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Taking the Time to Think and Create

Taking Away the Pressures to Stir the Mind

MacArthur Fellows “genius” grants were awarded this week, with 23 winners getting $500,000 each over the course of the next five years to do with as they please. The awards usually go to people like scientists, linguists, social historians or artists who have pushed their fields forward. The idea is that the money will give them the support to continue their work without the pressure of making money and the usual red tape.

It’s a concept—the getting away from the pressure part, at least—that makes sense. For instance, grant winner Dawn Song, a computer security specialist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, points to medical devices and systems becoming much more networked now and having security issues. “How can we protect users’ privacy and provide them with the same services?” she asks. “To me, life is about creating something truly beautiful. And in order to do that, it often involves taking a path less traveled by. The McArthur Fellowship will allow me to take that path to explore new territory that other people have not walked.”

It’s interesting that someone who “investigates the underlying patterns of computer system behavior that often apply across whole classes of security vulnerability” speaks about creating something beautiful. Check out this sentence from her MacArthur Website bio: “Using a sophisticated method for semantic analysis of binary code (i.e., the machine-readable translation of human-readable programmers’ instructions) from disruptive software, Song can identify the common path of logic flow that similarly disruptive software must also follow, thus offering a means to protect against an entire set of potential security threats.”

Wow. The place I want to bring this around to today is that idea of taking the time to develop and create without the everyday pressures. In our normal lives, it’s not really feasible. But should we try to make it feasible? At the SIPA 2010 Pre-Conference workshop—the Small Publishers Best Practices Roundtable—one of the participants said that he makes sure to take a day or two every month to get away from the office just to think about things. Take away the ringing phones, the insurance questions and other constant office pressures and try to come up with new solutions, new ways to make money.

Of course, that’s part of the point of conferences. And you should attend those (ours hopefully). But something like what Dawn Song is talking about—taking that path less traveled—can only really come from putting yourself in new settings and having the time to think what that path can be. It’s too easy to stay on the same path. It’s too easy for me to keep writing about just what I know.

One more example: another grant winner, optical physicist Michal Lipson, an associate professor at Cornell’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, also has high aspirations. “In the future,” she says, “instead of plugging your computer into electrical power, you will have a laser to come in on your computer….We want to control the flow of light, to bend light around objects to make them invisible.”

Again, Lipson’s words support that idea of taking time to think. “Being awarded the MacArthur Fellowship means the world to me. Being able to pursue this fundamental research with complete freedom is liberating, it’s exciting; it enables us to implement all these wild ideas that we were always looking forward to.”

None of us are being given $500,000 to go think and create. But at least a couple times over the next few months, imagine that you were. Take a couple days away and let your mind wander without the usual pressures. Take that left turn away from where you usually go. See what happens. You may not discover the secret of computer security or controlling light, but a new product or event is probably not out of the question.


There’s no better place than Miami to get away
or go for long walks on the beach.

Come to SIPA’s 27th Annual Marketing Conference
Nov. 10-12, at the Ritz-Carlton in Miami Beach

The Pre-Conference Workshops will also be an
excellent place to recharge your thought processes.
Sign up for the Marketing Directors Roundtable or
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***The $179 room rate only lasts for about one more week!
(And they are selling out quickly!)
So act fast, book and register now before it’s too late!

Posted in Multiplatform Publishing Strategy, SIPAlert Daily

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