Four times in a row

Several years back, I attended a workshop where a professional guitarist told us about how he knew if he had mastered a particular lick or solo. His practice was to play it in loop until he got it right four times in a row.

Back when he had mentioned it, it didn’t seem like much of a big deal. But the guitarist told us how this can be extremely hard, and how he would often get it right three times only to slip up the fourth time and start all over again. So, I decided to try it myself.

I picked several licks that were fairly easy – getting them right the first time wasn’t a problem. But somewhere between the first and the fourth try, I would make a mistake. Some mistakes could be glaring, like striking the wrong string. Some others could be tiny – a small glitch in tone, an inadvertently muted string or a note played slightly out of time. But I would instinctively know when I had made a mistake, and getting even the simplest sequence right four times in a row was far harder than I had assumed.

The human mind is prone to overconfidence. The idea of being able to do something is often more appealing than the feasibility of its execution. Reading (and highlighting lines)  in a book or following how a teacher solves a problem in class gives us an illusion of having understood the concept well enough. Alas, when a slight variation of the same problem appears in an examination, those illusions come crashing down.

Overconfidence is the separation between the idea of being able to do something from the ability to execute it. Overconfidence also separates the gap between an amateur and a professional.

Positive constraints

Can you think of an instance in your life where an inconvenience turned out to have unexpected benefits?

To be a black cab driver in London, one has to go through a process called “The Knowledge”, where they spend about four years memorizing the names of the 25000 streets of the gargantuan metropolis, and the fastest routes through them. They would then be thoroughly examined until they can imagine every curve of a street at the mere mention of its name. This tradition is more than a 100 years old, dating back to the era of hansom cab drivers. In today’s world of satellite navigation, using this process seems illogical. Why should people have to go through this four year grind in this day and age?

Rory Sutherland points out how, among other things, The Knowledge doubles up as a commitment device. He says that a driver who has spent four years of their life in getting a black cab license can be trusted simply because they have too much skin in the game. A mere string of minor traffic offences or complaints from tourists can cause these cabbies to lose their hard earned licences. Therefore, the inconvenient process of getting a cab license brings with it the unexpected benefit of automatically disciplining these drivers on London’s streets.

In the course of listening to podcasts and audiobooks, I observed how I could still comprehend and appreciate conversations played at 1.5x or 2x speed. In fact, several episodes were more exciting this way. I considered this an unquestionable benefit. I could now listen to more podcasts in the same amount of time. And yet, after a couple of weeks of listening to squeaky voices speaking as though they had downed 10 cups of espresso, I realized how in the pursuit of quantity I had diluted quality. Alas, more information wasn’t the point. I went back to normal speed, and I now queue up only episodes that are good enough to enjoy even at this slower rate. Imposing this constraint made me a more selective podcast listener.

At the face of it, the term positive constraint might sound like an oxymoron. And yet, inconvenience can lead to scarcity that can have unexpected benefits – from making our roads safer to curating the information that passes between our ears.

Bounded by available information

If you had to pick out an office space, and the only information available to you was  whether the office was 18 sq meters or 20 sq meters in size, would this number influence your choice?

As one can imagine, this difference in size is hardly noticeable once the office is in use. It lies within the boundary of a perceptible change. And yet, when such an option was presented to the professors at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business there was a mad scramble for rooms that were slightly larger, despite size them not offering any meaningful advantage. In the process, the professors abandoned several other important factors such as the offices with the nicest views or how many elevators served their floor.

The reason this happened is because the professors selected their preferences based on a spreadsheet which mentioned only the room size. In the absence of any other information, their minds were programmed to focus on a number that was available, even if it wasn’t particularly significant. As Richard Thaler points out in the book where he mentions this anecdote, –  if there is a number, people will use it.

As people who design real world choices (choice architects in behaviour science parlance), we ought to be thoughtful about the information we list out:

  • The numbers mentioned should indicate a significant difference. People are likely to use insignificant differences in numbers like room size or megapixels in a camera (14 MP vs. 16 MP) to make their decisions.
  • The choice of number should make comparison easy. While selecting pizzas, I would also like to know the area of the pizza rather than just the diameter. A 12-inch-pizza isn’t 20% larger than a 10-inch-pizza. It is 44% larger.
  • By mentioning a board that says “Fruits in Season” next to certain fruits, supermarkets can nudge consumers to make more commercially and environmentally sound decisions.

