Good morning, friends and neighbors!
One of the things I love most about any kind of craft or creation- food, cuisine, beer, woodworking, music, whatever- is that when you first get acquainted with that craft, it seems monolithic- until you realize it isn’t, that nothing is, and what you always thought was one solid notion is home to a universe of variety.
It’s terrifying, crazy-making, paralyzing, beautiful, and exhilarating all at once- at least to me. How do YOU address the complications of life? Well, let’s discuss it!
It’s a curious quirk of mine that, when I first learn about something new (for example, the first time I had whiskey) I’ll make up my mind about how much I like it, and then that experience becomes it. My first ever whiskey was plain Jack Daniel’s, and so for a long while- at least in my mind- whiskey = Jack Daniels.
This is an amusing bit of cognitive psychology called a “schema-” a way we cluster and categorize information in our minds to recognize patterns, build relationships, and establish future understanding.
So following my example, after my first sip of whiskey, imagine a closet door was formed in my head- a big oak door, with the word “WHISKEY” written on it. If you were to ask me then “What’s behind that door,” the contents would be:
- Jack Daniels
- Bottle with black label.
- Frank Sinatra drank it on the rocks with a lemon twist.
- Something about Lynchburg, Tennessee.
Now, here’s where the other weird quirk of how my mind works kicks in.
In my book, I mention how new things and variety excite me. When I find something I really like, I dig in hard and try to find out as much as I can about it.
New author I like? *reads their entire bibliography*
Ooh, I think I like tea! *immediately builds a collection of various types, flavors, and medicinal uses.*
Hmm… I wonder what else there is to know about whiskey….
To go back to that “closet door” analogy, imagine being told there is so much more to jam into that closet besides Jack Daniels and Frank Sinatra… and it’s all out there for you to try and learn about.
I’m definitely not a whiskey expert, and there are plenty others who know more, but I’ve gotta tell you- discovering new stuff and filling all those closets makes enjoying… well, whatever is written on the doors a LOT more fun and exciting.
Analysis Paralysis and the Deep End
Of course, it’s not that way for everyone. For some folks, their first exposure to new things doesn’t come in that single, gateway moment. Rather than getting to build that closet door, their experience is more like getting hurled off a high diving board. They have no framework to start from, and thus nowhere to begin exploring.
It’s an information overload, and it becomes a burden rather than adventure- one they don’t need, thank you very much.
“Analysis Paralysis” (also known as “Choice Paradox” or “Tyranny of Choice”) is another psychological phenomenon that has been remarked on for centuries- the idea that by having too many options available to you, or at least without a clear priority or ranking system for them, forward momentum stalls out. You can’t start exploring… if you have no idea WHERE TO START.
So in our closet analogy- imagine someone just dumped a truckload of stuff in front of you and told you to put it in a closet. When staring at a massive pile of esoterica, you and any number of other people’s perfectly reasonable reaction is throwing your hands up, pushing it all into a corner, and wandering away toward something a bit more familiar and pleasant.
Extra Credits- of course- did a great video on this as it relates to game design.
So… what do we do? With a world of exciting topics to explore, and permutation on top of permutation to experience, how do we get started? How do we teach and engage others?
1. Narrow Your Options
Want to get into whiskey, or start learning about it? Instead of heading out to a tasting room and trying the wrangle whiskey vs Scotch vs bourbon vs Canadian vs Rye vs etc… go pick ONE bottle that you’re curious about, or that sounds interesting or has a cool label. Give yourself permission to be ignorant… because when it comes to exploring something new for yourself, you can’t be wrong! Let that one thing be your stepping stone.
2. Nudge, Don’t Push. Give, Don’t Dump.
I know. When someones asks my opinion on how they should get into baking, or tea, or beer, it’s really hard not to pepper them with questions and offer them the whole world. You’re only trying to be helpful, right? That can be overwhelming though. If someone asks for your help and advice, that means they might not even know enough about a topic to limit their choices yet!
Try to keep it simple. Offer a little bit of info at a time, with the option for more… and ALWAYS let them ask questions. Don’t dump the world at their feet- give them a block at a time to build their own!
One Last Thing…
Author and novelist Frank Herbert drew from a LOT of sources and concepts when writing “Dune”- his science fiction masterwork, and the series of books that followed. For example, the names for characters and places for his far-future universe echo back to our own history- which would be their ancient history.
This means that Herbert sometimes couldn’t get away from using a pun.
In the universe of Dune, the most precious substance in existence is called the Spice- a psychoactive drug only found on the desert world of Arrakis.
“…The Spice extends life. The Spice expands consciousness. The Spice makes interstellar transport possible.”
It’s also called “The Spice Melange.”
So here’s the thing- melange is French for “mixture” or “variety.” If the Spice Melange extends life, then…
Variety is the spice of life.
An 80,000-word novel and an entire universe built on a language pun.