Sunday, April 29, 2007

eBooks: learning to choose

[Disclaimer: By day, I work in marketing for OCLC, and our eContent division is NetLibrary, which markets eBooks to libraries, which then loan them to users. This post isn't about that process, that product, our partner publishers or that space at all. It's my own take on portable eBooks. Anyway... what I mean to say is that this is Tinker Andy's thoughts, not OCLC Andy's. Selah.]

So... two links from BoingBoing in the recent past about eBooks. One from Charlie Stoss on "Why the commercial ebook market is broken" that has lots of good ideas on the topic. It goes at it in terms of the economics, what people might/might not pay for an ebook, why we don't have cheap readers, etc. etc. And there's a second link to a Locus feature by Cory hisself called, "You do like reading off a computer screen," that explains that we do like reading off computer screens... just not novels.

I don't buy either of the arguments completely, and I'll tell you why. It's because I am, after almost 10 years of reading all kinds of content on various PDAs and Smart Phones, completely format agnostic. The main issue, I think, is this: reading for pleasure on a portable device requires a new skill, and learning new skills -- especially those required for leisure -- isn't necessarily fun.

I love books. Period. Not pBooks, not eBooks. Just books. Got that ol' English degree from Cornell to prove it, too. Got a house full of the paper kind lining the walls. Love to buy 'em, borrow 'em from the library, loan 'em to friends. I love to highlight passages, turn down corners, write in the margins. The ones that are beautiful... I love to protect.

But back around when I got my first Palm, sometime in the mid-late 90's, I began to love eBooks, too. I owe it to the orneriness of my friend Bill (Hi, Bill!) who insisted that I try reading books on my Palm. He was also the one who insisted that I buy a PDA in the first place. Since I had, and I loved it, I was inclined to at least hear him out on the whole eBook thing... but I was skeptical.

"It's a crappy screen for a book," I said.

"You just need to get used to it," he replied. "Read two whole books on the thing and you'll be a convert. I promise."

I huffed, but I trust Bill. So I found a free reader that had decent scalable fonts, and I got two free books from Project Gutenberg that I'd been meaning to read. I spent a little bit of time formatting the raw .TXT files in Word before pulling them into the e-reader, and then I plowed into the process.

The first book was almost literally painful. It was the "Autobiography of Ben Franklin." Reading the novel on that little screen... with weird, three-word line-breaks... and having to hit the page-down key every five seconds... it was horrible. It made me feel like my brain was itching or something. It was icky. It was hard. It was...


And I hate, more than the pain of learning new things, refusing the pain of learning new things. I'm all about "The Beginner's Mind" some days. So even though it made my eyes bleed and gave me meningital cramps, I finished the book. It took me three months of reading here-and-there. I think I read eight other pBooks in the meantime. But I did it. And then I took a break.

But Bill had said, "Two." So I buckled down and loaded up "A Tale of Two Cities," which I'd managed to not read for 30ish years, despite loving Dickens and being an English major. It started out hard... but by the end... I'd gotten used to the process enough that I was pretty much ignoring the pain. It wasn't as easy for me as a paper book. But I could see a real difference between the first and second experience. Enough that I tried a third.

And by the end of the third book, not only was it easy... I was hooked. Because my Palm Pilot had my life on it at that point; schedule, phone numbers, notes, memos, games, to-dos, etc. And for one device to have all that PLUS a couple books to keep me occupied for 5-minutes-here while I'm waiting for a meeting and 2-hours-there while I'm stuck at the airport... forget it. Done deal.

Now I read just about every-other book on my Verizon Windows Pocket PC Phone Thing. Some I buy, some I borrow, some I get for free. And I don't really go through all kinds of sturm und drang about whether or not I'll have a "cultural artifact" or not. If I want to read a book, and it's available as an eBook, and I see it there first... boom. I'm an American, for the love-of-mike. That's how it works for us. See. Want. Get.

All the arguments Charlie and Cory make are good. People won't pay more for eBooks than paper, and they probably won't pay, in general, a lot more than 50% for eBooks, because you don't get "a thing" that you can put on your shelf. Etc., etc.

But we sure pay a buck for iTunes don't we?

Even at the right price, though, most folks won't even pay 10-cents for a novel they love if it makes their eyes hurt. And they won't use a funky full-sized book reader if it offers no space bonus over a paper book.

But once you get used to a new medium...