Inspiration: Misbehaving – Richard Thaler

When inspiration dries up

Why is it that the best comebacks often occur to us after the moment has passed?

Our best creative ideas are unconscious. Several artists speak about how their ideas come to them during unconscious moments – as they dream, take long walks or are in the shower. The unconscious mind translates the various inputs that the artist has accumulated and combines them in new ways to produce ideas.

As wonderful as our unconscious mind is, it isn’t a voluntary organ. When inspiration is lacking, we often rack our conscious brains for giving us ideas. However, the harder we try to focus, the more blank our mind becomes. This forms the basis for the dreaded writer’s block, where as writers stare at that blank page, the words simply do not come to them. Similarly, when we’re caught in a tense situation, our conscious mind isn’t able to produce the best comeback for the moment.

The root of the problem is usually the inputs that we’re feeding the brain. If the unconscious mind doesn’t have quality input, it is unable to produce its best ideas. Most writers would tell you how the key to good writing is to do a lot of good reading. In my own case, I can find a high correlation between the ideas I have with the books, the auidobooks and the podcast I consume.

In the moments when inspiration dries up, it might be better to shift our focus from straining to produce outputs to focusing on the inputs.

When 37% is the answer

Say you’re making a significant purchase – such as buying a new house or a new car. At what point in your search should you stop looking and pick the best alternative?

Well, the answer depends on what type of person you are. Some people are maximisers,  who will not settle for anything lesser than the best deal. Maximisers search and compare until they are convinced that they have picked out the best option, and bargain until they find the best terms. Other people are satisficers. They have a certain standard they are looking for, and once a choice meets those standards, they make a purchase and stop looking further. When maximisers looks for clothes, they are likely to survey multiple brands, compare deals and after all this research, make the best possible purchase. With satisficers, they walk into a store and pick the first item that meets all their basic criteria. All of us lie somewhere on the spectrum between satisficer and maximiser.

Now coming back to our question about the purchase, Tom Griffiths, a cognitive and computer scientist, offers a rule of the thumb for decision making. Based on optimizing algorithms used in computers, Griffiths says that the answer is 37% of the sample set. Once we’ve looked at 37% of the available houses in a city, he suggests that we pick the next house that is better than anything that we have looked at so far. Framed another way, if you’ve set aside 1 month for picking a house to buy, you must set the benchmark as the best house you have seen in 11 days and in the subsequent days, pick anything that exceeds that benchmark.

But later in his TED talk, Griffiths pulls a fast one. He points out that even with this strategy, the probability of finding the best option would be 37% – logically the odds of finding the best option bears a linear correlation to the ones we have already looked at. So how, then, are we benefited by stopping our search at 37%?

Perhaps the answer lies in the difference between satisficing and maximizing. Consider a basket with 1 red ball, 4 green balls and 5 blue ones. Here, the red ball represents the best option, while the green balls represent the good-enough options for a satisficer. With 3 picks (without replacement), the probability that the red ball is picked is merely 30%, whereas the probability that either one green ball or one red ball is picked is a whopping 94%. With maximisers, since their standard is set to the absolute best option in the market, looking at each additional option bears only a linear correlation with the total number of options examined. With satisficers, each additional option that they consider in the beginning shoots up the probability that it would meet their standard, until the curve tapers off at some point. Needless to say, the choices we have in real life are more complicated than picking balls out of a basket. For the average real world choice, my guess is that we hit the point of diminishing returns at 37%.

Satisficer vs. Maximiser curve.png

With all of our decisions, from ordering food at a restaurant to choosing life-partners, we fall on the satisficer-maximiser spectrum. Satisficing offers the benefit of climbing the green curve that tapers off at 37% rather than walk the linear, red tightrope of maximization.

Inspiration: Tom Griffith’s TED talk on computer science and decision making

Newton’s third law

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”, states Newton’s third law of motion. A little creative liberty shows us how it applies to several other aspects as well.

Everything we own ends up owning us, one bit at a time.

If the fulfillment of something we desire can make us happy, its absence will produce agony in equal measure.

As economists will tell you, any monetary purchase comes at the cost of foregoing a large basket of equally valuable alternatives. In other words, adding something to your life always takes something away. The same applies for time.

Who is your competition?

“Somebody has already done it.”

