The other night, I watched a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi (you can watch it on Prime). It had been on my list for a long while, and I stumbled across again while in just the right mood, alone in the living room early on a Wednesday evening. I love it when the happens.
It was quite beautiful, and Jiro, like many other masters of their craft, is quite an interesting fellow to follow around. The first half is wonderful, and there’s so much good wisdom and information to pull out. But I’d say as you get to about two-thirds of the way through – if you start to get bored, just turn it off. Because odds are, you will continue to be bored.
Here are some of the quotes I pulled as I was watching:
“A great chef has the five following attributes:
1. They take their work very seriously and consistently perform on the highest level. 2. They aspire to improve their skills. 3. Cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good. 4. Impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They are stubborn and insist on having it their way. 5. A great chef is passionate.”
– Food critic
“The difference between Jiro today and Hiro 40 years ago is that eh stopped smoking. Besides that, nothing has changed.”
– Food critic
“I hated it at first [when I first started training at 19]. I wanted to run away for two years.”
– Jiro’s eldest son
“I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it.”
“Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what [Jiro] taught me.”
I finally finished my multi-month journey through J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, second in the Lord of the Rings trilogies. The world needs more good trilogies. This one is fantastic, though Tolkien’s quote that it is a “book that will break your heart… good beyond hope” is certainly true.
Would you just look at that old boy lounge? What an incredible outfit.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the book, marked with sticky tabs while reading. Many of these will not make much sense out of context, but I hope you still enjoy them.
Swiftly now, the pursuers turned and followed the new path. As if fresh from a night’s rest they sprang from stone to stone. At last they reached the crest of the grey hill, and a sudden breeze blew in their hair and stirred their cloaks: the chill wind of dawn. (p. 29)
They turned and walked side by side slowly along the line of the river. Behind them the light grew in the East. As they walked they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened since their capture. No listener would have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again. (p. 77)
…in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a log time to say, and to listen to. (p. 86)
All that day they walked about in the woods with him, singing, and laughing; for Quickbeam often laughed. He laughed if the sun came out from behind a cloud, he laughed if they came upon a stream or spring: then he stooped and splashed his feet and head with water; he laughed sometimes at some sound or whisper in the trees. Whenever he saw a rowan-tree he halted a while with his arms stretched out, and sang, and swayed as he sang. (p. 109)
The grey figure of the Man, Aragorn son of Arathorn, was tall, and stern as stone, his hand upon the hilt of his sword; he looked as if some king of the mists of the sea had stepped upon the shores of lesser men. Before him stooped the old figure, white, shining now as if with some light kindled within, bent, laden with years, but holding a power beyond the strength of kings. (p. 133)
A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful; and there great lords had dwelt, the wardens of Gondor upon the West, and wise men that watched the stars. (p. 204)
‘You do not know your danger, Theoden,’ interrupted Gandalf. ‘These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and dscuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remoter cousins to the ninth degree, f you encourage them with undue patience.’ (p. 208)
We shall have to share pipes, as good friends must at a pinch. (p. 213)
‘Yes, yes, and Sam stinks!’ answered Gollum. ‘Poor Smeagol smells it, but good Smeagol bears it.’ (p. 299)
The gasping pools were choked with ash and crawling muds, sickly white and grey, as if the mountains had vomited the filth of their entrails upon the lands about. (p. 302)
And here he was a little halfling from the Shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside, expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go. It was an evil fait. But he had taken it on himself in his own sitting=room in the far-off spring of another year, so remote now that it was like a chapter in a story of the world’s youth, when the Trees of Silver and Gold were still in bloom. (p. 319)
Above them as a dome of pale sky barred with fleeting smoke, but it seemed high and far away, as if seen through great deeps of air heavy with brooding thought. (p. 319)
Then at a great distance, as if it came out of memories of the Shire, some sunlit early morning, when the day called and doors were opening, he heard Sam’s voice speaking. ‘Wake up, Mr. Frodo! Wake up!’ Had the voice added: ‘Your breakfast is ready,’ he would hardly have been surprised. (p. 402)
Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean hungry face. The gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim and grey, old and tired. A spasm of pain seemed to twist him, and he turned away, peering back up towards the pass, shaking his head, as if engaged in some interior debate. Then he came back, and slowly putting out a trembling hand, very cautiously he touched Frodo’s knee – but almost the touch was a caress. For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing. (p. 411)
I just finished Linchpin, written by Seth Godin – my first time consuming one of his books. Here are some of the excerpts that caught my ear while listening.