Listen, o best beloved... I own "Cryptonomicon" in hard-cover. It's one of my favorite books of all time. Last year, it got to be time for me to re-read it. Before I picked up the 2.9 lb. tome, though, I checked out The eBook version was about $7. So I bought it. Again. Yup. Because it was worth it to me not to have to lug that brick around for the three weeks I knew it would take me to read all 928 pages (that's print pages; on my wee screen, I think it was 4,500 pages... not kidding).

It's about choice. My choice.

But I didn't have the choice until I learned something new.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Complaint choirs - my new dream

This. Is. Simply. Awesome.

Birmingham version on YouTube here. "And I'm thirsty."

Helsinki version here. "All ringtones are annoying."

Hamburg. "There is plenty of debate, but nothing gets done."

St Petersberg. Lovely tune. My favorite musically. "I'm not ready to die yet... and the nightmare of the C++ language."

Some A Canadian radio TV show's version as it appeared on Canadian television. Kinda not the real deal, but what the hell. "I hate plastic bags... Why can't people use apostrophes properly?"

Penn State. Bonus llama, but, really... quite awful. In an undergrad way. "Webmail2 still blows."

On my honor as a bearded man... if someone in Columbus, Ohio USA with the talent to write the tune will step forward, I'll do the lyrics. We've got OSU with something like 200,000 undergrads, a thriving arts community, and more overcast days than either Londan or Seattle. Plus, we keep being in the middle of the state that elects Bush. If we can't come up with the best Complaint Choir in history... that's just sad.

Bonus for us if we do this: film it for YouTube amid Cornhenge. Somehow, that just works for me.

[Edit] To Alane: Better?

Could "social" itself be subject to the 1-10-90 rule?

Quick thought... lots of folks have been talking about how user created content on social sites is subject to the "1-10-90" rule. This is the idea that 1% of users will actually create new content, 90% of users will come only to consume it, and 10% will interact with it in some way as a value-add; i.e, providing reviews, links, tags, etc.

An interesting post titled "Casual Players and Community" at Zen of Design had a line in it that struck me upside my haid, though:
I hate to say it, but community is kind of a hardcore feature. At least, being deeply involved in it. Casual players may avoid guilds, not run instances, and never go to the auction house. But at least theyĆ¢€™re playing with other people...

This may apply to more than just MMOs. Could being social on social networks actually be an activity that is, to a degree, something that folks only do... a wee little bit? I know that the whole purpose of MySpace and LinkedIn, etc. is to connect, meet-up and be social... but there is *content* there, too. Are there MySpace lurkers who just witness the social activities and goings-on as entertainment/info value?

I've talked before about social share and share of participation. About trying to evaluate and quantify whether or not adding social features and/or functions to a service provides measurable value. If users see interacting with each other in a space as a "hardcore feature" -- something that's a good "to have," but not a "gotta-gotta-have" -- that's one more thing to keep in mind when designing in social-ness.

Why? Because if the social aspects are going to be important to you as the provider, then you'll need to make them granular (i.e., baby steps for the "100" and "10" folks), and visible, so that the low-end participants can get some entertainment/info value from them. Meaning, "I don't want to talk to anybody, but I like to see what you guys are saying." That's impossible, if others' conversations are somehow hidden.

It should also be easy (to the point of being trivial) for true, new "social content" to be added onto. For example, if I've got a chat going with two of my buddies in which I explain how to do something in an MMO/VW (let's say I'm a "Social 1" and am describing how to do something complex, and don't mind being a "guide"), it should be very, very easy for one of them to record the chat session, and then copy it to another friend later who has the same issues, but without having to go through all the "social-ness." Shy player (in the 10% zone) leveraging past social interactions with a yappy 1-percenter.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Plagiarism sucks: Katie should quit

Turns out I have something in common with the Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Zaslow: we've both been plagiarized...

If you haven't heard, CBS News' Katie Couric recently did a "Katie's Notebook" piece, performed in the first person ["I still remember when I first got my library card...'] that, it turns out, was written by her producer.

Surprise, surprise. Katie's stuff isn't written by her.

Whoops. Turns more out, Katie's producer, Melissa McNamara, didn't even write it (bizarre twin plagiarism angle... oh dear). I've read about 15 different takes on the whole matter, and kinda like Slate's tone/angle the best.

That's the story. Fine. But here's what none of the things I've read so far have offered... Something that you'll get right here, only at TinkerX -- the inside scoop (first person, written by me, not my producer) on what it's like to be plagiarized.
I used to consult full-time. Now I do it a bit on the side (yes, my boss knows; I'm not that dumb... about that.) While consulting full-time, I wrote lots of articles and got lots of essays posted just about anywhere I could to get my name/email/URL out there. I did it in order to generate business, establish "my personal brand," and get good SEO for my blog and company Web site. So... long story short, lots of Andy Havens' marketing crud on the Web.