Thanks to the internet, almost every business problem seems to have a solution somewhere out there. The internet also makes it easy for that business to scale across countries for virtually no cost. It is tempting to discard an idea that has already been done.

On looking closer, not all aspects of an internet business scale well. When you serve everybody, you neglect somebody. When your customer is generic, you ignore the specific. The interconnected world of the internet gives us several specifics to serve – unique customers to look in the eye and engage in conversation.

Many sensible people would tell you not to start a business around making a search engine. Google seems to be cleaning up that winner-take-all market. Yet, there is enough room in the world of the internet for DuckDuckGo and Ecosia (a search engine that uses part of their revenue to plant trees – 63 million and counting). You and I may not use those search engines, but enough people in the world do.

When your idea has already been implemented, it is proof of its marketability. All you have to do now is to seek out a section of the audience that isn’t served and engage them in conversation.

Who is your competition? Often, it isn’t that internet company that has “stolen” our idea, but the voice inside our head that hides behind that story.

Delayed confrontation

If instant gratification were one side of a coin, what would the other side be?

We procrastinate when we resist doing difficult work that is most important to us. When confronted by doubt and fear, the mind tends to lean away from those feelings in favour of pleasure. It seeks to avoid confrontation and replace it with gratification.

Instant gratification and delayed confrontation form a partnership that prevent us from doing our best work. It pays to be mindful of ways the ways in which we procrastinate. It also helps to identify what we’re running away from.

Between ridicule and recognition

Most scientists who have changed the paradigm in their fields, go through three stages – ridicule, neglect and eventually recognition. Each of those stages may last anywhere between a couple of years to decades. By the time they are recognized, several of them are already dead.

Cases in point:
Ignaz Sammelweis – a pioneer of antiseptic procedures, who proposed that doctors wash their hands with chlorinated lime before delivering babies. He faced ridicule and suffered from depression as a result. He died at the age of 47, after being beaten by guards in an asylum. His work was recognized only when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory, years after his death.

Gregor Mendel – a priest who identified recessive and dominant genes with his meticulous experiments with pea-plants. His groundbreaking work in genetics was largely neglected by the scientific community, and he went back to his church duties. He died as an abbot and his work was recognized only in the 20th century, more than three decades after his death.

Charles Darwin – who proposed the theory of evolution based on his voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle in his early twenties. Darwin produced a manuscript with his theory in 1839, but locked it up for 20 years, fearful of the perfect storm it would brew among his contemporaries. Only after another biologist, Alfred Russel Wallace, produced a manuscript proposing the same theory did Darwin rush to publish his own findings.

In the pursuit of any truth (scientific or otherwise) resistance always bridges the gap between ridicule and recognition. The key question is if one’s dedication to that truth is strong enough to weather the unpleasant journey it entails.

Inspiration: Read The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson for a hundred other such examples

A hack to enjoy museums

The idea of visiting a museum is great. The execution can be hard for most people.

The reason some people hate visiting museums is because of how they’re organized.  Museums usually have a daily entry fee, which can be pretty high. Therefore, people feel compelled to spend several 3 to 5 hours in museums, trying to take in as much as they can for their money’s worth. The most famous museums always have bigger collections than anybody can see in one visit.

Visiting a museum is like eating at a buffet. Sure, the variety is nice, but like our tummies, our minds have limits for how much information they can take in one sitting. Unlike our stomachs, though, our minds do not offer immediate feedback when they are full. Before we realize that has happened, we have spent several hours walking past exhibits like a zombie. When the visit ends, we are often so mentally exhausted that we do not go anywhere near another museum for several years.

To take the dietary analogy further, museums ought to be designed like a-la-carte restaurants rather than all-you-can eat buffets. That way, one can pay for merely the sections one wishes to see in that visit and leave in about an hour with a satiated mind. But I don’t foresee museums doing this anytime soon. The onus falls upon us as visitors to salvage this situation.

Now here’s the hack – enter the museum about an hour before closing time. Walk up to the information desk, ask them for a map and decide which section you would like to see. This selection is the most important part. Be sure to pick a section that you can relate to. For instance, if you’ve recently read a book on the story of Genghis Khan, you must head to the Chinese / Central Asian collections. If you’ve read the Iliad, head to the section with ancient Greek exhibits. If you don’t find something good enough to see in an hour that justifies the entry price, you should leave and do something else with your time and money.

