Deliberate Rest

Designing rest for a busy world

Category: Talks (page 1 of 7)

Hello from Bentonville Arkansas, most interesting place in the world (I’m not kidding)

This year I’ve given talks in Tokyo, Osaka, Baku, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, London, Montreal, Palm Springs, and other places.

But I think the coolest place I’ve been to all year is Bentonville, Arkansas.

Yes, Bentonville, Arkansas.

A couple months ago I was invited to be part of a speaker series at a new place called BlakeSt. It’s not a country club: there’s no golf course, though there is an ozone pool (better for you than chlorine) and other athletic facilities, and a truly beautiful building. (Part of it is the home of Betty Blake, who went on to marry Will Rogers. The expansion is completely seamless, the beautifully executed.) It’s a bit more like a London club, but with more programming, and more of an emphasis on wellness and creativity, not drinking so much your valet has to pour you into the carriage.

Alas it’s true

One of the striking things about the place is that while the exterior just looks like a really nice, big house— and in this respect it fits right into the area and really respects its location— the interior is a riot of really, really good art. The staircase leading up to the second floor has a bunch of photographic portraits, including one of the only photographs of Abraham Lincoln, and an amazing picture of Biggie Smalls.

Me and Biggie

Of course, the Walton family is known for its art collecting: the Crystal Bridges Museum is the most prominent example, but there are tons of Walton-sponsored art projects and collections.

It also has a truly spectacular music room, which an incredible JBL Paragon D44000 speaker from the 1960s, photographs of rock icons, and a pretty good collection of vinyl records and a fabulous turntable. (Van Halen really sounds amazing through the system.)

BakeSt, Bentonville, Arkansas

Needless to say, when I was prepping for my talk, I took over the music room, selected a bunch of records (Ziggy Stardust, Van Halen 1, Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” a couple others), and got down to work.

BakeSt, Bentonville, Arkansas

And because of the curious demographics of Bentonville (about which more below), the crowd was really smart and engaged— they came for active rest, really got into the activities, and asked great and thoughtful questions after the talk.

BakeSt, Bentonville, Arkansas

So a marvelously-curated venue, an interesting crowd— it all made for a cool event.

Bentonville though, is really fascinating. It’s the home of Walmart— the first Walton’s store has been turned into a museum— and BlakeSt is a project started by one member of the Walton clan. I spent part of my childhood in a small town in Virginia, and I keep thinking that Bentonville is a great example of what a small Southern town can become with good-old fashioned grit, determination, American optimism, and tens of billions of dollars.

Neon and night in Bentonville

In most places, new money just steamrolls the past. Think of most Chinese cities, where historic buildings just get crushed by new money. In Bentonville, in contrast, the money hasn’t destroyed the past; what it’s done is something more like fermentation— a transformation that creates something new in which the original is still visible, but also transformed and preserved.

For example, Bentonville has some also some terrific mural work. But you really have to wait until dark to appreciate the most interesting art installations: the awesome neon art all over downtown.

Neon and night in Bentonville

You’d expect to see neon in a small town; but only a few of them are commercial signs. Many of them are art works by Roadhouse Relics founder Todd Sanders, one of the leading neon Pop artists working today. The shift from business to high art, and art works that reference America’s commercial past— a perfect target for Walmart wealth.

Neon and night in Bentonville

The town is also super-clean, there are nice little parks and playgrounds everywhere, and the Bentonville fire station seems to double as a vintage fire engine museum. So unlike lots of wealth, it’s gone back into public infrastructure, not just private collections.

Neon and night in Bentonville

But it isn’t just the Walton family alone that has created this unique environment. Walmart’s global headquarters are still in Bentonville, and so the town has a lot of executives from companies that are major Walmart suppliers or vendors. As a result, people who formerly lived in New York or LA or Seattle, or come from Europe or Asia, now find themselves in Bentonville. And what’s followed this global expat population? A ton of cool restaurants, coffee places, boutiques— the sort of thing they’re used to— as well as BlakeSt, which aims to be a kind of social hub.

Getting to work at @onyxcoffeelab. Talking tonight about DISTRACTION ADDICTION, REST and SHORTER at @blakest_ar, and taking the crowd through exercises illustrating how they can put the concepts of contemplative computing, deliberate rest, and the 4-day w

As a result, you get these crazy juxtapositions. One morning I had an espresso at Onyx Coffee Lab. Onyx is the only place I’ve ever seen in the US that uses a Budapest-style coffee service (the most civilized in the world, as far as I’m concerned). So that was kinda weird.

