Common Discourse is a project designed to help others (and ourselves) think through creativity, focus, and intentional work—from Alex Tan & Alice Otieno.
Every Tuesday we share words from a journal, a few ideas, a quote from somebody else, and links worth sharing. On Fridays we invite a guest to share images from their camera roll and a sound that resonates with them.
It feels like I only write about conversations that happen over dinner, but the truth of it is, the table is where it all happens. Being sucked into your phone is acceptable in so many scenarios today, that only a few places where the act remains rude is where you learn the most, and want to share your experience with others. Crazy how that works.
Mackenzie and I hit a sleepy Thai spot on the edge of East Hollywood last week with our friends who are building a company called OEM®, what they believe to be a new kind of drugstore. They’ve developed a series of products with a self-care focus such as a Rehydrating Drink, Nourishing Lip Balm, Soothing Cream, Hand Sanitizer, etc.
As they perused through the menu, dodging gluten and red meat dishes, we thanked them for driving all the way from Malibu—which probably feels like a much larger sacrifice to us since we literally never leave the 5 mile radius surrounding Echo Park. Ceilidh said she was already out and about town all day anyway, walking into small grocers and pitching them to carry some of their product. That, and they’d literally make the drive for Thai food any day of the week.
As the conversation progressed, I mentioned to Ceilidh and Shun that I pretty much hate all lip balms and applicants but was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the experience of the one they’ve created.
We also acknowledged the assumption of how difficult it must have been to land on a great product since Kenz and I have been experiencing this with Public Display of Affection, as we are in the middle of trying to take the label to a place beyond printables. The experience of making clothing that is truly special is difficult, frustrating, and slow.
We’ve agreed to never complain about the price of anything ever again. If Marni wants to sell a sweater for $1250 then so be it.
Shun said the product development for OEM took over two years. User testing, understanding ingredients, figuring out what the difference between what people need versus what they want, identifying a factory you trust, finding partners that believe in your product when they could easily go make money with a much larger brand, multiple weeks between rounds of feedback, shipping prototypes back and forth, getting frustrated, feeling like you’ll never land on anything, red Xs, arrows, circles, etc.
The brief flip-flop experience for us as a consumer facing a creator was encouraging. I think all we want is for people to come in contact the things that were inconvenient to build and think, “This is the best thing I’ve ever experienced.”
I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I think about anything notable in this world, it was never made with a template, shortcut, or hack of any kind. The stuff you tell your friends about took forever to make, it was frustrating, it probably cost a lot of money, and it was probably easier to give up than it was to finish.
In the last century, there is a worldwide effort to completely eliminate boredom, slowness, and difficulty—and replace all of that with convenience:
From hunting, gathering, and preparing food to ordering delivery from DoorDash with two buttons. From daily newspaper to instant notifications. From waiting for new episodes on television to binging a whole season in one sitting.
The advancement of our society comes at the sacrifice of something else. In this case, we’re continually trading convenience for the thing inside that motivates us to wake up and put one foot in front of the other.
Tim Wu puts says it nicely in his Opinion piece for the NY Times titled, The Tyranny of Convenience:
We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.
All the things we hate during the process is what ultimately defines the end product, gives us a story to tell, and creates variance. If it’s taking forever, embrace it. Speed costs us the most in the long run.
A few ideas
The ability to articulate what you think and how you feel with certainty exemplifies patience and commitment to growth. Being vague with our desires and areas of focus frees us from accountability and ultimately lands as avoidance.
It is increasingly rare & beautiful to be decided.
II. NAVIGATING STRUCTURE
MLA Format and other writing “rules” taught in class had me thinking I hated writing for most of my life. It always felt stale, calculated, and uninspired. A rigid structure chokes our ability to come up with ideas freely and have moments of breakthrough.
Alternatively, if no structure took place, I probably would have never turned in a paper. We all need systems to hold us accountable, but we often forget they can be designed it in a way that allows us to follow our intuition.
Here’s an example:
I work on Common Discourse every morning for 1 hour. It doesn’t matter how it gets done, it just has to get done once a week. [Structure & Discipline]
What I do inside that hour is different from day to day. Sometimes it’s reading & researching, sometimes it’s the journal, and other times it’s these short ideas. I do what feels most inspired to me that morning. [Creativity & Liberation]
It is uncommon to look back at the work that we are most proud of or the people we love most and simply think: “Wow, that was easy and straightforward.”
Ease rarely makes its way into a story worth telling.
A quote from somebody else
“When we pursue optionality, we avoid bold decisions. Like anything meaningful, venturing into the unknown is an act of faith. It demands responsibility. You‘ll have to take a stand, trust your decision, and ignore the taunts of outside dissent. But a life without conviction is a life controlled by the futile winds of fashion. Or worse, the hollow echoes of the crowd.” — David Perell
Links worth sharing
💓 Do you hear the sound of love? This website takes the YouTube comments section to another level :’)
🍀 A list of lucky symbols and their meanings, from across the world
🎨 A sketching duet: a magic sketchpad that allows you to draw things with a machine learning algorithm.
🧵 The Visible Mending Renaissance takes a look into how mending is making a comeback, and slowly becoming a new way to revamp our old clothing.
🪔 Isamu Noguchi’s personal library archive—a collection of books and publications from Noguchi's lifetime, with nearly 1000 volumes currently catalogued.
Thanks for consuming!
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🗣️ This project is more fun when there is dialogue amongst those who are reading. Use the comment feature at the bottom of this article to start a conversation, we’ll use your ideas for future briefings and food for thought.