By entering about an hour from closing time, I put a cap on how long I would spend there. Besides, the limited time automatically makes me cut through the noise and pick a section that is most relevant to my visit. There’s nothing like a deadline (and a high entry fee!) to bring this sense of clarity. And given that I often leave before I have had my fill, I visit another museum in a few months.

Museums aren’t optimized for the enjoyment of regular folks. Ironic as it may seem, limiting how much time I spend inside museums has been the best use of my time and money.

What CEOs can learn from insurance companies

Richard Thaler, the founding father of behavioral economics, sat in a room with 20 executives and their CEO. To each of the twenty managers, he posed the following question:

“Suppose you were offered an investment opportunity for your division that will yield one of two payoffs – 50% chance that it will make a profit of $2 million, and a 50% chance it will lose $1 million. Will you take it?”

Only 3 out of 20 executives raised their hand.

He then asked the CEO in the room how many of those bets he would take. He answered without a second thought that he would take all of them.

When Thaler asked one of the executives why he wouldn’t take the bet, he mentioned how if such a project succeeded, he might get a pat on the back and a bonus of three-months income. But if the project failed, he was liable to get fired. He rightly did not want to risk his job on the flip of a coin. The incentive structures firms have in place often prevent managers from taking worthwhile risks. No wonder so many firms struggle to innovate.

Although the financing for all the projects comes from a common pool, each executive is made to consider his or her project’s budget as its own account, and is judged as being a success or a failure based on their individual performance. In the process, the company, as a collective, loses out by not taking several good bets. This mismatch of incentives between owners and management within a company is what economists call the principal-agent problem.

A firm’s basket of projects resembles an insurance portfolio. Although some projects might end up as disasters, the firm should stand to gain on the whole. Perhaps the insurance industry can offer CEOs lessons on how to design such incentive structures.

Inspiration: Misbehaving – Richard Thaler

The easy part and the hard part

What’s the easy part and the hard part of your job?

For the guitarist on stage, the easy part is to play the song that she has spent several hours practicing. The hard part is to have a conversation with her audience while she is doing it. The hard part is to go from being a musician to a performer.

For the footballer, the easy part is to hold the ball to his feet and dribble to secure its possession. The hard part is to take a bird’s eye view of the football field, understand the position of his team-mates and his opponents and play a pass into a region that is favourable for his team.

For the hotel receptionist, the easy part is to make bookings, identify guests on the system and check them in. The hard part is to make a human connection with his guests each time they pass through the desk. The hard part is to make his guests feel at home.

For the flight attendant, the easy part is to go through the safety procedure and serve refreshments to everybody on-board. The easy part is to follow the operating manual. The hard part is to make each guest on-board the flight feel welcome. The hard part is to make them feel like they aren’t faceless components in that system.

The easy parts of most jobs are the ones that you would typically find on the job description. As professionals, we ought learn to do those parts unconsciously so that all our conscious effort can be directed towards the hard parts of looking people in the eye and having a conversation with them. As employers, we ought to try and make the easy part effortless so that our employees can focus all their attention on the hard parts.

That movie in your head

The German language is known for having a rich and specific vocabulary. Kopfkino (head-movie) is the German word for the movie of thoughts that plays in our heads.

We are on the always lookout for stimulation – from notifications on our smartphone as we wait in line at the supermarket, from podcasts during our daily commute, from music from the radio the moment we enter our car or from Netflix as we stream videos while eating dinner. The constant need for stimulation arises from what happens to us in its absence. When we have nothing to do, and are free from stimulation, we are forced to watch the movies playing in our head.

The movies in our head aren’t particularly interesting – not in the world of blockbuster movies, million dollar podcasts and endless streams of customized entertainment served to pockets by the smartest algorithms on the planet. Those movies in our head pale in comparison. Even worse – those movies can be painful to witness. No wonder we spend most of our waking time trying to busy ourselves with work or busy ourselves with leisure.

“People intoxicate themselves with work so they won’t see how they really are.” – Aldous Huxley

But those movies in our Kopfino aren’t going anywhere. As we all know, the conscious mind is but the puppet that is visible to us as the unconscious mind pulls at its strings. The thoughts and feelings that we work hard to avoid continue to swim around and  influence our behaviour.

