Jamie's Blog

Lessons from a life of startups, coding, countryside, and kids

A Beautiful Anarchy = An Intentional Life

David duChemin is one of my favourite photographic authors — his many books have taught me how to think, and see, and plan, and visualise the photos I take. In fact, David’s books have had such a personality and presence that they’ve taught me as much as in-person workshops with the likes of David Noton. So, whatever you think about his photography, you should definitely respect his ability to write (and teach).

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But that’s about photography and ‘A Beautiful Anarchy’ is not a book about photography. Oh, sure, it’s about art (lowercase) and creation, but it’s not about photography per se. It’s about whatever ‘art’ you feel yourself destined to create: whether that’s painting, entrepreneurship or, heaven forbid, software development. In fact, one of the most powerful and refreshing ideas was that we should start to reclaim the word ‘creative’.

We’re all creative, but we’ve allowed the arts to co-opt that word while making every other area of human creativity feel a little too self-conscious about using it.

Damn right! I’ve never identified myself as an artist and yet my life has always been about creation. From painting Warhammer figures, to designing model planes and cars in school, to software, to the archery backstop I built the other weekend — I’ve always longed to design and build things. To create. Dear Artists, I’m a ‘creative’ too.

Sure, I create photographs (every day— thanks iPhone!) but the bulk of my creativity is not as a photographer. I’m an engineer. I write software. I fix bugs. I write sales copy and emails designed to initiate action. I design system architectures. I’ve helped create businesses. Hell, I’ve even (co-)created two wonderful children. Creation is something that we all do, and we all probably want to more of or in a different way.

I’ve even, in recent years, begun to intentionally create my life. And that is the real point of this book (as the subtitle reveals: “When the Life Creative Becomes the Life Created”)

Come. Stop observing. Stop abdicating your life. Live a great story instead of just watching, telling, or dreaming them.

David fell off a wall in Italy a few years ago and that “dodged-a-bullet” experience, and long painful recovery, gave him a renewed appreciation for our limited and perilous existence. Six years ago I had my own near-death experience in a car accident and rather than create a ‘dead-man-walking’ it made me more alive than I had ever been.

Our days are numbered, folks. Not only are they limited, we have no idea exactly how many days remain in the storehouse.

 Just another beautiful moment appreciated

My car accident gave me a determination that I hadn’t had before: to walk further, to do more with the kids, to get out with the camera, to seize moments (even just to enjoy a beautiful sunset at home) before they vanish. It ultimately pushed me to leave my miserable job in IBM (leaving the “chronically employed”, as David calls it) and point my life in the direction I wanted it to go. But even I sometimes forget the lessons I learned. Even I, after all that, sometimes forget that my family, my health and my very existence on this planet are controlled by circumstances I have little control over. I think I certainly lost my way a little at the start of this year and stopped being so intentional with my life. Halfway through the book I started to remedy some of that loss of direction. I’d say this book has had as much influence over me as Jonathan Fields’ ‘Uncertainty’, which heralded my departure IBM.

Photographs—the best of them, at any rate—honour the moments, and they speak to us because we know how limited these moments are. Time is limited and we’ve no idea how much of it we have, so the sooner we cherish, and redeem it, the better.

I hope that this book gets a far wider audience than just David’s existing photography fans. Startups and entrepreneurs are some of the most creative parts of the tech industry (even if I think their efforts are often mis-guided) and David has many words of advise that apply here too. For example, this reminded me of Amy Hoy’s ‘entreporn’ (the likes of which you’ll find on Hacker News and Techcrunch with disappointing regularity):

We consume stories at an astonishing rate. What stories we choose to read, watch, or listen to, become a part of us. Sadly, because they do give meaning, I suspect many of these stories have become a substitute for living an interesting life. Stripped of all risk, it’s easier to watch great stories than to live them.

Below is a quick summary with just a fraction of the other highlights I made in the book. Seriously, if you’re an engineer, designer, entrepreneur, bootstrapper, photographer, copywriter, consultant, freelancer, whatever… just go and buy this book — reading it will be a weekend well-spent.

About risk

(what’s really the risk: the risk of doing or not doing?)

I’d rather take the risk of being broken all over again than to sit safely at home only to be diagnosed, far too early in life, with cancer and be surrounded in my final days with family, friends, and bitter regret.

The difference between painful and damaging events

(failure might be painful but would it be damaging?)

not only does it hurt, and hurt is unpleasant, but we’ve come to know hurt and harm as the same thing, which it is not.

“art” vs your art

“Is it Art?” isn’t remotely as interesting to me as “Is it your art?” Is it you? Is it what you want?

Ideas

(the intentionality of “ideation” is much like Amy Hoy’s Sales Safari process)

If ideation is about collecting and connecting dots, then it’s the collecting which we can do intentionally. The connecting is a passive act of incubation, and that takes time.

Inspiration comes from work, not dreaming

Understanding inspiration as work, as intentional effort, flies in the face of popular meaning, which has more to do with fairy dust and implies that ideas just come out the blue, which they do not.