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2×4: An Interview with Myke Hurley

2×4: An Interview with Myke Hurley

    2×4: One series that examines two topics, creativity and productivity, by asking those who make things on the web the same four questions on both subjects.

    Myke Hurley is your worst nightmare. Living, breathing, walking, talking proof that you can create something meaningful in your spare time. He’s done what most of us convince ourselves we can’t: build something amazing in the hours in between his full-time job. In just over 18 months Myke took what started as his podcast, “The Bro Show” and has grown it into a full-fledged geek and tech-oriented podcasting network that now includes seven shows. The 70 Decibels network is home to several of my favorite podcasts including the aforementioned Bro Show, The App Orchard and Enough. It gets quite a bit of love, not only from us geeks around the web, but from the folks over at iTunes. Several shows on the network are hosted by well-known members of the Read and Trust network including Stephen Hackett, Brett Kelly and Patrick Rhone.

    Oh yeah, and he’s British, which isn’t only inherently awesome; it makes things even more impressive as many of his podcasts span both timezones and continents. In fact, a recent episode of Enough with Lifehack’s own Mike Vardy simultaneously spanned three countries at once. Clearly I’m in awe of what the man has built, but rather than continuing to gush, I’m going to be quiet and let Myke do the talking. Or in this case, the writing.

    Without further ado, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the up-and-comer of tech podcasting, Myke Hurley.

    Creativity

    Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

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    I have. Throughout my life and especially over the last few years I have tried and failed to launch many creative endeavors. I have started and given up on many books and blogs. I never found that sweet spot until I began podcasting in April 2010, when we started The Bro Show.

    Since then we have launched many shows and created the 70Decibels network that encapsulates them. The shows allow me to be very creative and I try to ensure we have a range of different shows to fit all tastes. This also allows me and my co-hosts to dip in to many different areas.

    However, I have now caught the bug for podcasting. If I could, I would launch a new show every week and publish as many as I could. The only thing that stops me doing this is time and one day I hope to be able to remove most limitations and focus on the network full-time.

    What mediums and inspirations do you gravitate toward to realize your creative goals?

    Obviously my chosen medium is audio. I find it so much easier to speak rather than write. I enjoy writing and think I’m okay at it, but I’m far too critical. I agonize over every sentence and constantly go back over things to make sure they read well before publishing. With audio you cannot do that. Once something is said, it’s said and your immediate memory is the only record you have during the conversation. If I don’t remember the point I made five minutes ago then I cannot change it, so whatever is said, is said. Additionally I have a unwritten rule with the shows not to edit for content. I don’t cut parts of the shows out because somebody may have said something incorrect or not overly interesting. I feel that his damages the integrity of the overall product and harms the flow of the conversation. I discussed this more in a recent episode of my show Cooking With Brett And Myke.

    I am heavily inspired by the pioneers of podcasting that came before me, Leo Laporte and Dan Benjamin. These men have created Empires, not just podcast networks. They are where I aspire to be one day, with a whole host of excellent shows that are produced full-time and broadcasted live to the masses. I also see Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht as an inspiration. Diggnation was the first podcast I had ever heard of and it was through their show that I became interested in the medium.

    If you had to point to one thing, what specific posts or creations are you most proud of and why?

    This is a really tough question for me. I love all of the shows and find it difficult to pick out specific episodes as I am always happy with what’s been recorded; I always feel good about what we commit to AAC.

    However, some people have remarked to me some of their favourite episodes of some shows. Episode 6 – Money of 11 Minutes is a fan favourite, as is Episode 14 – Don’t Worry Do of Enough. I have a love for Episode 52 – Happy Birthday of The Bro Show. I feel that of our most recent shows, Ungeniused, Cooking With… and The App Orchard, I have not had enough time to really consider favourites. But they are all like children to me and I love recording every episode!

    Any suggestions for those who feel they may not be creative enough to unlock their inner artist?

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    Just keep trying. It took me a long time to realize the thing I enjoyed the most. I tried so many different projects before I came to podcasting and now I don’t want to do anything else. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things out; you just don’t know what you might find.

