Magical Thinking

It’s the rainy season in Oakland, which means flowers will start popping up everywhere any day now. These are krinkled white peonies, they bloom a bit later in the spring. Oakland, CA—May 2019.

🕴The Big Magic of Ideas

You’ve probably heard of the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert (it was a memoir released in 2006, selling over 12 million copies). What you might not know is that Gilbert has a really interesting perspective on and relationship with creativity—captured in her book, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”. For Gilbert, her primary creative output is obviously writing, but in her Big Magic book she makes no distinction between writing and other kinds of creative activity. Creativity applies across all human endeavors from the arts, to sciences, to politics, to business, and on.

One of Gilbert’s more interesting beliefs about creativity is ideas are a life-form much like plants and animals, with their own will and consciousness. Ideas are energetic entities floating around the world looking for one thing: to become manifest. In other words, to be born into the world as something we can interact with more intimately: a book, a piece of software, a song, etc.

This sounds magical, that there are ideas floating around us all the time and we simply have to be open and receptive to them—and it’s precisely how Gilbert sees the world. She believes in magic: an inspirational interplay between a person and an idea. This is where we come in as human actors, we have the option to create something with the ideas that find us. The relationship between an idea and creator is that of a partnership—where you and the inspiration born out of your idea are working together to manifest something.

This partnership is important because it allows us to not take the work too personally. Inspiration can feel like an elusive, slippery eel. Here one second and gone the next. Anyone who has ever made anything (that is to say most people) know this experience, and it can be frustrating.

When the inspiration seems to evaporate into thin air, we can feel hopeless, useless and want to quit. It can help to put some distance between you and this inspiration, so you don’t get too caught up in the experience, to remind yourself that if you show up to do the work and things don’t come easy, maybe your partner—inspiration—is having an off-day.

✨When an Idea Hits Home

I share this perspective on ideas, inspiration, and creativity, because this resonates with me and my Meaning co-founders, Dave and Gustavo. When the three of us first came together as business partners, we weren’t sure just what we wanted to create together. We were aligned on our outlooks on life, and we were looking for a way to work in a more meaningful way. As we explored potential business ideas, one day, as if by magic, Dave became aware of an idea that eventually revealed itself as Ponder, the thinking tool we’re building.

In the early days, the concept behind Ponder kept coming back to Dave— thoughts tend to return after their first visit. Dave started noticing the nature of his thinking: a kind of cycle where a thought would make repeatable visits. As someone who is observant, and always taking notes, what Dave was explaining made sense to me. Ideas and thoughts were always bouncing around in my head, and one of the best ways I had found to get them out of my head was to write them down.

We started to talk about working with thinking cycles, and the role software could play. We recognized in ourselves, and most of the people we knew, a challenge with processing all of the information we’re exposed to day in and day out. Maybe it’s a noticing about the feeling of being on a computer all day. Or a random product idea like the perfect ice cube maker (see below: resources and footnotes). Perhaps you are emotional about something you saw on the news.

We think one of the best ways to work with these thoughts, ideas, and feelings, is to capture them as they arise. We’re building Ponder to do just that. So you don’t have to hold on to your thoughts, Ponder will hold them for you. And Ponder will also share your thoughts back with you sometime in the future—so you can revisit your own thinking. Just like our natural cyclical pattern of thoughts, Ponder works in cycles too.

These opportunities to revisit your thinking are important because you can take a look at your thoughts with a new perspective. Time has passed since the original thought, maybe you're feeling differently, or you have new experiences that shed light on your previous thinking. Ponder is designed so you can edit or clarify the original thought. This cycle is repeated: sharing your thoughts with Ponder over time helps you understand your thinking.

An example of a line of thought in Ponder, a screenshot from the app showcasing how thoughts are displayed.

🥳Bringing an Idea Into Existence: Our First Release of Ponder

Currently, Dave, Gustavo and I see our job at Meaning as supporting the emergence of Ponder into the world. For the past few weeks, Gustavo and Dave have been adding functionality and making sure Ponder is working as designed. I’ve been preparing for the eventual release of Ponder for early user testing—we’re calling it our alpha test.

The alpha test is designed in stages to allow us to slowly release Ponder. We have a group of people who have been interested in what we’re building and providing support along the way—we’ve created a small community using Slack where these people hang out. From this community, we’re inviting people to test Ponder. Most folks here have experience building software products or have participated in testing software before. The so called early-adopter types. We are asking our community to give feedback on Ponder before we release it more widely.

The alpha test plan is to onboard people to Ponder in cohorts, which is an intentional decision. In a cohort-based approach folks will get to meet new people and talk about Ponder in a group setting. This should help get people acclimated to sharing their thinking into a computer program. Also, we’ve designed Ponder so that if you choose, you can share your thinking with others—so your thinking moves from a private workspace, to a shared space for the Ponder community of thinkers to see.

It’s nerve-wracking and thrilling to share Ponder—we’re looking forward to seeing how people use the tool. This is an exciting next step in our journey with Meaning, and I’ll surely have updates next week!

📚Resources and Footnotes

I got on the Elizabeth Gilbert kick after watching her TED talk: “Your elusive creative genius.”  It’s pretty amazing and inspired me to read her book, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.”

I was researching remote work companies/tools this week, and searching for information on a company called (a video conference platform that uses icebreakers to build relationships). In this pursuit, I stumbled upon another company named My Icebreaker with a “vision of easy ice cubes”. Much to my delight, I discovered the Icebreaker Pop, a “reinvented ice cube tray” that promises “ice cubes like you have never made them before”.

There was even a good story behind these easy ice cubes. A danish guy was living in Texas and found that due to the warm weather, he consistently experienced high quality ice cubes in his beverages. Inspired to design something to give everyone access to easy ice cubes, Icebreaker Pop was born. Why do I bother sharing this? Simply because I love that something as commonplace as ice cubes can be a source of inspiration—you never know when an idea is going to hit, nor do you know what that idea will be about.

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