But Onyx is across the street from the Flying Fish, a diner-style place serving fried catfish and crawdads. It looks like it’s been there since 1950.

And the weird thing? Neither one feels out of place.

BakeSt, Bentonville, Arkansas

I can’t decide if the result is more like Disneyland’s Main Street USA, or the Truman Show, or the Southern Reach in Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation— the juxtaposition of real small-town Americana, world-class modern art, and global elite culture is kind of mind-bending. But given my own experience— growing up in the South, living in Silicon Valley, working all over the world— I really love it.

Of course, the old Waltons store stands across the street from the town square where there’s a Confederate statue, and Bentonville itself is on the Trial of Tears, so the history isn’t all Steamboat Willie and patriotic newsreels. And you could make the case that beautiful modern-yet-traditional Bentonville is polished with the rags of all those small town businesses that Wal Mart has eviscerated over the last several decades— that the lovely town is a monument to an enormous transfer of wealth driven by a rapacious business model and ruthless corporation.

But at the same time, there’s something else about the atmosphere, something that I love to see when I go to the Netherlands or Denmark. The amount of well-designed public space and public art, the wealth without ostentation, the power that doesn’t express itself by living outside the rules— it’s all exceptionally orderly and civic in a way we don’t see quite as clearly as we should every day in America. Very unexpectedly, Bentonville has the feel of a social democracy.


Of course, it’s still Arkansas

No one is really innocent (writes the man who got his start in life with a college scholarship from a tobacco company). The question is what people who are lucky enough to have (or to have inherited) wealth and power do with it.

Neon and night in Bentonville

Anyway, going to Baku was awesome, and I’ll never forget it. Likewise, Tokyo and Seoul are always fascinating. But I look forward to seeing what happens next in Bentonville, and where it goes.

I talk about books at Blake Street

So I was just in BlakeSt., a truly extraordinary venue in Bentonville, Arkansas, talking about REST and SHORTER. I recorded a little 1-minute video about books in their library that I like.

No huge surprises— who doesn’t think highly of Thinking, Fast and Slow?— but it was fun to do.

More about BlakeSt. and Bentonville later.

Some personal news: I’m joining the BrightSight Group

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I’m on my last business flight of 2019, heading to Bentonville Arkansas to talk at BlakeSt. about work, rest, and the 4-day week.

It’s been a busy year: I’ve traveled from one end of the Silk Road to the other, given talks in the UK, Europe, and Asia, and did a very fun author event at the Googleplex, and will close out the year with a talk at Silicon Foundry in San Francisco.

And with SHORTER (US | UK) coming out next year, 2020 could be even busier.

Which is why I’m really pleased to be able to share some news: going forward, I’m going to be represented by the BrightSight Group, one of the big (and obviously, best!) speakers’ bureaus.

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We’ll be working together on keynotes and other traditional talks, but we’ll also offer workshops to companies and organizations that want to apply the lessons of SHORTER and REST themselves.

Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Having organized, facilitated, or participated as an expert in something like 200 workshops in my professional life, in places as far-flung as Cincinnati, Baku, and Kuala Lumpur, this is a kind of work that I really enjoy, and I’m really looking forward to being able to do more of it.

You can contact them here, or 609-924-3060.

Speaking at Life Lessons in London, February 2020

London Bridge and the Shard

I’m going back to London in February to speak at Life Lessons, a conference at the Barbican!

Wellbeing isn’t about lycra and fad diets. Its aim is not weight-loss for image-sake. Wellbeing is a way of life. It’s smart-thinking, sustainable living, community-building and frank-speaking. When well-informed, with an open-mind and with life lessons at our finger-tips, we can all live a happy, healthy and more inspired life.

Welcome to Life Lessons. A weekend of big talks from big thinkers. Where we dare to dream of a better future.

The speaker list is a cool mix, ranging from Richard Darwins to Ruby Wax to James Wallman.

Essentially, the talk will be the start of the publicity campaign for SHORTER (US | UK). I’ll be doing several other talks while I’m there. Watch this space for more updates.

Talking about REST and SHORTER at Silicon Foundry, December 4

I’ll be talking about REST and SHORTER at Silicon Foundry in San Francisco on December 4.

Let's talk about distraction

The talk will range cross my last three books, THE DISTRACTION ADDICTION, REST, and SHORTER, laying out my argument for the importance of deliberate rest, explaining how we can develop practices that create more time for focused work, and how companies are redesigning their workdays to build more time for focus– and reduce their working hours at the same time.

Speaking at Somnex

You can pre-register here, but space is limited!

