say to them:

 

The Creatives

To the Creatives,

I’m here. My Mission is to be remembered as a great ancestor. I want to learn about your Mission and your journey. Or, if you haven’t found yours yet, maybe I can help.  I know I needed to see someone, or at least read about them in a believable format, that was driven by an enormous Mission that they positioned their lives around. 

Sincerely,
Kevin 

Out at the very front of the sharpest “amoeba feet of civilization” is a type of person that feels most alive at the edge of chaos, toeing the line between discovery and being lost by society. They are humanity’s “paradigm-shifters.” And they could be entrepreneurs, scientists, or really of any occupation or no “proper” occupation at all. But, by definition, they are leaders in their domain–though they may not be rallying crowds of people.

I call them the Creatives. And I have a very different perspective on them that deviates quite far from popular culture.  To introduce this perspective, here’s a thought experiment that pertains particularly to the Creatives and paradigm-shifting Creativity from one of my favorite authors, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as he offers a good footing to the subject:

“try a simple thought experiment. Suppose that you want to build an organism, an artificial life form, that will have the best chance of surviving in a complex and unpredictable environment, such as that on Earth. You want to build into this organism some mechanism that will prepare it to confront as many of the sudden dangers and to take advantage of as many of the opportunities that arise as possible. How would you go about doing this? Certainly you would want to design an organism that is basically conservative, one that learns the best solutions from the past and keeps repeating them, trying to save energy, to be cautious and go with the tried-and-true patterns of behavior.

But the best solution would also include a relay system in a few organisms that would give positive reinforcement every time they discovered something new or came up with a novel idea or behavior, whether or not it was immediately useful. It is especially important to make sure that the organism was not rewarded only for useful discoveries, otherwise it would be severely handicapped in meeting the future. For no early builder could anticipate the kind of situations the species of new organisms might encounter tomorrow, next year, or in the next decade. So the best program is one that makes the organism feel good whenever something new is discovered  regardless of its present usefulness. And this is what seems to have happened with our race through evolution.

By random mutations, some individuals must have developed a nervous system in which the discovery of novelty stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain. Just as some individuals derive a keener pleasure from sex and others from food, so some must have been born who derived a keener pleasure from learning something new. It is possible that children who were more curious ran more risks and so were more likely to die early than their more stolid companions. But it is also probable that those human groups that learned to appreciate the curious children among them, and helped to protect and reward them so that they could grow to maturity and have children of their own, were more successful than groups that ignored the potentially creative in their midst.

If this is true, we are the descendants of ancestors who recognized the importance of novelty, protected those individuals who enjoyed being creative, and learned from them. Because they had among them individuals who enjoyed exploring and inventing, they were better prepared to face the unpredictable conditions that threatened their survival.” –Mihaly, Creativity, p.108, 1997 ed.

Above you’ll see that I’ve highlighted “random mutations.” One of the ideas Mihaly is alluding to is that by genetic variation, our DNA lead to certain groups that deviated far from the norm in their interest in novelty and are consequently pulled to the very fringes of society (if they have the requisite ambitions to get there). So from this perspective, you could take one of 2 interpretations of the Creatives. On one hand, if you were to look at the lauded subset, you might consider them mutant humans with special abilities, or even a special race of its own .

But, upon studying this group of people further, you would also find that it also includes recluses, mad men, some criminals, and many more that are completely unknown. When considering the full system, an alternate, and more apt, description you could use is that the Creatives are diseased.

It just so happens that this disease carries utility for the population as a whole–if present infrequently enough. Too many Creatives and this amoeba of human civilization would rupture from being pulled in too many directions.

The Creatives are human civilization’s experimenters. Sometimes they’re protected and praised. Sometimes they are shunned. When they have a lot of money or fame, they’re considered geniuses. When they’re successful, they’re often turned into heroes that people read about in hopes of learning some of their secrets. How the Creative is described is totally dependent on the context within which they operate and exist.

The concept of risk is worth noting. Creatives are often described as “the risk-takers” of society. Generally, this is used in a positive light, at least in American culture. This is great marketing that glorifies the Creatives, and it might even be objectively true that they’re taking risks. Perhaps I’m a skeptic, but I don’t think it accurately describes a Creative’s internal state and motivations.

For a Creative, and my hunch is that this is very widely true, the perception of risk is turned upside down by either skill, confidence, and/or values. Imagine a rock climber, climbing the face of a cliff unassisted by any ropes or tools. To many, he appears a crazy risk-taker. However, the power of his hands and his ability to find the right path warps risk completely. The onlookers ask, “does he want to die?” Because if they were doing this, they probably would. However, the climber looks at the onlookers and says, “don’t they want to live?” He’s experiencing a rush and a pleasure that is beyond them. His confidence and skills open up a frame of experience that makes judgment of risk completely different. As another very different example, imagine  an entrepreneur that believes she can find a way to make it in the world on her own, does not fear poverty or lack of status, and highly values freedom and control in her life. To her, working in a major corporation seems far more risky and intolerable: at any moment, her boss could come to her and make her stay late, or work on a saturday, or even come in and tell her she’ll be laid off. Her quality of experience is not in her hands.