About two years ago, I get a call from a guy I've never met. But he knew me from some of my legal marketing articles. How cool. He recalled my particular (peculiar?) brand of wit and wisdom. He specifically recalled a piece I wrote for my good buddy Larry Bodine at the LawMarketing Portal back in 2004, about a year prior to his calling me.

He wanted to know if I was aware that another fellow was using this material, almost word-for-word, in his hand-outs at a professional marketing seminar.

Gulp. No. I was not.

My reader faxed me the materials. Yup. Almost exactly the same stuff. In fact, it even had the same cheesy clip-art that Larry pasted into the story (Hi, Larry!).

I contacted the fellow. I told him what I'd discovered and asked him what was up. He told me... that the piece had been put together by one of his subordinates.

It had his name on it. The name of his marketing firm was his name. The presentation at the gig where my reader had found the piece was given by this guy, and it was his name on the program. He explained that his workers "assembled" lots of his marketing material (hand-outs, fliers, Powerpoints) for him.

Then he assured me that the fellow in question would be fired. That he (the owner) took this sort of thing very seriously and had a zero-tolerance policy about plagiarism, and that I could rest assured that it wouldn't happen again.

I told him that what happened between him and his staff was his business. I just wanted to be sure that anything I'd written was attributed to me.

He, again, made the point about firing the subordinate. He said something about him being "a relatively new guy."

Again, I said, "That's up to you. It's your company. How you handle it internally is your business. I just want your word, since it's your name on my work, that this won't happen again."

He, again, told me that the person in question would be fired.

He didn't get my point. I said, "I don't need you to do that. I need you to tell me you will be responsible for making sure this doesn't happen." He agreed to that, still not getting it, I think, and we never spoke again.

I hung up the phone feeling very, very shaken.

Why? Because one of two things had happened.

1) He lied to me. Which, if I had to bet money, I'd bet on. For a whole string of reasons that I can get into based on the professional services marketing industry, how we come up with stuff, what we let our "people" do for us, etc. etc. But that's my gut. I don't think there was "a new guy." I think it was a put-on to get me to go away.

2) He told the truth, and fired some kid who'd made a mistake. A bad mistake, yeah. And a mistake that, frankly, isn't one where firing is an inappropriate reaction. But I think that, on some level, if somebody on my staff had done something like that... I would have blamed myself a bit more than this guy seemed to. And if my name was on something like that...
I'd take it a lot more seriously than Katie et CBS al seem to be doing.

The date on which that post went up on the CBS blog page now reads:
Correction: The April 4 Notebook was based on a "Moving On" column by Jeffrey Zaslow that ran in The Wall Street Journal on March 15 with the headline, "Of the Places You'll Go, Is the Library Still One of Them?" Much of the material in the Notebook came from Mr. Zaslow, and we should have acknowledged that at the top of our piece. We offer our sincere apologies for the omission.

We "apologize for omitting... " Err... Yah. McNamara (bio still live on CBS site... interesting) was fired for "omitting." Sins of omission. That's kinda funny. Where I come from, we call plagiarism "stealing." Which is a sin of "commission." You know... walk into a store, take something, leave without paying. Oh. I guess that's kind of an omission. Never mind...

Here's the thing: the (maybe) kid that lifted my essay, and/or his boss... that's pretty minor stuff. One of the reasons I didn't make a stink is that my "personal brand" has a good dollop of live-and-let-live. I'm a peaceable guy. The piece was a fun little deal that, I hope, sent a few readers to my site/blog. Making a big stink would've been more trouble than it was worth.

And yet... and yet... I really, really wish that the dude had said, "What can I do, personally, to make this up to you? Can I send you an Omaha steak? Or make a contribution to a charity in your name? Can I put a mention of your services into my next seminar kit?" Nope. Nothing.

And who is he? Some small-time, Kinko's-materials consultant like me. But to make it good, he should have offered something.

But... Who is Katie? She's the $15 million spokes-face on one of the Big Three evening news shows. News. Not fashion. Not punditry. Not opinion. News. You know... that thing with journalism and facts and stuff.

Katie's post clearly made it seem as if she wrote it. The op-ed "feel" of a story that starts with, "I still remember..." is unmistakably intended to leverage her $15 million-ness into getting us to pay attention to what is, frankly, a pretty lame, puffy piece.