The alternative is to tune into that movie – to sit for about 10 minutes everyday, close your eyes and simply watch your thoughts like you would watch a movie – like a spectator. With time, you would realize that those thoughts are just as fictitious as the movies we see on the big screen. Sure, we may love Jules the gangster played by Samuel L. Jackson in the Quentin Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction. But we realize that Jules is a work of fictional art as he quotes from the Bible and pumps bullets into his victims.

Meditation is the act of tuning into the movie in your head. Watching those movies doesn’t sound like the most exciting habit to develop. But would that change if you realized that the scripts in those fictitious movies spill into the story of your life? Would that make them more interesting?

Harnessing rituals beyond religion

Every morning, the writer Steven Pressfield puts on his lucky boots (with its lucky laces). He then wears his lucky hooded sweatshirt with its lucky charms. He points his small lucky cannon on his desk towards himself so that it can fire inspiration towards him. He then says his prayer – the invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, which sits beside his lucky acorn from the battlefield of Thermopylae. And then, he writes for about four hours.

On competition days, the legendary swimmer Michael Phelps starts off with eating the same breakfast of eggs, oatmeal and four energy shakes. He performs the same stretching routine and swim 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m, and a series of 25m drills. After that, he listens to his favourite music on headphones. He then walks to the blocks, stretches his legs on them, left leg first. He takes the right headphone out. When they call his name, the left headphone follows. He stands on the left side of the block and gets on to it from that side. Finally, the does his iconic double flap and he’s now raring to go.

Rituals are not confined to religion, although the word carries a strong religious connotation. A ritual is any habit that is costly – every ritual has a certain degree of inconvenience associated with it. In return, these habits trigger can inspire a high degree of performance.

Not all rituals are useful – the mindless repetition of arcane prayers does not serve anyone. But a meaningful ritual is a habit that gives you more than what you put into it.

Sources: Steven Pressfield’s ritual – The War of Art; Michael Phelps’ ritual


Between understanding and judgement

What is the boundary where understanding ends and judgement begins? Empathy and naive realism help us tease out this difference.

The term “empathy” is more commonplace. We hear it quite often and are familiar with it. Empathy is the ability to understand and accept another person for who they are. In a disagreement, an empathetic person tries to see things from the other’s person’s point of view.

The term “naive realism” is more uncommon. Psychologists define it as a human tendency to believe that we see the world objectively, and that people who disagree with us must be uniformed, irrational or biased. When a naive realist finds out that another person’s point of view aligns with their own, they consider them wise. When that isn’t the case, they assume that something must be wrong with that person.

To be empathetic is to listen to a person in distress and try to feel what they feel. The naive realist jumps to offer solutions as soon as they hear a problem.

The empathetic posture seeks to understand the world for what it is. The naive realist attempts to fit the world into their world-view.

Empathy and naive realism seem poles apart, but they are often divided by a thin line – one that see somebody else’s struggle and recognize them as being as real as our own rather than assuming that somebody else’s struggle is the same as our own.

Break up your bets

Which one would you rather pick? 1 bet with a 50% chance of winning $1500 and a 50% chance of losing $1000? Or 10 bets, each with a 50% chance of winning $150 but a 50% chance of losing $100?

Both of those options are equivalent from their expected return. Yet, the second one is far safer, for it is less prone to volatility. In a series of 10 such bets, there is a much bigger chance of ending up with a net positive result. And we understand this intuitively.

When we’re hoping to make a big launch or a grand opening with our project, with months of effort invested into it, we opt for that large bet. No wonder it is big and scary. What if that fails? What would that mean for all the efforts we’ve invested? All of this fear holds us back from doing anything at all.

The alternative is to ship a little bit everyday – to make a series of small bets that cumulate and compound in the long run.

Sleep 0, Netflix 1

In an event in 2017, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, said “…we actually compete with sleep…”

Now if you wondered, like I did, as to whether there was any doubt or remorse in his tone as he said that, Hastings clarifies with the rest of that sentence: “… and we’re winning!”.

Sleep is one of the more complicated and less understood aspects of human health. But without a shred of doubt, sleep is central to our well-being. Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist who specializes in the study of sleep, talks in this podcast episode about how sleep clears the brain of metabolic toxins that have accumulated through the day. He mentions how sleep deprivation is linked with Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes and several forms of cancer.

In Walker’s words, “Mother nature wouldn’t waste time putting you into a state that wasn’t necessary.” And yet, in the same episode, he laments how most doctors have only 2 hours of sleep education in their curriculum. 1 out of every 2 adults in the US are sleep deprived. Further, he estimates that sleep deprivation costs a country 2% of its GDP – an amount that Netflix probably considers its market opportunity.   

