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December 27, 2011 / Kuan

Keep an Eye on the Backward Clock

Lately I’ve been reading Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky, founder of Behance Network and The 99 Percent. In the book, Belsky talked about the idea of the backward clock. We’ve all heard of this before — If your life would end next minute/month/year, what will you change today? Now that the end of world may await around the corner, it seemed appropriate to seriously consider this question.

A while ago, I wrote a post on saying no to something I love and the idea of doing as in “Demos, not memos.” While those two are high on my list about things I want to change and improve, I recently came across a short talk by designer, illustrator, author and thinker Frank Chimero, given at Do Lectures. Think our work as a gift, he said.

What differentiates a gift from something one buys for him or herself is the extra layer of caring that is given. Chimero argues that everything we craft, whether it’s a piece of design, drawing or writing, has a separate value apart from commerce. Whether it’s history, legacy, knowledge or memory, the separate value is a gift. And when I begin to think of my work as a gift, so much love and caring has naturally added into the recipe already.

But can all creative work be gifts? Potentially so. In my opinion, the extra layer of caring is usually received when a piece of creative work solves problems. Michael Bierut, in one of his most watched videos on The 99 Percent, talked about how being a graphic designer is like a doctor. Bierut said that he hardly comes up with personal projects; instead, he focuses on solving his clients, a.k.a the patients’ problems. Instead of inventing fictional projects, the opportunities of solving real problems are to make design truly as a gift to others.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly is to learn to appreciate more. Belsky pointed out in the book that we as creatives are customized to constructive feedbacks — we wanted to know what went wrong so that we could be better next time. At a storytelling workshop, however, master storyteller Jay O’Callahan taught Belsky the technique of appreciation: commenting on the strengths rather than pointing out weaknesses. Not only does this technique avoid demoralizing consequences, it favors the “natural recalibration” that weaknesses lessen as strengths are emphasized¹. O’Callaham nicely explains the technique:

If our eyes are always looking for weakness, we begin to lose the intuition to notice the beauty. … Appreciations are not about being polite. They are about point out what is alive. The recipient must take it in, incorporate it.

The recipient can be ourselves as well. Instead of frowning at the our own weaknesses, perhaps we can celebrate our strengths — the part of us that make our friends and family proud and cherish. What’s alive is within.

Happy holidays, everyone! See you in 2012, make it count.


¹ Belsky, Scott. Make Ideas Happen. Page 198



Leave a Comment
  1. Dan / Dec 28 2011 12:05 am

    Love it. Here we come, 2012!

    • Kuan / Dec 28 2011 12:11 am

      Haha, thanks Dan! Here we come, indeed. Get ready, 2012.

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