The Best of 2011 for 2012

I combed through my RSS feeds and bookmarks for what I felt where the most useful things I read or saw this year on the web. Because of their resonance, they’re resources I’ll probably refer to again and again in 2012. The themes center around hard work, success and living an artistic life. I’ve organized the articles into a narrative, but feel free to skip around and choose buffet-style. Hope you enjoy the curation:

Grit, perseverance, and how to get better:

1. The Future of Self-ImprovementGrit Is More Important Than Talent, Part I & Part 2:  (Jocelyn Glei via The 99 Percent)

If we want to cultivate expertise, or “genius,” or whatever you want to call it, we need to be able to step outside of ourselves, observe how we are operating, reflect on what could be better, theorize how we could change it, and then test out a solution. The problem is: This is very, very hard for most people.

2. ‘Hustle‘ (Matt Nowack via ihumanable)

The best way to learn anything is to do it, to struggle through, to forge on, to fight and gnash teeth and curse at. There is no knowledge as highly regarded as that which you have to work for.

3. ‘Coaching a Surgeon: What Makes Top Performers Better?’ (Atul Gawande via The New Yorker)

You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you’re falling short. This is tricky. Human beings resist exposure and critique; our brains are well defended. So coaches use a variety of approaches – showing what other, respected colleagues do, for instance, or reviewing videos of the subject’s performance. The most common, however, is just conversation.

Eliminate choices and make decisions:

4. ‘Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?’ (John Tierney via The New York Times):

Part of the resistance against making decisions comes from our fear of giving up options.

Good work is easier than you think:

5. ‘Everything Is a Remix‘ (Kirby Ferguson) Amazing to realize the patterns in art and film and begin thinking in terms of ‘recipes’ and how everything is a remix of something else.

Creativity isn’t magic: it happens by applying ordinary tools of thought to existing materials. And the soil from which we grow our creations is something we scorn and misunderstand even though it gives us so much — and that’s… copying.

6. ‘How To Steal Like An Artist‘ (Austin Kleon) Down to earth guide on how to start ‘stealing’ or borrowing from others as a starting point for what you’re working on.

Art is all about the slow accumulation over time.

7. ‘The 50 Things Every Creative Should Know‘ (Jamie Wieck) Not applicable across all creative fields but there’s definitely some points you can save for reference. You can use this as a template to come up with your own ‘essential 50’.

IF YOU’RE GOING TO FAIL, FAIL WELL: Being ambitious means you have to take on things you think you can’t do. Failures are unfortunate, but they are sometimes necessary.

8. ‘How underdogs can win‘ (Malcolm Gladwell via The New Yorker): Written a while back something I keep referring to and that’s fits nicely on this list. While grit is an essential part of success, so is street smarts; sizing up your reality and figuring out how to leverage what you have despite your weaknesses. What ‘rules’ or conventional wisdom in your field can you break to your advantage?

It is easier to dress soldiers in bright uniforms and have them march to the sound of a fife-and-drum corps than it is to have them ride six hundred miles through the desert on the back of a camel. It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing. We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. It’s the other way around. Effort can trump ability—legs, in Saxe’s formulation, can overpower arms—because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coordination.

Build yourself a garage & tinker:

9. ‘Lab Notes: My Closed-Loop Research System‘ (Cal Newport via Study Hacks): How to mix daily work, with ‘little bets‘, and make sure you’re working towards mastery and discovery.

10. ‘How Weekend Projects Can Free Your Inner Rock Star‘ (Kevin Purdy via Lifehacker): Pursue new projects with time constraints to achieve outside of your expertise and experience.

11. ‘Try something new for 30 days’ (Matt Cutts via TED.com): Last spring I tried writing poetry for 100 days straight and had phenomenal results. Something I’ll probably repeat this year for a different activity. Here’s a short guide to devising your own month-long challenges for 2012.

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