167 Pieces of Life & Work Advice from Kevin Kelly, Founding Editor of Wired Magazine & The Whole Earth Review

Image by Christo­pher Michel, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

I am a big admir­er of Kevin Kel­ly for the same rea­son I am of Bri­an Eno—he is con­stant­ly think­ing. That thirst for knowl­edge and end­less curios­i­ty has always been the back­bone to their par­tic­u­lar art forms. For Eno it’s music, but for Kel­ly it’s in his edi­tor­ship of the Whole Earth Review and then Wired mag­a­zine, pro­vid­ing a space for big ideas to reach the widest audi­ence. (He’s also the rea­son one of my buck­et lists is the Nakasendo, after see­ing his pho­to essay on it.)

On his 68th birth­day in 2020, Kel­ly post­ed on his blog a list of 68 “Unso­licit­ed Bits of Advice.” One bit of advice that frames his thought process and his work is this one:

“I’m pos­i­tive that in 100 years much of what I take to be true today will be proved to be wrong, maybe even embar­rass­ing­ly wrong, and I try real­ly hard to iden­ti­fy what it is that I am wrong about today.”

How­ev­er, the list is more about wis­dom from a life well-spent. Many fall into the art of being a curi­ous human among oth­er humans:

  • Every­one is shy. Oth­er peo­ple are wait­ing for you to intro­duce your­self to them, they are wait­ing for you to send them an email, they are wait­ing for you to ask them on a date. Go ahead.
  • The more you are inter­est­ed in oth­ers, the more inter­est­ing they find you. To be inter­est­ing, be inter­est­ed.
  • Being able to lis­ten well is a super­pow­er. While lis­ten­ing to some­one you love keep ask­ing them “Is there more?”, until there is no more.

And this is prob­a­bly the hard­est piece of advice these days:

  • Learn how to learn from those you dis­agree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.

Oth­er bits of advice have to do with cre­ativ­i­ty and being an artist:

  • Always demand a dead­line. A dead­line weeds out the extra­ne­ous and the ordi­nary. It pre­vents you from try­ing to make it per­fect, so you have to make it dif­fer­ent. Dif­fer­ent is bet­ter.
  • Don’t be the smartest per­son in the room. Hang­out with, and learn from, peo­ple smarter than your­self. Even bet­ter, find smart peo­ple who will dis­agree with you.
  • To make some­thing good, just do it. To make some­thing great, just re-do it, re-do it, re-do it. The secret to mak­ing fine things is in remak­ing them.
  • Art is in what you leave out.

And some of the more inter­est­ing ones are his dis­agree­ments with per­ceived wis­dom:

  • Fol­low­ing your bliss is a recipe for paral­y­sis if you don’t know what you are pas­sion­ate about. A bet­ter mot­to for most youth is “mas­ter some­thing, any­thing”. Through mas­tery of one thing, you can drift towards exten­sions of that mas­tery that bring you more joy, and even­tu­al­ly dis­cov­er where your bliss is.

One year lat­er, Kel­ly has returned with 99 more bits of advice. I guess he couldn’t wait til his 99th birth­day for it. Some favorites include:

  • If some­thing fails where you thought it would fail, that is not a fail­ure.
  • Being wise means hav­ing more ques­tions than answers.
  • I have nev­er met a per­son I admired who did not read more books than I did.
  • Every per­son you meet knows an amaz­ing lot about some­thing you know vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing about. Your job is to dis­cov­er what it is, and it won’t be obvi­ous.

and final­ly:

  • Don’t let your email inbox become your to-do list.

There is a small shift in Kelly’s 2021 list from his 2020 list, like a lit­tle more frus­tra­tion with the world, a need for more order in the chaos. I won­der what his advice will be in a few more years?

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wired Co-Founder Kevin Kel­ly Gives 36 Lec­tures on Our Future World: Edu­ca­tion, Movies, Robots, Autonomous Cars & More

The Best Mag­a­zine Arti­cles Ever, Curat­ed by Kevin Kel­ly

What Books Could Be Used to Rebuild Civ­i­liza­tion?: Lists by Bri­an Eno, Stew­art Brand, Kevin Kel­ly & Oth­er For­ward-Think­ing Minds

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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