You get on your browser everyday and go through the usual pages. It's as if that same stroll you take to work, had found its equivalent in your digital life : Google news, Facebook, e-mail. Stroll done. And you wonder where in that settling routine could inspiration ever fit ? Does it even have a place in that life format ? And the answer is neither no nor yes of course. The answer is that it's up to us to design our digital and real lives to squeeze out inspiration.
And in this design, serendipity is key obviously. I've written in the past about how it was the first step towards inspiration, the start of the process that leads to self-organization. It is beneficial to see a whole lot before you converge towards what interests you. Yes ! I am inviting you to surf the web with no particular goal. Head tow wordpress.com's freshly squeezed section, click on anything, and read : The Portland cooking mom who found relief in baking cookies or the political science student who thinks China's foreign policy isn't that absurd. Read the movie aficionado's latest review or the amateur poet's latest attempt. Too often we say the Internet's beauty is its diversity, we rarely experience it however and too often head too quickly to our centers of interest.
Surf aimlessly yes, but not all the time. Give it a window during your day. Too much and you'll sink. See it as a long full breathe of fresh air. The moment you feel you're full, exhale and move on. Unconstrained surfing might be the best manifestation of the Internet's darkest side : a time-munching beast. That's why another step needs to be included in our design.
I've hinted to the power of focus already. Brian Knutson summarizes this trend beautifully in The Edge's "Is the Internet changing the way you think ?":
I suspect I am not the sole victim of Internet-induced "present self bias." Indeed, Web-based future self prostheses have begun to emerge, including software that tracks time off task and intervenes (ranging from reminders to blocking access to shutting programs down). Watching my own and others' present versus future self struggles, I worry that the Internet may impose a "survival of the focused," in which individuals gifted with some natural capacity to stay on target or who are hopped up on enough stimulants forge ahead, while the rest of us flail helplessly in some web-based attentional vortex. All of this makes me wonder whether I can trust my selves on the Internet. Or do I need to take more draconian measures and for instance, leave my computer at home, chain myself to a coffeehouse table, and draft longhand? At least in the case of this confessional, the future self's forceful but unsubtle tactics prevailed.
Firms are hiring individuals that are able to FOCUS today. Your knowledge is not crucial. It is that available that acquiring it has become that much easier. So it's all about what you can do with what you know not what you know. And focus is instrumental in the process. The "survival of the focused" isn't a euphemism. It shouldn't even come as a surprise. It's probably been the case during the whole story of our species. The fittest wouldn't have made it if they weren't focused. They would've missed way too many opportunities to get that antelope in the Savannah.
Focus sifts through the information found and narrows down to the most essential bits based on interests and goals. Whether focus is a sustained, constant state or an ability occurring in specific situations is a solved question : You cannot focus with the same intensity all the time. Focus needs to be perceived as a saw that needs to be sharpened quite regularly. So Focus needs to be leveraged at a specific time. More specifically, at a transitional moment, the one that takes you from serendipitous surfing to actual creation.
Curate sounds a bit like create. And that's nice and nifty because curation is very much a form of creation. It's a focused, smart selection of what's out there. And creation is also a choice among many possible paths. Now, I wouldn't consider indexing a form of curation. It really is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Index driven discovery, meaning going through a list of all that's available, has nothing to do with trusting a curator with what you're about to discover. And trusting a curator is what you're doing when you pay for a museum or a festival ticket. You're hoping the selection is smart, coherent and interesting. Curation propelled discovery is bound to be different from algorithm based discovery. It is more meta, one level above. Finding the best curators should be a side challenge of the mindless surfing described above. They are preferred gateways to quality content.
And this is not about serendipity versus search engines become more personal and showing you only what you want to see. Here, it is not as much a problem of personalization as it is a problem of neighboring information. Google organizes the world's information but does so in a very particular way. One where the information showing near your results is very near, subject-wise, from what you were searching for. When you're on a blog, a curator's page really, neighboring information is also near to the subject you were tracking but much less so. The way our and a curator's interests organize is by branching out into several fields. It's not laser focused, like a search engine's results.
So the idea here is : Once you're done surfing along with no particular focus, you then gather your interests and goals and focus on contextualizing the information and curating it. And yes, there is a balance to strike between the laser-focused and the somewhat serendipitous. What am I asking you for here ? I'm asking you to become a curator. In many ways, you're already there : The links you share on your Facebook wall are a form of curation.
In a way, Facebook itself has developed a new way to flesh out information. One could call it : Network-induced curation. That is the real value of the Facebook feed. Facebook charges corporate clients you liked-one-time big time to display impressions of their page in your news feed. It's become an adage that there's plenty of real value in the Facebook ecosystem but Facebook's real worth is in the first page it displays when you log in : Your news feed. What we're seeing here is the emergence of a new platform. A much more democratic one.
The same thing happened to information (Wordpress is a platform for information curators), music (Squirrel, Tuneln and YouTube which is a platform for curated playlists among other things), video (ShowYou, Chill) news (Flipboard, Feedly, Zite, Pulse, News360 are curation platforms for blogs and news agencies alike). Resistance was met obviously : Steve Rubel wrote about how news brands were confronting the rise of mobile curation apps. The Facebook feed democratizes the process to an even larger degree. Everyone is throwing his video, audio, news, and information selection at everyone. Hence here's the take from this : Surf, focus, curate. People are listening. In a way, they're forced to. So deliver, and deliver well.