    Productivity

    Can you describe your current personal and professional responsibilities?

    In the day I have a real job at a real, big company. I manage a team of people in a retail/finance environment. Then at home I run a podcasting network called 70Decibels. We have seven shows that make up the network and we are looking to expand these next year. I am a host, producer and editor of these shows

    How do you go about balancing the personal, professional and digital?

    The balance can be difficult. I leave my day job around 5pm and travel home to start work on the network around 7pm. I record Monday-Wednesday and do general work for the shows throughout the week. My Friday-Sunday is time spent strictly with my better half, with no commitments from the network. I do occasionally have to work Saturdays for my day job.

    Of course, sometimes emergencies or good ideas can creep up during my workday. I am more committed (long-term) to making a success out of the network, so I tend to deal with or capture these things whenever they come up. Obviously, this is provided they do not take up too much time; it’s my day job that allows me to continue running the network, and it’s the only thing that puts food on the table.

    What tools and techniques do you find yourself counting on to get through your workload?

    I have tried so many different GTD apps but as of yet none have stuck for me. I tend to use Simplenote/nvALT as a way to capture things and I even use it as an inbox for to-do items that aren’t particularly urgent.

    I’m a big fan of pen and paper. I’m a Moleskine guy at heart, but think I could be converted to Field Notes in the future. I find paper to be the fastest, most efficient capture method. The only downside is that a notebook doesn’t sync to the cloud.

    The network is produced and run from my MacBook Air. I use some built-in tools like GarageBand to produce it and add some others like Skype to help me get it done. I have documented some of the tools I use on my blog and am currently planning a new and more effective way of sharing my experiences in podcasting. Watch this space.

    What is the best starting point for the unproductive amongst us, who are looking to get more organized?

    Find an easy capture method. GTD won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Just find something that works for you, something that you can have easy access to. Then build from there.

    More by this author

    2×4: An Interview with David Sparks 2×4: An Interview with Myke Hurley 2×4: An Interview With CJ Chilvers 2X4 Interviews 2×4: An Interview With Gabe Weatherhead 2×4: An Interview With Brett Kelly

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    Last Updated on March 17, 2020

    A Review of the Book “The Art of Learning”

    A Review of the Book “The Art of Learning”

    Josh Waitzkin has led a full life as a chess master and international martial arts champion, and as of this writing he isn’t yet 35. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance chronicles his journey from chess prodigy (and the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer) to world championship Tai Chi Chuan with important lessons identified and explained along the way.

      Marketing expert Seth Godin has written and said that one should resolve to change three things as a result of reading a business book; the reader will find many lessons in Waitzkin’s volume.  Waitzkin has a list of principles that appear throughout the book, but it isn’t always clear exactly what the principles are and how they tie together.  This doesn’t really hurt the book’s readability, though, and it is at best a minor inconvenience.  There are many lessons for the educator or leader, and as one who teaches college, was president of the chess club in middle school, and who started studying martial arts about two years ago, I found the book engaging, edifying, and instructive.

      Waitzkin’s chess career began among the hustlers of New York’s Washington Square, and he learned how to concentrate among the noise and distractions this brings. This experience taught him the ins and outs of aggressive chess-playing as well as the importance of endurance from the cagey players with whom he interacted.  He was discovered in Washington Square by chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini, who became his first coach and developed him from a prodigious talent into one of the best young players in the world.

      The book presents Waitzkin’s life as a study in contrasts; perhaps this is intentional given Waitzkin’s admitted fascination with eastern philosophy.  Among the most useful lessons concern the aggression of the park chess players and young prodigies who brought their queens into the action early or who set elaborate traps and then pounced on opponents’ mistakes.  These are excellent ways to rapidly dispatch weaker players, but it does not build endurance or skill.  He contrasts these approaches with the attention to detail that leads to genuine mastery over the long run.

