Monster Mouse skillshare

I’m just starting to explore Sydney’s myriad of subcultures after being here for about nine months. Here are some snaps from a warehouse in Marrickville throwing a skillshare with classes running at about $10 a pop including materials. They had some fuuuun stuff including dipping fish and squid in ink and creating screenprints. They also have a Community Kitchen that serves free and often dumpster dive food.

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Buddha, meditation and ties to the world

One of the ancient ideas Haidt discusses in The Happiness Hypothesis is Buddha’s ideal of separating oneself from all earthly attachments and desires. Haidt actually rejects this based on evidence from modern psychology, but it’s always one worthy of discussion.

I was about 20 when I first had my first discussion about Enlightenment – in particular Buddha’s version. What is it? How does one attain it? Is it like some spiritual asymptote that you’re never expected to reach? And why the fuck is meditating so hard?

Recently a friend of mine was chatting to me about the ‘space cadet’ result you can get from heavy meditation. He attributes meditation to overcoming his long term depression, so I take his thoughts on the subject seriously. He mentioned that sometimes you might notice some Hari Krishnas have a ‘spaced out’ look to them. It can happen when you meditate a lot – and it’s something that most people don’t think about.  Meditation creates space between you and the world, and to some extent makes the world irrelevant. It’s also a serious high. So when you meditate a lot, you stop caring as much about the world around you.

Most people barely get to the point of deep meditation, let alone meditating so much it creates problems. But this distancing effect is why meditation is so closely tied to Buddhism – the Buddha’s ideal is that we would all be space cadets, really. And this distancing is also the reason meditation works for stress relief.

Haidt mentions this in his book – meditation takes the edge off intense stress, but also takes the edge off intense desire. Which means that you should wait until AFTER the hard study before using meditation as stress relief for an exam. 

But when you see the ideal ‘no earthly ties’ no longer as the abstract concept of a monk on a hilltop but as the reality of a blissed-out Krishna, it’s way less appealing. As much as it can be helpful to get some distance and perspective from the world, The Happiness Hypothesis (as well as plain old common sense) proves that it’s our connections to the world, and particularly the people around us, that can provide greater happiness.

Takeaways from The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt was mentioned in a MOOC I was doing as a good author to read to get an overview of the history of philosophy. Despite the name, it’s not a bubble-brained positive thinking self help book. It’s a great overview of major thoughts of philosophy and interesting correlations to modern psychology and a nice compliment to the MOOCs I’ve been doing. My current MOOC is on Heidegger but also references a lot of Plato,which is convenient because I’m still plodding through audiobooks of Plato’s work.

The First 5 chapters

Chapter 1 is about ‘the divided self’, and I lovelovelove the breakdown of this little piece of hegemony. Haidt points out that we’re used to thinking of our conscious mind as the driver and our unconscious self as a car that just goes where we steer, as opposed to an ‘elephant’ that will stubbornly make its own decisions much of the time.

This deconstruction frames a lot of the idea in the first few chapters, as modern psychology has proven that we unconsciously lean towards negative thinking, we’re often hypocritical and excellent at justifying our self-serving biases and decisions. One interesting take away from this is that people like the sound of their own name so much it can influence where they live, who they date, what they eat etc – simply because the name sounds like theirs.

Disturbingly, he also surmises that people’s genes and natural brain chemistry means that they tend to snap back to a ‘natural’ state of happiness for them – so if you luck out in the gene pool you’ll find it very difficult to ever be happier. Furthermore we adapt so quickly to life that the effect of any positive changes are shortlived. He recommends meditation as a brain-changer, as well as cognitive therapy or prozac.

He turns to research to recommend strong relationships and community ties, longer holidays and shorter commutes to assist with longer term happiness. Bizarrely enough he also argues against living somewhere noisy – apparently disturbing noise is something people never acclimatise to if they have no control over it. This is partly because it gives them a sense of  a lack of control, but also the basic disturbance to concentration.

I have further thoughts on Haidt’s discussion of Buddhism, but that’s worthy of another post.

It’ll be interesting to see what the next 5 chapters hold!

Advice on marketing your great idea

I get asked for marketing advice a lot, often from people who have an idea and aren’t sure where to start. And the answer to all of them is: Distribution.