My talk at Google

Recently I was at Google, at the invitation of the Asian Googlers Network, to talk about Rest, my new work on the 4-day week, and even a bit about contemplative computing. The video of the talk is now up on YouTube:

It was a terrific crowd, and I just hope I did the subject justice!

On being “talent”

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Last week I spent a day in San Francisco, recording a summary of REST for a company that’s putting together a series of lectures on work-life balance, digital distraction, and other topics. (I’m not sure what I can say about it publicly, hence my obscurity.)

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I spent the morning recording the lectures in a studio that mainly does voice work for video games), then several more hours with a film crew shooting video that’ll go into a set of promotional videos and advertisements for the class.

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Some of it involved responding to questions that’ll be used in a series of advertisements. We then decamped from the studio, and went over to the startup, so they could get some footage of me talking to people, looking thoughtful underneath a logo of the company, and so on.

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I think one of the photographers also caught me napping at one point. We shall see.

It was an interesting experience. Of course I’ve given lots of talks about rest, but it’s still interesting thinking about how to organize your material for listeners you’ll never interact with, who are looking for things they can put to use in their own lives.

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I’ve also done a very little video or TV work, and lots of radio interviews, but this was the first time I’ve done any studio recording, and the first time I’ve worked with a professional camera crew.

For one thing, I was stunned at just how much stuff a professional crew uses. Even in our iPhone-GoPro era, people who do this for a living wrangle a lot of equipment.

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So this was no record-over-Skype kind of deal!

The whole interaction was really interesting because on one hand, there are a half dozen technicians— all very skilled people— who have been mobilized on your behalf, and you are literally the center of everyone’s attention; yet at the same time, you’re utterly objectified. You don’t have a name; you’re “the talent.” The cinematographer and photographer want to make you look great, but that means treating you as a bunch of shadows, angles, posture, etc.. (I guess it’s better than being the opposite of talent….)

Not that they always succeeded, of course.

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And there’s just an enormous amount of artifice that goes into creating natural-looking scenes: the crew might spend 90 minutes setting up cameras for 3 minutes of me talking, and there was endless adjustment of lights, mics, and so on.

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Anyway, it was an illuminating day, and I look forward to the finished product becoming available.

Jabra video on deliberate rest

In September when I was in Europe, I gave a talk at Jabra corporate headquarters, just outside Copenhagen (where I had some excellent food, and saw some cool cats). We shot some video of me talking about deliberate rest, and Jabra has now created a short video from it. (Sorry about the auto-play.)

As a place that makes some outstanding headsets for office use, Jabra is really interested in issues of focus and concentration in business environments, so it turned out to be a great place to talk about deliberate rest and my earlier work on contemplative computing. (I’ll confess I have no fewer than four pair of Jabra headphones– two sets that I’ve used for everyday listening, a pair of their Bluetooth earbuds, and a set of noise-canceling office headphones. They’re all awesome.) And of course they did a great job with the video!

A few months ago I was doing an Al Jazeera show, and during the sound check beforehand one of the other guests described me as “the silver gent.” I suppose I see what he meant. Mentally I don’t feel like i’ve aged in the last twenty years (I feel like fundamentally the same person I was when I was a postdoc, or first married), but I have gotten more silver.

And anyone who meets me on the road is likely to see me wearing some variation of those clothes– the black shirt and black cashmere jacket, and jeans. What can I say; one of my professors extolled the virtues of wearing black on the road, and I still dress that way out of respect for her.

Get Brainwashed: Talking about work and rest with Brainwash.nl

When I was in Amsterdam, I took some time to do an interview with the Web magazine Brainwash about REST, work in contemporary society, and creativity. The first section of the interview is now up.

In this section I talk about busyness, why it’s so pervasive and persistent, and how Western thinkers used to consider busyness a kind of moral failing or sloth (channeling the great Josef Pieper and his book Leisure the Basis of Culture).

I think another section will be up in the near future!

Writing about talking: An old set of posts about the craft of speaking

Microphone

Sometimes you write something and  forget about it for years, only to rediscover it and think, Hey, this isn’t bad. (More common is rediscovering something and think, Boy, this is terrible. What was I thinking?) In the course of chasing down some broken links, I came across a series of posts about the business of speaking: about making the transition from academic to business speaking, working with an agent, building talks, and the logistics of travel and delivery.

Speaking at The Hopkins School

The pieces were written in 2014, before my most recent round of interviews, podcasts, radio appearances, and conference talks about REST. However, I think the basic advice is still pretty sound. The posts in this series include:

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