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      According to Waitzkin, an unfortunate reality in chess and martial arts—and perhaps by extension in education—is that people learn many superficial and sometimes impressive tricks and techniques without developing a subtle, nuanced command of the fundamental principles.  Tricks and traps can impress (or vanquish) the credulous, but they are of limited usefulness against someone who really knows what he or she is doing. Strategies that rely on quick checkmates are likely to falter against players who can deflect attacks and get one into a long middle-game.  Smashing inferior players with four-move checkmates is superficially satisfying, but it does little to better one’s game.

      He offers one child as an anecdote who won many games against inferior opposition but who refused to embrace real challenges, settling for a long string of victories over clearly inferior players (pp. 36-37).  This reminds me of advice I got from a friend recently: always try to make sure you’re the dumbest person in the room so that you’re always learning.  Many of us, though, draw our self-worth from being big fish in small ponds.

      Waitzkin’s discussions cast chess as an intellectual boxing match, and they are particularly apt given his discussion of martial arts later in the book.  Those familiar with boxing will remember Muhammad Ali’s strategy against George Foreman in the 1970s: Foreman was a heavy hitter, but he had never been in a long bout before.  Ali won with his “rope-a-dope” strategy, patiently absorbing Foreman’s blows and waiting for Foreman to exhaust himself.  His lesson from chess is apt (p. 34-36) as he discusses promising young players who focused more intensely on winning fast rather than developing their games.

      Waitzkin builds on these stories and contributes to our understanding of learning in chapter two by discussing the “entity” and “incremental” approaches to learning. Entity theorists believe things are innate; thus, one can play chess or do karate or be an economist because he or she was born to do so.  Therefore, failure is deeply personal.  By contrast, “incremental theorists” view losses as opportunities: “step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master” (p. 30).  They rise to the occasion when presented with difficult material because their approach is oriented toward mastering something over time.  Entity theorists collapse under pressure.  Waitzkin contrasts his approach, in which he spent a lot of time dealing with end-game strategies
      where both players had very few pieces.  By contrast, he said that many young students begin by learning a wide array of opening variations.  This damaged their games over the long run: “(m)any very talented kids expected to win without much resistance.  When the game was a struggle, they were emotionally unprepared.”  For some of us, pressure becomes a source of paralysis and mistakes are the beginning of a downward spiral (pp. 60, 62).  As Waitzkin argues, however, a different approach is necessary if we are to reach our full potential.

      A fatal flaw of the shock-and-awe, blitzkrieg approach to chess, martial arts, and ultimately anything that has to be learned is that everything can be learned by rote.  Waitzkin derides martial arts practitioners who become “form collectors with fancy kicks and twirls that have absolutely no martial value” (p. 117).  One might say the same thing about problem sets.  This is not to gainsay fundamentals—Waitzkin’s focus in Tai Chi was “to refine certain fundamental principles” (p. 117)—but there is a profound difference between technical proficiency and true understanding.  Knowing the moves is one thing, but knowing how to determine what to do next is quite another.  Waitzkin’s intense focus on refined fundamentals and processes meant that he remained strong in later round while his opponents withered.  His approach to martial arts is summarized in this passage (p. 123):

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      “I had condensed my body mechanics into a potent state, while most of my opponents had large, elegant, and relatively impractical repertoires.  The fact is that when there is intense competition, those who succeed have slightly more honed skills than the rest.  It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set.  Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.”

      This is about much more than smelling blood in the water.  In chapter 14, he discusses “the illusion of the mystical,” whereby something is so clearly internalized that almost imperceptibly small movements are incredibly powerful as embodied in this quote from Wu Yu-hsiang, writing in the nineteenth century: “If the opponent does not move, then I do not move.  At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first.”  A learning-centered view of intelligence means associating effort with success through a process of instruction and encouragement (p. 32).  In other words, genetics and raw talent can only get you so far before hard work has to pick up the slack (p. 37).

      Another useful lesson concerns the use of adversity (cf. pp. 132-33).  Waitzkin suggests using a problem in one area to adapt and strengthen other areas.  I have a personal example to back this up.  I will always regret quitting basketball in high school.  I remember my sophomore year—my last year playing—I broke my thumb and, instead of focusing on cardiovascular conditioning and other aspects of my game (such as working with my left hand), I waited to recover before I got back to work.

