A controversial politician, in response to questions about war, said that in life there are “known unknowns”—things we know we don’t know. The number of rocks on Mount Everest, for example.
But, he said, there are also “unknown unknowns”—things we don’t even know that we don’t know.
Basically, these are things we are so sure of, we don’t even consider the fact that we might be wrong. Like the flat earth theory hundreds of years ago.
Because there so many of these possibilities, I think he was basically just making an argument for humility.
This admission upset a lot of people at the time. I’m not sure why though. I think people thought he was intentionally misleading them.
But the idea stuck.
I can’t remember if he said this, though. “Unknown knowns”–ideas we’ve never thought of before but agree with once we hear them.
If you’re like me this happens all the time. When we say, “oh yeah, wow, good point, I never thought of that.”
Wouldn’t it be great to come up with these yourself, rather than waiting for them to happen by accident?
If we create art or start a business, there’s probably some impetus behind it beyond pure financial gain.
But if the reason–the “why”–lies hidden within us, how will we communicate it to potential clients?
How will we attract people as potentially interested in our art or business product as we are?; people who wouldn’t know they wanted what we have until they heard our reasoning behind its creation.
Here’s a suggestion.
Use This Life Hack
I don’t know why life hack is synonymous with the Internet. Is it because as the world gets more complex/advanced we need useful tricks to solve the problems we still have but no longer have time for?
Wikipedia defines a life hack as “any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency.”
Wikipedia defines philosophy as the study of knowledge and values; the study of what we believe or what we care about.
It seems like what we believe and what we care about would be obvious to us.
It isn’t. Once you take money or survival or pleasure out of the picture, knowing what you care about gets harder.
This Is What Happened
One morning, as I was struggling with an idea, I asked someone to read some writing I was working on.
They read it once and then looked up and asked what it was about. For a second, I was stumped. I could tell they wanted the big picture—and that clearly I’d done a bad job of describing it in the writing.
Then I blurted out, “literary business development.” I said it was about promoting your business ideas and goals through creative content.
Just saying that helped me zero in on my idea. I didn’t know exactly what I was writing about until asked. I knew what I wanted to say. I just didn’t know why. I didn’t ask myself “why”?
This realization was so useful I decided to reverse engineer what led up to it. Maybe it could help you too.
This is what I had done:
Even if you aren’t sure what your idea is or what you want to do, start by thrashing out whatever idea you have in any way necessary. Writing about it is probably the most standard way. Just start. You’ll be surprised where your ideas take you.
You can talk or sing about it. It doesn’t matter.
In my case, the day before the above conversation I thrashed out the work on paper for the better part of an afternoon. Writing, typing and retyping.
I wore myself out thinking and writing about what I was trying to say.
You want to thrash out the work first. Even if you don’t yet know exactly where the work is headed.
Then, Put It Aside Until The Next Morning
Right in the middle of the thrashing, when there are still more questions than answers, put it down and walk away from it.
I put the work away one hour before bed. I recommend at least two, though.
This lets my brain settle so sleep is actually possible when I want it to be.
Third, And By Far The Most Important, Go To Sleep
It helps if your last cup of coffee was no later than noon. Also, alcohol or late meals can interrupt sleep. I think because of the sugar in alcohol and carbs.
But while sleeping, your subconscious mind will take up the thrashing torch. And thank God. We sleep 1/3 of our lives. What would happen if we didn’t get anything done while asleep? I don’t know.
Hopefully, in the morning you’ll find some clarity to your idea, though. Its where “I’ll sleep on it” comes from.
I need eight hours of sleep and I like to get up at 4:30. So that puts me in bed by 8:00 pm. Sometimes.
In this case I went to bed at 8:00 and slept till nearly 6:00. I was really tired. That’s almost ten hours. I woke up feeling like a newborn baby.
When you’re physically or mentally exhausted, getting more sleep than normal will get you better results.
Fourth, Wake Up And Drink Plenty Of Coffee
I’m not interested in any rants against coffee. Even if it were bad for you I would still drink it. Not past noon, though. Sleep is too important. Sometimes I fail here, though. And usually I pay for it with a lack of good sleep.
Is there no free lunch?
Coffee equals creativity.
When I woke up I drank four cups of strong coffee while reading something that interested me.
Try and stay away from the Internet for your reading in the morning.
Use a book. It will feel satisfying to be away from your phone for a while. Make a rule for yourself. Don’t check your phone until four hours after you wake up.
Waking up early enough to follow this rule is peaceful because obviously the closer it gets to everyone else getting going the more tempting it is to correspond.
Every time you reach for your phone, and remember the rule, you’ll feel a little bit of satisfaction when you resist.
If you don’t have a book I recommend a Kindle or Nook. Anything without the Internet.
Have a pen or pencil handy to write down ideas you might have, about anything interesting. Otherwise you’ll try and store them in your head and that’s not good for creativity.
You’ll know when you have an interesting idea. Interesting to you.
Don’t think about your idea or business idea from yesterday yet. Just wake up slowly, reading something you enjoy.
Fifth, Talk To Someone You Love About Your Idea
Finally, before too long after waking up, 2-3 hours max, call or meet with someone you love and explain your idea/ideas to them from yesterday.
Science shows that when you love someone, interacting with them triggers serotonin in the brain. This makes you feel good and creative.
It doesn’t have to be romantic love, just someone you care about or respect. And preferably not someone you live with. It’s good to create a little professional space here.
But, your ideas will crystallize. The more you care about this person the more excitement and energy you’ll have explaining your idea.
Once you have it, write it down. Repeat this process with the same idea as often as necessary to completely own the idea.
Literary Business Development
The idea which crystalized for me was literary business development. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe I heard it somewhere. Maybe I dreamt it. Maybe it’s a theme that will help you.
Good To Recap
I think the reason the thought crystallized was:
- I’d thrashed out the work the day before.
- Then I put the work away at least an hour before bed. Draw a line in the sand and stop working at least one hour before bed, preferably two.
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep. I was fresh and well rested the next morning
- My brain was stimulated with coffee (the benefits of coffee are well documented now; no more guilt about coffee; just enjoy, so long as it doesn’t interrupt sleep; I recommend no coffee after noon)
- I was excited to talk to this person about my ideas
- Result: crystallization of idea
This is what worked for me. Maybe it will work for you.
Why This Is Important
Mass media is dying. The Internet has provided free access to new communication platforms. New and dispersed talent is siphoning off attention from traditional mass media outlets.
We are in a period of disruption. If you can identify and crystallize your message, you can attract some of this wandering attention in your direction.
Your product sells the need it satisfies. You sell the need you satisfy in others. Through your purpose.
I hope that politician, wherever he is, finds some peace. I think he was trying. I think in the end we’re all doing the best we can. I hope this helps you get a little closer to that too.