At some point I worked for a sales coach and a man came to her with a cheap (but practical) fast moving consumer good he’d seen in Asia. He thought he could get rich quickly by distributing the product in Australia. He was so convinced his idea was a money maker he begged us to keep it confidential.

My answer to him today would be:

1) Don’t pay a coach! Just do your research. He just needed to find a similar product and look at its distribution. It would fit in kitchens and likely be sold somewhere like KMart or at supermarkets like Woolworths. So he should start by approaching them and finding out how to get stocked on their shelves. Make a phonecall.

2) I would be honest. His idea was not a moneymaker. It was an idea cheap to manufacture, and even if it took off in Australia it could easily and quickly be replicated. These days, it would likely be Woolworths or KMart themselves who would be doing the replicating! So unless he had a unique selling proposition to HIS version of the product – and a barrier to entry for other people to replicate the same sell, no go. To explain, it couldn’t just be a funky colour – anyone could replicate that. It would have to be a unique material he had the copyright for, or a design element or feature difficult to manufacture in a cheaper way.

A year or two later a friend had an idea for a safety product to help learner drivers. He too, begged me to keep the concept a secret while I advised him on where to start making his idea into a reality.

My advice to him was:

1) Who would be the people most likely to sell safety products? The government? Driving instructors? Trainers? Could he envision the product being included in school driving programs, or was he thinking more like petrol stations etc? If he was unsure, he should chat to people – ask if they would be likely to buy it and why.

I can’t remember if I told him at the time, but I knew his idea wasn’t a major moneymaker also. And distribution in the formal channels his product would appeal to would be very difficult to get into. But I also knew that he wanted to do it for reasons other than to make it rich. Sometimes an idea just takes you and has to be seen through as more of a creative than a lucrative exercise.

He did go on to manufacture the product and had a lot of fun with design and development and learned a lot along the way.

More recently a friend who had taken a unique photo of a popular tourist attraction asked me for marketing advice on how to sell the image as a print.

I advised distribution again, and with one image I assumed he would be interested in something like cafepress which can recreate any image onto coffee mugs, tshirts etc. But he saw the sale of large scale prints, so I suggested going into a print shop and chatting to them, getting the name of their distributor and following that chain of contacts until he hit someone with more answers. He might even want to simply pay for the prints to be printed and mounted and directly sell to local print stores – but he’d have to talk to them to see if they would go for that.

What I didn’t mention is that it was unlikely he would get a lot for his image – photos that are used in large prints as you would see on postcards or images aren’t paid for how many times the image is replicated. But I think for him the value of seeing the image appreciated would outweigh the financial reward.

Art Walk 7 February 2015

We started the artwalk at the Conny Dietschold Gallery with the exhibition Heavy Metal Poetry. I like work in metal, and the room looked good with the pieces easily sitting together.

The first Work is by Peter Lundberg from the USA, Untitled 2014, cast from bubble wrap.

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Below are steel pieces by Herbert Mehler from Germany – Porta, Vela and Spola from 2010-2012. These are miniatures of large scale works.

And Wall Object (red) from 2013 by the German Willi Siber
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Then we pottered to Chalk Horse Gallery in Darlinghursts and oo’ed at work by Andrew Hemer in his exhibition New Representation. I’m a bit of a fan of Chalk Horse – from street art collages to interesting cross-medium work,  the stuff I’ve seen so far there is very NOW without being cliched or bland.

Hemer uses layers of photoshopping, gauche, spraypaint and pasted on effects for his works. It’s hard to convey it without seeing it in person but there’s a strange, hyper-real sense to the work.

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We missed a film at the Cross Art Projects, but the kindly folk there pointed us to Minerva and Alaska, two tiny galleries we would otherwise have missed. Andy Boot’s exhibition “Midday Hour” was there, a series of work loosely about camouflage, and the concept of focus on minor foreground details standing out against ‘neutral’ backgrounds. Or something like that.

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We were then directed to Alaska Projects, which consists of an above-ground gallery (currently being renovated) and a room and some floorspace in a carpark. You have to take a lift down 3 floors to find it and you can buy a car in the office next door.
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The exhibition is Serena Bonson’s Wangarra. This pictures is terrible, but these are hand carved spirit figures. What a weird contrast, and statement in itself, to have them in a hidden room in a stale carpark.
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