So if Katie didn't write it, but felt OK about using it glommed onto her image/ego to begin with, and then was (as far as the public is concerned) the face of the company that did the plagiarizing... what should we expect from that organization?

Right. Fire the producer. Not the one worth $60,000/day. Not the face we trust (who apparently doesn't read the WSJ). Not the one who clearly doesn't write her own notebook/blog, even when it's in the first person. Not the one who didn't take any responsibility for plagiarism, but who had "Editors" apologize for "omissions."

Is this what Katie wanted for her career? Regardless of the plagiarism... is this what she signed up for? To be part of a news team that writes her "personal thoughts" and then covers for her to an extent that is, frankly, grotesque? Is her own sense of what she brings to this enterprise so withered that she can't even sign her name to the apology?

Quit, Katie. Just quit. Not because you're really responsible for the plagiarism. I don't think you are, nor do I think you should be fired. The ding-dongs in charge at CBS are even less in control and less worthy of it than are you. But in the immediate aftermath of this situation, nobody's first response was, "Yoiks! These words came out of Katie's mouth... she should be the one to apologize!"

That they didn't -- that you didn't -- is bad. Real bad. Prove to all the kids in my History of Advertising class, and all the junior copywriters out there, that the Top Dog cares about this. That in the age of easy, Internet Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V, the people we turn to to make sense out of our lives are ones who take that responsibility seriously. That when we turn on the TV to watch somebody talk about war, government, education, health and all kinds of other issues... those issues mean something when applied to her own field.
All I wanted, when somebody stole the words out'n my mouth (er... page), was for the guy in charge to take responsibility. His version of that was to fire the kid who did the lifting. That didn't cut it for me, and I don't think it cuts it for Katie.

The $15 million bucks stop somewhere. And it ain't on the desk of a junior producer.

So, Katie... Make a point about responsibility and theft. Quit in protest over how poorly CBS has handled this situation.

And, since that won't ever happen, how about you just personally sign your "mea" to the editorial "culpa"?
[Note: I will almost never be this smarmy (mean, call it what you will) again on this blog. I don't like the tone I've chosen, and am *this* close to not publishing the post. But I really, really hate plagiarism and really, really don't like it when crap like this doesn't get taken seriously enough by the people in charge. For those of you who prefer my usual, light-hearted, pseudo-intellectual side... it will resume shortly. My apologies for being more churlish than I really rather prefer.]

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Box: Part 2, The Frame

Thanks to a post at Raph's blog, I found an article/story at the Washington Post that can be summarized pretty quickly for you:
Paper hires world-famous violinist to play great classical works incommunicado at rush-hour in public on famous violin for 45 minutes. Most people pass paying no attention. A very, very, very few stop their business and actually listen. Paper waxes on about American busyness, lack of appreciation for beauty, inability to stop and smell the flowers, etc. References to Kant.

Or you can read the whole thing if you like.

The whole tone of the article is pretty smarmy. Go figure, it's the Post. Start with the title of the piece, "Pearls Before Breakfast." Nice.

I know for a fact that I would have been one of the people who hurried by in that metro station. Unless I was in DC on vacation, and hanging out at the Au Bon Pain they mention, having a coffee, waiting for someone, maybe reading a book. I've stopped, in the past, and spent 30 minutes listening to street musicians.

  • When I've had time.

  • When I've been in a situation that allowed.

  • When there's been a place to sit.

  • When the music wasn't too loud or obnoxious

  • When I've felt safe

  • When I had a couple bucks on me I could spare, and

  • When the music was in a language I spoke

All of these things make up the frame for an event like this, the last being the most important, I think. We call it "frame-of-reference" sometimes, but you don't even need to go that far. "Framing" is enough. The Post article uses the term, and does some good work making the point that, out of context, lots of art loses some of its value to us; we just aren't "ready" to appreciate great paintings in a Subway, or great classical violin work in the metro.

I enjoy some classical. I own about 15 classical music albums. I love almost all Mozart, some Beethoven, Holst's "The Planets," and a few of Debussy's more well-known works. I also have some neat Yo-Yo Ma, where he blends classical with American Folk. Don't know if that counts. Don't care. I have been to... maybe... a dozen classical music concerts in my life, not counting times I've gone to see something because it included a performer I personally knew. I will listen to a classical music station on the radio if the choice is that, Country & Western, Talk Radio, or some of the more extreme varieties of Heavy Metal, Hip Hop, etc. etc.

