In 2013, Aaron Dietz will produce 12 books in 12 months. Find out more here.

Crash Thinking: How to Do Better by Crossing Your Instincts

Posted: January 29th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Long, Serious | 13 Comments »

Crash thinking is a huge influence in my life right now, and partly the reason why I’m attempting the 12 in 12 project (producing 12 books in 12 months).

Crash thinking means using the knowledge that sometimes you can do something better by using an approach that defies all logic as well as your best instincts.

Example: Pretend you’re in charge of safety at the Space Needle. You know that it’s technically possible for people on the observation deck to climb over the railing, through the ropes and stand out on the spokes that circle the top of the tower (view an image of the Space Needle and its spokes here). How do you make it safer?

Answer: By making it more dangerous.

Explanation: Folks at the Space Needle made it more dangerous to stand out on the spokes by installing rollers on the spokes, thus ensuring that anyone attempting to stand on them will roll right off the Space Needle. Therefore, no one will try to stand on them because it’s clearly too difficult to stand on them–it’s too dangerous! (You can kind of see one of these rollers here.)

I’ve been paying attention to non-instinctive problem solving for a while now, ever since I started working on short films organized by Crash Film Productions and Crash Cinema (a SIFF program), and what I’ve picked up from these experiences has become a whole new way of thinking. I call it Crash thinking, named after the film production company that thrives on this type of thinking.

I first got involved with Crash films by helping out with a 24-hour film production. The results were a 3 minute film that was not super successful. It was okay, but not great, and not nearly the product we had imagined at the beginning of the 24-hour time period.

I had a similar experience helping out on a 48-hour film project. The film was again not exemplary.

After having participated in those two projects, if someone were to have asked me, “What would you do to make these projects better?” I probably would have said, “Take more time.”

But instead, the counter-intuitive answer has appeared to be correct. I’ve since participated in two 8-hour film projects through Crash Cinema, and I was blown away by the results. The final products felt complete, had solid production value, and were ultimately way more satisfying than the 24- and 48-hour projects. Yet, they were made in less than 8 hours. There was something about the immediacy that steered our creative processes toward a better product. Amazing.

Amazing–just like my wife. When we were headed home from Taiwan, one of our suitcases was a good 8 or 10 pounds over the weight limit, but the task of redistributing the weight was clearly going to be akin to the most challenging Tetris puzzle ever. Instead of attempting to shift items between bags, my wife grabbed two books from my carry-on, and added them to the suitcase that was overweight.

(You see what she did there? She added weight to solve the problem of there being too much weight. Completely non-instinctive!)

I was quite confident that wouldn’t work. It made absolutely no sense! How was adding more weight going to help us?! (Plus, I wanted those books in my carry-on–I wanted to read them on the plane!)

We got to the airport. They weighed our heavy suitcase and told us it was overweight. My wife quickly set it on the ground, opened it up, took the two books out for me to put in my carry-on, and then proceeded to act as if she were contemplating what else to remove.

A fraction of a second into her contemplation, they told us, “That’s okay. That’s enough. You’re fine.” They accepted the bag, overweight and all.

I was baffled, but very impressed with the results. Clearly, I’ve been placing far too many limits on my life by listening and trusting logic and my instincts. Then again, all of the solutions above make sense, once you give them a chance. They are just not what your logic and intuition will tell you without some mental conditioning that allows you to be open to the possibilities.

The 8-hour film projects were successful because we had no time to strive for the ideal, no time to discuss subtleties that ultimately didn’t matter too much for the film. We had to focus our energy on what explicitly mattered, and that would NOT have been our focus if we’d have had more time to make the film.

I’ve reflected more than I’d like to admit on the results of my first novel, Super. It was a very nice work of innovative fiction, in my opinion, but it took about 10 years to complete, from the beginning draft to final production. In the age of electronic publishing, this is far too long.

Thus, in 2013, I’m taking the same approach toward my writing and book production this year that Crash Cinema takes toward making a nice short film. People routinely write the first draft of a novel in one month for NaNoWriMo. I’m going to push myself to do even better. I’m making 12 books in 12 months, all the way through final drafts and getting them published. It can be done. And the return on the investment in time is going to be monstrously larger than any other long term literary project I’ve been a part of.


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13 Comments on “Crash Thinking: How to Do Better by Crossing Your Instincts”

  1. 1 2013 starts with a bang…in February » The Blog of Charlie Potter said at 3:10 pm on February 7th, 2013:

    [...] be a part of. Regardless of my involvement, this is pretty awesome. It’s inspired by his Crash Thinking (patent pending). More details by clicking the [...]

  2. 2 Charmaine Clancy said at 5:34 pm on February 11th, 2013:

    WOW.
    That’s a huge task, but by keeping focus and blocking out unnecessary tasks (like socialising, sleeping and using the bathroom), you’ll make it.
    Sounds like a productive year for you!

  3. 3 aarondietz said at 10:03 pm on February 11th, 2013:

    In all fairness, I’ll get plenty of help on all the projects above–some volunteer editors, wonderful graphic designers, and others. But no matter what, it will definitely be a challenge!

  4. 4 aarondietz said at 6:04 pm on February 18th, 2013:

    Was sent to this anecdote recently, which captures a lot of what’s productive about Crash thinking–http://sivers.org/qlq Very interesting stuff!

  5. 5 Randy said at 4:03 pm on February 19th, 2013:

    So, in an age where it’s not supposed to take a long time to publish, isn’t it counterintuitive to take longer? Help! I’m confused*!

    *Situation normal.

  6. 6 aarondietz said at 10:58 pm on February 25th, 2013:

    Randy, I think the problem is you’re using logic again. You gotta’ stop that! ;)

  7. 7 Randy said at 9:57 am on February 26th, 2013:

    Oh. Sorry.

  8. 8 aarondietz said at 10:47 pm on February 26th, 2013:

    Not to worry. You’re doing just fine.

  9. 9 Randy said at 9:15 am on February 27th, 2013:

    So wait, am I doing fine or do I need to stop applying logic? Grrrrrr*.

    *6R’s just for you.

  10. 10 aarondietz said at 9:19 am on February 27th, 2013:

    You’re doing fine, either way. You are a master. You should only listen to me when I’m correct. ;)

  11. 11 Randy said at 9:28 am on February 27th, 2013:

    How will I ever know when that is?

  12. 12 aarondietz said at 9:31 am on February 27th, 2013:

    Even I don’t know….

  13. 13 Randy said at 8:37 am on February 27th, 2013:

    As you were, then.


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