The Creative Bubble


“When I look back on my best work, it was inevitably created in what I call “The Bubble”. I eliminated every distraction, sacrificed almost everything that gave me pleasure, placed myself in a single-minded isolation chamber, and structured my life so that everything was not only feeding the work but subordinated to it. It is not a particularly sociable way to operate. It’s actively anti-social. On the other hand, it is pro-creative.”

Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

What is your version of “The Bubble”? What is your deep work philosophy?

The Philosophies of Deep Work


In his book “Deep Work“, Cal Newport formulates a few different ways we can engage in deep work.

Book cover of Deep Work by Cal Newport

But first, what is “Deep Work”?

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Our creative work also falls under this “Deep Work”

So how do you develop a deep work habit?

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration

Among other things, they’ll ask you to commit to a particular pattern for scheduling this work and develop rituals to sharpen your concentration before starting each session

You must be careful to choose a philosophy that fits your specific circumstances, as a mismatch here can derail your deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify

What are these philosophies of deep work then?

  1. Monastic Philosophy

    This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. It’s this clarity that helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up those whose value proposition in the working world is more varied.

  2. Bimodal PhilosophyIn this philosophy, you have some clearly defined stretches of time dedicated to deep work. The rest is open to everything else.

    During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized.

    During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized.

    So the minimum unti of time for deep work for the bimodal philosophy is one work day.

    Those who deploy the bimodal philosophy of deep work admire the productivity of the monastics but also respect the value they receive from the shallow behaviors in their working lives.

  3. Rhythmic Philosophy

    This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work

    … that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep.

    Another common way to implement the rhythmic philosophy is to replace the visual aid of the chain method with a set starting time that you use every day for deep work.

  4. Journalist Philosopy

    …you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule

    Isaacson was methodic: Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book.

    – about Walter Isaacson.

    This approach is not for the deep work novice.

So, what is your preferred approach?

I would love to be monastic – but at this stage in life, that is not an option available to me. I have tried the rhythmic approach – but I work best, naturally, in the bimodal approach – once I start working on something, I tend to work on that the whole day.

Opinion and suffering


“Everything depends on opinion; ambition, luxury, greed, hark back to opinion. It is according to opinion that we suffer. A man is as wretched as he has convinced himself that he is.”
Seneca in Letter 78, Letters from a Stoic (On the Healing Power of the Mind)

How easy!

Once we decide to be unperturbed, we take most things in our stride.

Once we decide you are “busy”, every little task added to our workload becomes an insurmountable addition.

Once we decide we like rainy days – the week of pouring rain, which was dismal, irritating, annoying last week, becomes a chance to enjoy hot chocolate, hot pho and petrichor – the heady sensuous fresh smell of rain in the air and the wet earth.

The acquaintance, once we decide is “my kind of person”, becomes a good buddy.

How easy and how profoundly difficult – to actually change our opinion.

The Great Thief


There once was a man who went to a computer trade show. Each day as he entered, the man told the guard at the door:

“I am a great thief, renowned for my feats of shoplifting. Be forewarned, for this trade show shall not escape unplundered.”

This speech disturbed the guard greatly, because there were millions of dollars of computer equipment inside, so he watched the man carefully. But the man merely wandered from booth to booth, humming quietly to himself.

When the man left, the guard took him aside and searched his clothes, but nothing was to be found.

On the next day of the trade show, the man returned and chided the guard saying: “I escaped with a vast booty yesterday, but today will be even better.” So the guard watched him ever more closely, but to no avail.

On the final day of the trade show, the guard could restrain his curiosity no longer. “Sir Thief,” he said, “I am so perplexed, I cannot live in peace. Please enlighten me. What is it that you are stealing?”

The man smiled. “I am stealing ideas,” he said.

– From the “Tao of Programming“, 3.2

Startup idea viability


When confronted with any startup idea, ask yourself one simple question: How many miracles have to happen for this to succeed?

If the answer is zero, you’re not looking at a startup, you’re just dealing with a regular business like a laundry or a trucking business. All you need is capital and minimal execution, and assuming a two-way market, you’ll make some profit.

Most successful startups depend on one miracle only. For Airbnb, it was getting people to let strangers into their spare bedrooms and weekend cottages. This was a user-behavior miracle. For Google, it was creating an exponentially better search service than anything that had existed to date. This was a technical miracle. For Uber or Instacart, it was getting people to book and pay for real-world services via websites or phones. This was a consumer-workflow miracle. For Slack, it was getting people to work like they formerly chatted with their girlfriends. This is a business-workflow miracle.

Antonio Garcia Martinez in Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley

How do I know if the idea I have is a business idea, or a startup idea? Is it a viable startup idea? Who would have thought that “miracles” are a good metric for this? Bizarre but totally apt in this realm of Unicorns, Centaurs, Pegasus and Dinosaurs, fortune hunters and Silicon Valley pirates.

What we need


… the self determination theory which holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money, and status.

Sebastian Junger in Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Each and every day , from when we wake up to when we go to bed at night, what do we do to satisfy these – our three basic intrinsic needs? How many do we satisfy everyday? One? Two? All three?

Does catering to these needs truly make us happier? The theory says so. But to know at a personal level, it is definitely something to experiment with, monitor and analyse.

This would also be one explanation for our hesitation with learning (especially adult learning). How often does our need to feel competent at what we do, hold us back from exploring new opportunities, from learning new things, from risking?

What to do about it? Maybe one trick is to have areas in our lives where we feel competent, and expose select other areas where we experiment with short-term risks.

Thinking Clearly


Everything springs from giving people the kind of education that allows them to think more clearly and express themselves more clearly. Everything springs from that.

James Burke in conversation with Dan Carlin (Common Sense 312 – Re-Connections with James Burke)

And boom! Just like that, I find my one meta-goal for 2017.

It’s a pity that it took me three decades to first realize that there is such a thing as thinking and expressing “clearly”. It took a few more years to realize, and accept that I lack this skill.

Now, begins the process of learning. Finding resources, reading and teaching myself.