I'm explaining this because I'm trying to establish *my* frame. To put a face on all those people -- and the Post does this, too -- who walked right by the famous violinist. But none of those people were asked, I think, the right question. Which would be...

Do you speak classical music?

Of the three people that did stop, and did take the time to listen, two were trained in classical music. The one that the Post describes as "the cultural hero of the day," says of the musician, "This was a superb violinist. I've never heard anyone of that caliber. He was technically proficient, with very good phrasing. He had a good fiddle, too, with a big, lush sound."

And the Post says further of the man, "[He] knows classical music. He is a fan of Joshua Bell but didn't recognize him... But he knew this was not a run-of-the-mill guy out there, performing... When [he] was growing up in New York, he studied violin seriously, intending to be a concert musician."

Right. This is a guy who speaks the language.

But here's the thing... I'm not sure most of the people in that story -- nor I, and I think I probably am above-average in terms of classical appreciation -- would have understood the performance in situations even 1 or 2 orders-of-magnitude more appropriately "framed." I think it's a flawed experiment, because "classical music" is a language that is almost as unspoken as Latin as far as most people are concerned today.

Let's take it up a notch. Suppose you went to all those people that passed by this guy in the subway. And you said to them, "Hey... there's a guy, really good violinist but unknown, playing at lunch today at my kid's school. He's fantastic. It's just $5 for 30 minutes, but I hear he's great."

More context, yes? More framing? Sure. I still bet you'd get very few takers.

Let's kick it almost all the way up. Stop all those people. Tell them who Joshua Bell is. How famous he is. And that he's playing a Strad. And tell them that you've got tickets to see him for $25 instead of the usual $100 - $150. But you've got to go see him tonight.

Again, I bet the Post, and Mr. Bell, would be surprised at how few takers they'd get. But I wouldn't.

And not because I believe that all those fast-walking, too-busy commuters -- and me! -- are the "swine" that the title of the story implies. But because our frame doesn't include an easy knowledge of how to appreciate what Joshua does so well. Our box and his box don't overlap in that area.

Our box contains more pop music. Yo-Yo Ma ha seen this, and has done some interesting things, career-wise, to do some gigs with pop performers. This helps get him into our box. The "Three Tenors" have done the same. The Boston Pops have done more, I think, for widening an appreciation of classical music than any other modern organization.

The person the Post article describes as "the cultural hero" of the experiment clearly does "speak" classical music. His frame includes that language. He says, "This was a superb violinist. I've never heard anyone of that caliber. He was technically proficient, with very good phrasing. He had a good fiddle, too, with a big, lush sound."

And the Post tells us of this listener, "[He] knows classical music. He is a fan of Joshua Bell but didn't recognize him... But he knew this was not a run-of-the-mill guy out there, performing... When [he] was growing up in New York, he studied violin seriously, intending to be a concert musician."

Right. This is a guy who understands the music, even outside all kinds of normal framing elements. Because he is a native speaker. He is fluent. Most of us aren't.

If you are working in a creative field, or want to be more creative... yes, it is a great idea to learn new "languages." To pick up new frames. To become familiar with different boxes. When I left 10+ years in retail marketing, I did so specifically to get into not just a new industry, but a new category -- B2B; professional services marketing. I wanted to stretch; to learn a new "marketing language."

When I started my "TaleWeaver" project, I gave myself the task of writing 100, short, rhyming, tightly-metered poems. Why? Because most of my poetry previous to that was unrhymed, fairly loose verse. It was important, I thought, to at least be comfortable in another "poetic language." My poetry since then has incorporated much more meter and rhyme... when I choose to.

What are some ways you might (fairly painlessly) learn something about different languages? Here's some thoughts...

  • If you predominantly read one kind of fiction (sci-fi, mystery, etc.), pick another kind and read at least 5 books in that genre. C'mon... life is short. Live differently, vicariously, a little.

  • If you read predominantly fiction, read some biography or history or pop-science for the next 5 books. If it's the other way, reverse it.

  • Read all of a poet's work, chronologically, over the course of a month or two. Power it down. It's hard, I know. Poetry is thick. But to get into a poet's voice, you really have to live it it for awhile. Figure out how many pages it is, divide by 30 (or 60) and set yourself a goal. Poetry really is, for most modern people, a foreign country. Try it though (along with a reference work on the poet, if you like), and you'll find yourself viewing the entire world very differently for that month or two.