Perception of risk depends on what you’re risking. And if what you value deviates from others, or your skills differ from others (which interest in novelty can lead to), you’ll do different things from everyone else. The Creatives fall in this boat. They are not altruistic or playing Russian Roulette, they are doing what feels right and makes sense to them.

My point in all this is that this is a role, which is what it needs to be viewed as. And I think glorifying the successful Creatives leads to an inaccurate model of reality. However, I do wholeheartedly think the successful ones deserve a huge amount of praise.

While I describe them as a class of people that have a certain role, this is a bit paradoxical. By definition, they are very different from each other and have to find their own path. But there are some patterns. Regarding their personalities, Mihaly has a description of the personalities that tend to drive paradigm-shifting Creative processes: The Creative Personality. (A very compelling read in my opinion.)

I found myself unknowingly gravitating closer and closer to this role over the years.  And during the times when I wasn’t moving closer to this role or embracing it, I felt miserable. School was painful. Working a good job made me feel dead. Whenever stability is too high, I feel uncomfortable. Consequently, I’ve also found myself in situations most would deem undesirable. Such as when I found myself living in an abandoned fraternity house working as a furniture mover on the weekends as an MIT graduate. I remember one of the other movers I worked with yelling at me, “What the fuck are you doing here???” Well, it made total sense to me: I was protecting my consciousness and giving myself time to think and work. I needed to eat, and it was the best means I had at the time to accomplish this. By most accounts, this was a stupid place to be, but during that time, I started developing the body of thought that has now started to crystallize and will guide me through my life.

The Leading Edge

To the members of the Leading Edge,

 I want to make you great and see you do things you never thought you could. Perhaps I can be of help directly or indirectly. In the very least, I hope some of my energy rubs off on you.

Sincerely,
Kevin 

These people also have an interest in novelty combined with the love of their craft and high performance. Most entrepreneurs probably fall into this category. Of any group, I think the Leading Edge has the best chance of great success. They’re focused, disciplined, and more patient. They’re not so different from the Creatives in many significant respects, and they sometimes find themselves alongside a Creative — the Creative needs them, they’re the Creatives’ resonant point of contact with society.

There is one significant difference, as far as I can guess, between the Leading Edge and the Creatives: the Leading Edge has a higher tolerance for what the Creative would consider pain. This is part of what drives the Creatives to different territory. For a Creative, working within an imperfect system (and they all are), drives them up a wall. The Creative’s reaction is generally to avoid the system and circumvent it, or if it becomes the object of their focus, to destroy it and rebuild it.

The Supporters

To the Supporters,

You have my heart, and I’m here to serve you.

Sincerely,
Kevin 

Stepping back from the Leading Edge, you have a group of people that are on the sidelines of the discovery process, that work hard, and want to see big things happen, but they aren’t actively driving it. This group is utterly under-credited, but are a key piece of the puzzle as well.  They’re the transition point that determines whether a foray into the darkness is successful. They’re the point of extreme amplification that helps connect the Leading Edge and the Creatives to resources and the rest of this “amoeba of civilization.”

They’re also the group that protects the Creatives and the bulk of the people who the Creatives love and work for.

The Naysayers

To the Naysayers,

Eat your words.

Sincerely,
Kevin 

They aren’t part of the Triumvirate that is so dear to me. In fact, on a personal level, I often despise them. But, I think about these things holistically, and it tickles me to think about how they too play a role and by default how this blog will speak to them as well. The Naysayers are the ones that shout, “back inside the lines, you idiot!” They protect people from doing things they shouldn’t be doing and make people question themselves. This blog will be nothing but a repeated, “EAT YOUR WORDS,” so they probably won’t be reading very much. This isn’t a very nice thing to say, but, hey, it’s my job.

A few words to the entire Triumvirate

To the entire Triumvirate of Discovery,

Imagine that 1000 years from now, people remember how you took advantage of the opportunity to define yourself, your time, and the Future.  What would that take?

The Truth is, there is so much opportunity. The world has a powerful tendency to fall apart– if someone isn’t holding it together, it’s crumbling. I look around, and I see so much that needs destroying, creating, and saving. I want to see future great ancestors walking around. I want to hang out with them. I want to see a world full of people that embrace their role, bring the energy every day, and put their heads, hearts, and hands to use for something that matters.

My Mission is to be remembered as a great ancestor.  And it’s energizing. I wake up everyday with so many important things to do. It’s overwhelming. But I believe in myself.  And I believe in people. And while I don’t expect people to do what I do, and soon enough they won’t expect me to do what they do, but I do believe people want to be a part of greatness so long as they can see the right role for them. 

I’m gonna play my role. You’ll remember me. And I’m gonna help make you great. Can we do this or what?

Reach out to me: Kevin@Vogel-Labs.com

One more step.

Most Sincerely,

Kevin
10.12.2012 

p.s. Eat Your Fucking Words, Naysayers.

*[1] “The Triumvirate of Discovery”, you’ll find that I get a kick out of names like this because they’re actually quite useful.  They’re silly and fun to say like a little joke, but they actually carry a lot of meaning packed within them. (Names like this are also probably why I enjoyed the Phantom Tollbooth so much as a kid.)