Be remarkable, be generous, create art, make judgement calls. Connect people and ideas. And then, we have no choice but to reward you. (1:12:20)
What would make you impossible good at your job? If your organization wanted to replace you with someone far better at your job than you, what would they look for? I think it’s unlikely that they would seek out someone who is willing to work more hours, or someone with more industry experience, or someone who could score better on a standardized test. No, the competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are. (1:12:50)
What they should teach in schools. Only two things: 1. Solve interesting problems. And 2. lead… Interesting is the keyword. Answering questions like: when was the war of 1812, is a useless skill in a always-on Wikipedia world. It’s far more useful to be able to answer the kind of question for which google won’t help. Questions like: what should I do next? (1:42:25)
Our economy now rewards artists far more than any other economy in history ever has. People who tell you that they don’t have any good ideas are selling themselves short. They don’t have any ideas that are valued, because they’re not investing in their art. (1:51:30)
Perhaps you can’t name a beloved brand of tofu is that no artist has bothered to market it to you yet. (3:21:00)
Some people are hooked on passion. Deriving their sense of self from the act of being passionate. Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen. The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin. (3:23:00)
Over time, the gifts accrue, and you have created a reputation. (3:24:00)
The only purpose of starting is to finish. And while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship. Shipping means hitting the publish button on your blog. Showing a presentation to the sales team. Answering the phone. Selling the muffins. Sending out your references. Shipping is the collision between your work and the outside world. (3:44:00)
Our economy has reached a logical conclusion. The race to make average stuff for average people in huge quantities is almost over. We’re hitting an asymptote. A natural ceiling for how cheaply and how fast we can deliver uninspired work. Becoming more average, more quick and more cheap is not as productive as it used to be. Manufacturing a box that can play music went from $10,000 for a beautiful Edison Victrola, to $2,000 for a home stereo, to $300 for a Walkman, to $200 for an iPod, to $9 for an MP3 memory stick. The improvements in price are now so small, they’re hardly worth making. Shipping an idea went from taking a month by boat, to a few days by plane, to overnight by federal express, to a few minutes by fax, to a moment by email, to instantaneous by Twitter. Now what? Will it arrive yesterday? So, what’s left to make, to give, is art. What’s left is the generosity and humanity worth paying for. (4:28:00)
The internet is crack cocaine for the resistance. If you sat at work all day watching Hawaii 5-O reruns, you’d probably lose your job. But it’s apparently fine to tweak and update your Facebook account for an hour. That’s connecting to your social graph. (4:50:30)
A friend of mine says something really smart every day, something earth shattering once a week. And that’s it. At the end of the year, he has some great blog posts and a pile of Twitter tweets to show for it. What if he harnessed even one of those ideas, and fought the resistance hard enough to actually make something of it? At the end of the year, he could show us a multi-million dollar company or a movement that changed the world. (4:52:15)
I’m not a work-a-haulic… By forcing myself to do absolutely no busy work tasks in between bouts with the work, I remove the best excuse the resistance has. I can’t avoid the work, because I am not distracting myself with anything but the work. This is the hallmark of a productive artist. I don’t go to meetings. I don’t write memos. I don’t have a staff. I don’t commute. The goal is to strip away anything that looks productive but doesn’t involve shipping [your work]. It takes crazy discipline to do nothing between projects. It means that you have to face a blank wall and you can’t look busy. It means you are alone with your thoughts. And it a means that a new project, perhaps a great project, will appear pretty soon because your restless energy can’t permit you to only sit and do nothing. (4:54:00)
Anxiety is the exaggeration of the worst possible what-if? (4:57:30)
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of using a spreadsheet or a time clock to measure your progress, when in fact, it’s the investment you make in your interactions that will pay off. (7:31:45)
What do you do when your art doesn’t work? What happens when the conversation doesn’t happen? The product doesn’t sell? The consumer is not delighted? Your boss is not happy? And the people aren’t moved? Make more art… Learn from what you did, and then do more. (8:00:00)
Maybe you can’t make money doing what you love – at least what you love right now. But I bet you can figure out how to love what you do, to make money. If you choose wisely. Do your art, but don’t wreck your art if it doesn’t lend itself to paying the bills. That would be a tragedy. (8:06:45)
Rams, a documentary by Gary Hustwit, paints a beautiful picture of the life, work and philosophy of one of the world’s most influential industrial designers – Dieter Rams.
