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September 5th, 2019

This sentence, and even each word in this sentence presents two radically different things depending on who you are.


If you have never visited nor heard of Tinkered Thinking, then this constitutes a complete novelty in your experience of the world and the media that we fill it with. 


However, if you know of Tinkered Thinking and you are coming back for more, than this episode, this post, this very sentence functions as a nuance of your experience with this platform.  This episode is a subtle shift and addition to all the other hundreds of concepts explored and developed.


Regardless of which camp you fall into, you might get bored and wander off to some other source of stimulation.  But if you are intrigued, you might delve in a littler further, stay in wonderland, and let me show you how deep this rabbit hole goes.


The tension between nuance and novelty pops up everywhere.  We get bored with jobs, with chores, even hobbies that we’ve maybe gained great proficiency in.  As Esther Perel explores, our compulsive search for novelty plagues the health of romantic relationships.  She has a fantastic question that encapsulates the issue:


“Can we want what we already have?”


However, such a question extends far beyond romantic relationships.  We can apply this question to the material life of consumerism, and even to our own selves, and the very thoughts that we have.


The default assumption is that there is something better out there.  Someone better to date, some item that we can buy, some state of mind that we can arrive at, if only all the other factors have been toggled just right to make us happy.


Of course, this sort of process constitutes a Bad Infinite Game, as explored in Episode 503.  These hop-the-fence-for-greener-pasture games can be played forever with no end, making them less than ideal, as opposed to Good Infinite Games that can continually grant us hard-earned satisfaction. 


As Marcel Proust once wrote: “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”


This means looking at the same thing, but with a slightly different perspective.  And how exactly can we change the way we see something?  This sounds like a question that could yield an untold number of answers, but let’s make it even more literal.  Let’s say you are looking at something through camera that is fixed in one place.  You can’t move the camera, but you can work it’s controls.   What could you do to make the image different?  We could sharpen the focus, brining it into a slightly higher resolution.  But there’s something even more drastic that we can do:


We can zoom in.


Zooming in blows the subject up, exaggerating everything, and allows us to study and learn the details. This zoomed-in state constitutes the ‘new eyes’ that Marcel is talking about.


Zooming-in is what experts do.


Angela Duckworth, the author of the book Grit offers a simple but deceptive description of how experts become experts, she writes “substituting nuance for novelty is what experts do, and that is why they are never bored.”


But Angela, along with Esther make once crucial oversight.  Both intuit and maybe consciously understand this oversight, but neither come out and say it explicitly:


That is…


Nuance is novel.


The caveat to this statement is that not all novelty is nuance.  Much of novelty is just hopping the fence for a different and presumably brighter shade of green as opposed to staying where you are, getting on your hands and knees and investigating the beauty of a single blade of grass.


The inability to delve into the novelty of nuance is the absence of a certain class of question that zooms our focus into the details of a subject.


New details that emerge due to a higher resolution of the subject is the novelty of nuance.  Such details were unknown, and effectively nonexistent while zoomed out. 


Zooming in makes the same thing new again.



Similarly, we can examine the situation when we merely lack motivation.  A lack of motivation is ultimately due to the absence of a question a person hasn’t asked themselves.  This question is almost always a variant of ‘what am I going to do about this?’


What is really going on in this  context?




What is possible in this context?




The inability to take advantage of nuance in this way is the inability to zoom into a subject, and ultimately, this inability stems from the lack of a good question that we have not yet asked ourselves.


Questions themselves often require this same exercise of nuance in order to be effectively activated.


For example, there’s the perennially useless question: what are you going to do with your life?


Perhaps a valid question, but it doesn’t really spur anyone to do anything.  It’s too big.  What’s needed is a nuanced version.


Let’s zoom in and effectively chop off a lot of the picture.


We can rephrase and ask: What are you going to do about your health?


This is a subset of the question: What are you going to do with your life?  It’s more nuanced and because of that higher resolution, it gets us closer to a space where an actionable plan can pop up in our imagination.


We can zoom in even further and ask: What are you going to do about your nutrition? or What are you going to do about the issue of exercise?


These are both further subsets which are further zoomed in and both begin to approach the high-resolution and granularity needed for a sensible plan to emerge in the imagination.


What the novelty of nuance teaches us is that we often fail to ask a better question about what’s in front of us and since no ready answer or plan or action emerges in response to large vague questions –or even no question at all -


we simply assume we want something different.



This episode references Episode 503: Infinite Games and Episode 54: The Well-Oiled Zoom

This episode was also greatly influenced by the work of Angela Duckworth, and Esther Perel whose books you can purchase through the links below.

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 508: The Novelty of Nuance

Tinkered Thinking

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