      Waitzkin offers another useful chapter entitled “slowing down time” in which he discusses ways to sharpen and harness intuition.  He discusses the process of “chunking,” which is compartmentalizing problems into progressively larger problems until one does a complex set of calculations tacitly, without having to think about it.  His technical example from chess is particularly instructive in the footnote on page 143.  A chess grandmaster has internalized much about pieces and scenarios; the grandmaster can process a much greater amount of information with less effort than an expert.  Mastery is the process of turning the articulated into the intuitive.

      There is much that will be familiar to people who read books like this, such as the need to pace oneself, to set clearly defined goals, the need to relax, techniques for “getting in the zone,” and so forth.  The anecdotes illustrate his points beautifully.  Over the course of the book, he lays out his methodology for “getting in the zone,” another concept that people in performance-based occupations will find useful.  He calls it “the soft zone” (chapter three), and it consists of being flexible, malleable, and able to adapt to circumstances.  Martial artists and devotees of David Allen’s Getting Things Done might recognize this as having a “mind like water.”  He contrasts this to “the hard zone,” which “demands a cooperative world for you to function.  Like a dry twig, you are brittle, ready to snap under pressure” (p. 54).  “The Soft Zone is resilient, like a flexible blade of grass that can move with and survive hurricane-force winds” (p. 54).

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      Another illustration refers to “making sandals” if one is confronted with a journeyacross a field of thorns (p. 55).  Neither bases “success on a submissive world or overpowering force, but on intelligent preparation and cultivated resilience” (p. 55). Much here will be familiar to creative people:  you’re trying to think, but that one song by that one band keeps blasting away in your head.  Waitzkin’s “only option was to become at peace with the noise” (p. 56).  In the language of economics, the constraints are given; we don’t get to choose them.

      This is explored in greater detail in chapter 16.  He discusses the top performers, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and others who do not obsess over the last failure and who know how to relax when they need to (p. 179).  The experience of NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh is also useful as “the more he could let things go” while the defense was on the field, “the sharper he was in the next drive” (p. 179).  Waitzkin discusses further things he learned while experimenting in human performance, particularly with respect to “cardiovascular interval training,” which “can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion” (p. 181).  It is that last concept—to “recover from mental exhaustion”—that is likely what most academics need help with.

      There is much here about pushing boundaries; however, one must earn the right to do so: as Waitzkin writes, “Jackson Pollock could draw like a camera, but instead he chose to splatter paint in a wild manner that pulsed with emotion”  (p. 85).  This is another good lesson for academics, managers, and educators.  Waitzken emphasizes close attention to detail when receiving instruction, particularly from his Tai Chi instructor William C.C. Chen.  Tai Chi is not about offering resistance or force, but about the ability “to blend with (an opponent’s) energy, yield to it, and overcome with softness” (p. 103).

      The book is littered with stories of people who didn’t reach their potential because they didn’t seize opportunities to improve or because they refused to adapt to conditions.  This lesson is emphasized in chapter 17, where he discusses “making sandals” when confronted with a thorny path, such as an underhanded competitor.  The book offers several principles by which we can become better educators, scholars, and managers.

      Celebrating outcomes should be secondary to celebrating the processes that produced those outcomes (pp. 45-47).  There is also a study in contrasts beginning on page 185, and it is something I have struggled to learn.  Waitzkin points to himself at tournaments being able to relax between matches while some of his opponents were pressured to analyze their games in between.  This leads to extreme mental fatigue: “this tendency of competitors to exhaust themselves between rounds of tournaments is surprisingly widespread and very self-destructive” (p. 186).

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      The Art of Learning has much to teach us regardless of our field.  I found it particularly relevant given my chosen profession and my decision to start studying martial arts when I started teaching.  The insights are numerous and applicable, and the fact that Waitzkin has used the principles he now teaches to become a world-class competitor in two very demanding competitive enterprises makes it that much easier to read.

      I recommend this book to anyone in a position of leadership or in a position that requires extensive learning and adaptation.  That is to say, I recommend this book to everyone.

      More About Learning

      Featured photo credit: Jazmin Quaynor via unsplash.com

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