Kindly, organized and reclusive, Dieter Rams does not fall in with the authoritarian stereotypes of world-changing innovators – like Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison. He is generous with his time and ready to help. His demeanor is remembered by some of his former employees as fatherly. Through his 40 year tenure at the German electronics company, Braun, from 1955-1995, he gained the respect and loyalty of those he worked alongside.
Although his attitude and leadership differed greatly from that of Steve Jobs, they’re design sensibilities were much the same. The work of Rams is perhaps the single greatest contributor to the design of Apple products we see today.
A CNN article on Rams and man and Rams the film asked the director, Gary Hustwit what if he’d asked Rams about his influence on Apple Products.
“He thinks it’s a compliment. He likes Jony [Ive, Apple’s former Chief Design Officer] a lot. But I think it’s hard for him to judge that impact because he doesn’t have a computer. He’s not on the Internet. He’s not interested in digital interfaces and user experience design and all these screens that we have to look at all day. There are no screens in his life, there’s just an old Braun television from the 1980s and that’s really the only screen in his house. It’s just not something that he’s interested in engaging with.”
Rams’ leading philosophy in design and in life is:
Less, but Better.
This leading ideal is then broken up into the now iconic 10 Principles of Good Design.
Good Design is Innovative.
Good Design makes a Product Useful.
Good Design is Aesthetic.
Good Design makes a Product Understandable.
Good Design is Unobtrusive.
Good Design is Honest.
Good Design is Long-Lasting.
Good Design is Thorough to the Last Detail.
Good Design is Environmentally Friendly.
Good Design is as Little Design as Possible.
When asked by an aspiring industrial design student what advice he had for her, Rams replied:
I’m just about finished with J.R.R. Tolkien’s famed beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As I read, I like to put sticky tabs over those passages I like most, to go back to in future.
Here I’d like to share a few of those passages!
“Then, each in an angle of the great tree’s roots, they curled up in the cloaks and blankets, and were soon fast asleep. They set no watch; even Frodo feared no danger yet, for they were still in the heart of the Shire. A few creatures came and looked at them when the fire had died away. A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed. ‘Hobbits?’ he thought. ‘Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There’s something mighty queer behind this.’ He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.”
‘”Yes, sir!’ said Sam. ‘Begging your pardon, sir! But I meant no wrong to you, Mr. Frodo, nor to Mr. Gandalf for that matter. He has some sense, mind you; and when you said go alone, he said no! take someone as you can trust.’ ‘But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo. Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of your – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, an go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is.'”
“The air was growing very warm again. The hobbits ran about for a while on the grass, as he told them. Then they lay basking in the sun with the delight of those that have been wafted suddenly from bitter winter to a friendly clime, or of people that, after being long ill and bedridden, wake one day to find that they are unexpectedly well and the day is again full of promise. “
“As they listened, they began to understand the lives of the Forest, apart from themselves, indeed to feel themselves as the stranger where all other things were at home. Moving constantly in and out of his talk was Old Man Willow, and Frodo learned now enough to content him, indeed more than enough, for it was not comfortable lore. Tom’s words laid bare the hearts of trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, and filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth, gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning: destroyers and usurpers. It was not called the Old Forest without reason, for it was indeed ancient, a survivor of vast forgotten woods and in it there lived yet, ageing no quicker than the hills, the fathers of the fathers of trees, remembering times when they were lords. The countless years had filled them with pride and rooted wisdom, and with malice.”
I realize that some of their beauty is taken when read out of context from the whole, but I hope you still got some of they same sense of beauty that I did when reading them.
P.S. I was sitting in my bed last night, thinking there was something I’d forgotten to do… I shrugged it off and went to sleep. Only this morning did the fluttering memory return; I didn’t write anything yesterday. C’est la vie!