A Recurring Theme

How many times have we heard the story about Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb in high school? If you’re American, then a lot. So how many tries and materials did it take him to do it? Apparently it took ~3,000 theories and it is unclear how many actual attempts it took. Inventing the battery on the other hand took over 10,000 experiments with different materials…

Well, that certainly got mixed up with my memory, or my high school teacher’s, or perhaps the text-book itself. A quick fact check for this quick blog post changed history in minutes.  I should try to avoid referencing anymore history going forward.

That’s it. That’s the recurring theme. It never really struck me until the last few years. And now it keeps hitting me in the face.

Damn it. I tried to look up another fact that I had heard: 7-UP was the seventh attempt to make a soda, and succeeded. Well, it turns out that the meaning behind the name was a secret and there are a bunch of rumors for where the name came from. If it’s true then he was a lucky guy.

How many men or women did you meet before you found “The One?” Maybe you are still looking. Why do you keep trying?

Maybe I was traumatized in high school to the point where I have to continually reference it. Or maybe we are all destined to blame education for the world’s problems.

We had to learn, memorize, regurgitate. How much and how fast can we do it? As a procrastinator, I will say as little and as fast as possible. Who likes doing that? I got straight A’s in school, sometimes. Straight B’s at other times. I dabbled in the other letters. And what did we learn at the end of it all? Memorize and regurgitate, get 90% on the test and advance to the next test. They say that you only remember 10% of what you learn in school but I won’t bother to try to look it up. It is easy to believe.

Somehow I found myself watching this one-hour video of the horror novel author Stephen King taking questions from an audience of students.

At one point he mentions that he was passed over for The Shining movie’s screenplay, despite authoring the novel, but that he didn’t care as he had gotten used to getting rejections.

He drops a new bomb in here that I had never heard before and contradicts all of the productivity nuts out there. He generally doesn’t take notes. Stephen King is clearly a free man.

He gives an odd analogy that the passage of time (and ideas) is like shaking bread crumbs in a strainer (something that I have never done, nor seen). The small crumbs fall out and the big, important ones remain. If it is important then you will remember it.

Is he making Caesar’s salad? Who puts bread crumbs into a strainer, seriously?

A writer’s notebook is the best way to immortalize bad ideas.

I mean, holy shit!

And the bread crumb analogy wasn’t in his notebook!

I recall listening to Timothy Ferriss’ podcast, interviewing successful people and asking them how they take and prioritize notes, and how they refer back to them effectively. I had followed along intently and even used some of his tips at the time.

A major seam here is between fiction and non-fiction reading, I know. But I like the idea of blowing with the wind and following your (my) nose rather than vigorously cataloging every fact and idea for a future use that may never come.

This reminds me of when I had had the epiphany to stop sorting email at work. I had been cataloging emails into an unsustainable number of folder hierarchies to the point that I couldn’t find relevant emails anymore. Eventually, I started to group the folders together into higher categories to eliminate some folders, and followed that trend right down to Inbox (To-Do) and Archive (Done). That’s right, archive everything and search for it all in one folder. Just like Google Mail’s original honeypot to gain users when they launched; by invitation only. But you can do it with any mail client these days. This has saved me an uncountable number of hours.

Bring this concept to the home. When my different gadgets, wires, connectors, keys, coins, and cards, and everything else got too partially organized, I couldn’t find what I needed when I needed it. That’s when I created the Everything Bag. Actually, it was one of those big bags from Ikea. I just put all of that junk into the Everything Bag, and put it under my $10 Ikea end table. Whenever I went looking for something it was in the Bag. One place to look, one place to find. Marie Kondo has nothing on me.

The Everything Bag was slowly dismantled and discontinued when I moved in with my spouse. I have never been able to find anything since.

Not much is straightforward like high school was. Eventually you will get to what I will now call the Wall of Unknown Number of Tries in the journey of life. The object of your obsession. It could be 7 tries or 10,000 tries before you get it. Or you could watch Netflix instead.



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