  • Find a film that you really, really like. Figure out who was the cinematographer. For example, I love Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." Roger Pratt shot it. Go watch other, more obscure films by that cinematographer. You will find, I think, that there are things you'll like, even if you don't really love the story or actors. Watch the movie as a series of images; as if you were the friend of the guy behind the camera. It changes how you see things.

  • Pick a craft you know nothing about and have no interest in maintaining, and try to complete 3 simple, stand-alone projects in it over the course of a month. Many people pick hobbies based on, "Do I want to do this for the rest of my life?" That's fine... for a hobby you want to do for the rest of your life. But there are many fine skills you can pick up from "a bit o' this, a bit o' that" type learning. And you may also find that there are crafts you want to have as a part-time hobby. Check out the list of all Dummy titles related to hobbies.

  • Pick a country you know nothing about, research it for a week, and then (as much as is reasonable), "speak it" for a week. Eat food from there, listen to its music, read its authors and poets, keep up on the news, etc. This is all much easier because of teh Intertubes, of course. This is "horizontal" learning.

  • Do the same thing as the last bullet, but with a time-period as well as a country.

I'm all for learning "new languages." And I think, as a nation/culture, we are vastly undereducated in music and the arts. My kid's school only gives him one hour of music a week, and art has been cut back to one hour every other week, so that he can start in on "computers" on the off weeks. All this to make more time for "No Child Left Untested." Bad, bad, bad. Yes, please, Washington Post... more art/music education in our public schools.

But there is a place for learning new languages of thought. A place for breaking of barriers and getting out of one's box. And it is not in the middle of rush hour, in a subway, with a 20-second snippet of a dead language that is rarely heard and almost never spoken by the passers by.

I appreciate that the Post gave me the nugget for this post. But they can take their pearls and kiss my bourgeois pork. Today, at 9:17 am, on my way to the grind, we have the naming of parts.

-- Facilius est multa facere quam diu.

-- Estne volumen in toga, an solum tibi libet me videre?

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Box: Part 1

Creativity is largely misunderstood in our culture, if not in all cultures. There is a mystique about it that we attribute to artists and craftspeople who "create" something from nothing; paintings, poetry, stories, music, etc. And while those activities are clearly creative ones, doing those things, in and of themselves, is not necessarily "creative," but merely "crafty."

You can write, for example, a highly derivative song, or one that isn't very good. You can paint a hyper-realistic painting -- one that requires an amazing amount of craft-skill -- but that says nothing that a camera couldn't say about the view that you're reproducing. Those acts aren't particularly creative, though they may require certain unique and specialized skills often associated with people who are also creative.

That's the tricky part. People who are creative often find ways to express those urges that require deep craft skills. Why? Because the demands of creativity are harsh and often intense. If you need to say, write, sing, paint, draw -- create -- something perfectly, you need those tools to be very, very good.

The tools you bring to the creative process are "the box."

What am I babbling about today? People are always talking about "out of the box thinking." That's fine. It's good to not be bounded by custom or routine. Problem is, to be truly creative -- and not just random -- you need to really understand the box before you can get out of it. Otherwise, how do you know if you're out of it, or just standing inside it upside down? Or if you have one foot inside and one outside? Or if you're just in another box very similar to the one you're trying to get out of?

Part of the myth of creativity is that "creative types" can kind of "float away" from the bonds of surly normality, loosening the grip of those mundane, typical ideas that keep most people pasted to common, ordinary ideas. "He's so creative," we'll hear about someone like that. "His ideas are so different." Well, to have different ideas, you need to know or have heard of the regular ideas first. And you need to know why some of them worked, and some didn't. It's no good coming up with a wildly different idea that somebody else has already tried, but that has already failed. That's not creativity; that's stupidity. That's no knowing that over there, on that side of the outside of the box, there be dragons.

When I was studying writing in school, we had to practice writing all kinds of verse that we didn't necessarily want to write on our own. At the time, I was not enamored of rhyming poetry. And I didn't like being assigned to write it. But being forced to write it gave me something; the ability to understand it much better, and to choose to write it or not. So now, I know that box better. I can get out of it, or not. But if I hadn't been forced to learn about that box (rhyming verse), I couldn't claim to be "getting out of it" when I write non-rhyming verse... it's not a creative act to do so. It's an ignorant act.

So the first step to freeing yourself from any kind of artificial construct is to understand it enough to be at least competent in it. To understand why someone else might choose to use it. That way, if you want to reject it, you're doing so because of a conscious choice, not because it's not a color you have in your palette.