To sense how ruthless a technology company is, just listen to them speak about their competition. As part of their investor notes, Netflix mentions how it competes against “people going out to dinner with friends, enjoying a glass of wine with their partner”. You can also add getting a good night’s sleep to that list. Perhaps Hastings considers all of human behaviour (at least the parts that don’t constitute bingeing endless streams of entertainment) his competition.

We live in times when the leader of an organization that is worth about $ 150 billion and hires some of the best brains on the planet is cheering them on its war against some of the most fundamental aspects of human well-being (without facing a shred of public outcry). On the bright side, they are being open and unabashed about it rather than trying to hide behind a garb of making the world a better place.

I wonder how many of the folks who binge watch a series late into the night realize that they are mercenaries in Netflix’s war against sleep.

Source: Mathew Walker’s appearance on the Joe Rogan show

Beating one norm with another

“Please help us save the environment.”

Several hotel bathrooms carry a sticker with that headline. It tries to convince guests to reuse towels during their stay, telling them how many liters of water they would save in the process. It then informs guests to leave towels on the stand if they wished to reuse it or to leave them on the floor if they wanted them replaced.

The hotel’s notice is clever because it pits one norm against the other to drive behaviour change. Hotels normally provide their guests with fresh towels every day. Further, guests normally leave towels on the stand and not on the floor. By using one norm (leaving towels on stands) the hotel nudges their guests to change another (to fresh towels every day).

Behaviour change is hard and well designed nudges often lend a helping hand. One effective way to design a nudge is to utilize one norm to counter another.

Max out or sell out?

This September, a large international fair takes place in Frankfurt. Say you work at an airline company or manage a large hotel chain. Given the tremendous demand around the event, how high would you quote your prices? Would you keep raising them to maximize your profit? Or would you stop at some point and rather sell out all the available spots?

Now put yourself in the place of a customer to this fair. When you see a hotel room or an airline ticket that is 5-10x the price of what you would normally pay, how would you feel? How likely are you to opt for the same airline or the same hotel chain the next time?

Economic theory tells us that prices ought to rise or fall until supply meets demand. Several economists are likely to advice the hotel or the airline to raise prices until demand falls to meet the limited supply and profit is maximized. However, that doesn’t go down well with customers. Once the fair is done, they are unlikely to return to the group of hotels or the airline that fleeced them during a time of need. Most services companies understand this, and they cap off their prices at some point rather than squeeze the market for every bit of profit. By putting themselves in the place of their customers, the managers at these companies realize how raising prices could maximize profits in the short term, but could hurt profitability in the long term.

Every company juggles short-term profitability with long-term customer relationships. The decisions they make depend on how they see their customers – as a person who transacts with them just once or as one who would walk through their doors again and again.

Inspiration: Misbehaving – Richard Thaler

Inspiration is perishable

“Inspiration is perishable.” I heard this quote first on Naval Ravikant’s excellent podcast but I understand it viscerally every time I lose blog post ideas that I fail to write out quickly.

A unique combination of circumstances give rise to inspiration. Our heads combine certain inputs in mystical ways to create an idea out of nothingness. However, unless you give inspiration some form, it comes and goes as a feeling in your brain. When inspiration is acted upon, we call it art.

When inspiration strikes, how can you push yourself to act?

Ask Steven Pressfield, and he’ll tell you about his “muse”. He literally believes that a mythical being walks into his workshop when he sits down to write and blesses him with his best ideas in that moment. He performs rituals, kisses his lucky charms and says a prayer to welcome the muse. As wacky as all of this sounds, it works for him. He went from being homeless and living out of the back of his car to writing phenomenal books like The War of Art.

If that is all too fantastic for you, you could realize that ideas are an interplay between the conscious and the unconscious – between the focused and the diffused states of your mind. Ideas, just like our moods and desires, often take birth in the unconscious and find themselves pushed into the conscious. But once they surface, the metabolic processes of our brain almost instantly start weaning away that inspired feeling. If you act upon that inspiration before it disappears, your creation would serve as its souvenir. If you don’t, no trace of that inspiration would remain within you.

It doesn’t matter which version you choose to believe – just pick the one that serves you better. Here’s the more important question – when inspiration strikes you, what are you going to do with it?