Human Creativity in the Age of Analytics With Chris Jones
Chris Jones is a long-time journalist and short-time screenwriter. He has written extensively for Esquire, The Atlantic, WIRED, the New York Times Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal, and has won two National Magazine Awards for his feature writing. He was also a producer on Away, the Netflix series starring Hilary Swank. His latest book The Eye Test makes the case for human creativity in the age of analytics. The book seeks to serve as a reminder that if beauty is less of virtue in the age of analytics, a good eye still is. Welcome to the show Chris Jones.
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Chris Jones 1:00
Well, I hope so. That’s the case I’m making. So I hope I hope there is.
James Taylor 1:07
We could just finish the interview now. I think,
Chris Jones 1:09
sorry, James, it’s over for us. No, I think there is I think it’s, it’s just different than it used to be. And and what I think creativity requires today, maybe more than once did is a bravery, I guess. Because there is a lot of I don’t know what the word is. The marketing behind Analytics has been very powerful. And you, you are sometimes cast in the role of trying to think of the nice word moron. You’re you. You are anti math or anti science, if you don’t subscribe boletes analytics. And it takes some I definitely had a few years in the wilderness there where I thought, Oh, am I on the wrong side of this because I I subscribe to science, I believe in facts, I believe in rational decision making. You know, so I’m not some I don’t believe in sorcery. But what I do believe in is a room for there’s room for that human element. In everything we do. Sometimes Analytics is a useful tool. Sometimes it’s the best tool. But sometimes it’s not. And there are places where those gaps, you know, we can fill in those gaps.
James Taylor 2:22
And in the book you talk about this is this concept called embodied analysis. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that is?
Chris Jones 2:30
I stole that James. I stole that from the New Yorker.
James Taylor 2:35
I just sources that’s
Chris Jones 2:39
scrupulously footnoted book, I was trying to come up with a way to describe what I believe in. And it started with. I don’t even Scotland, I start start with a baseball manager, who, when you’re a baseball manager, you have to make decisions really quickly. It seems like a very slow game, particularly to people who don’t watch it very often. But it requires choices constantly. And I followed this young baseball manager through his development. And what he was doing was a kind of, he would get so much experience that he would learn to be able to predict what was about to happen. In past cases, this is what happens next, usually, and then he would already know what his choices would be based on those circumstances. So he would plan out it seems like he was making quick decisions, but really, he had planned them all out. And I use a kind of clumsy term or I talked about intellectual muscle memory. Where like a good golf swing, it’s just sort of automatic. You don’t really think about it. Justin, this baseball manager wasn’t really thinking about his choices. He made the choices. He planned everything out in advance and his experience and it wasn’t God. It was what he knew about the game informed his decision making. Then I read a story in The New Yorker by a writer named Burkhardt Bilger about a carpenter named Mark Ellison, who was using a table saw which is a tool designed to make straight cuts he was using a table saw to make curved cuts really intricate cuts. Very counter to what the machine is supposed to be useful. And he was doing it while having a conversation with Burkhardt and wasn’t really paying attention to the spinning blade that was millimeters from his fingers. And what they settled on was embodied analysis. That was the term they use for when you’ve done all your thinking. You’ve done all your work, you’ve practiced, you have earned valid experience. And you are just good at this thing. And that that for me is sort of the goal in any sort of creative enterprise where you it’s not unjustified ego. It’s not got it’s not instinct, it’s experience and wisdom combining another sort of perfect flow state, I guess you would call.
James Taylor 4:53
It might be a little bit I know many people have heard that that 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell made famous, but there’s a There’s a next level to it in Japanese culture, that Kumys. This idea of Lexus is one of the companies that kind of really made it famous again, this idea of to Kumys, where they, they have people on the end of the line of production line, these cars coming off in Japan, who are just running there, hands down the side of the car, and just looking. And even though these cars be made, mainly by machines, these humans because they’re not just got 10 years, 20 has got some a 40 years of experience in the business. And they can feel they can almost like sense that when there’s like, slightly off, you know, and so that’s kind of embodied is kind of what you’re talking about.
Chris Jones 5:43
Yeah, it’s in you. It’s not, it’s almost, it’s almost like you’re an instrument, I guess, the way the way the carpenter described it, he was another baseball term, not referred to another baseball player, there was a amazing player named Roberto Clemente. And if a batter hit a ball into the outfield, Roberto Clemente would turn his back to it, run to the spot where he knew the ball would come to earth, and then turn and catch it. And so he just, the 10,000 hour rule has kind of been dispelled a little bit in the sense that there are preconditions to success, you can take anyone and make them do something for 10,000 hours and make them great at 10. And I admit that a book like I would never be a great musician, I don’t have the prerequisites. I’m tone deaf. So you know, it’s not going to work for me, no matter how many hours has been banging on a piano. But if you are legitimately talented at something, you find your gift, you practice that gift, and you get to this point of sort of disembodied analysis, you get to this point where it’s like almost part of you, then you are an amazing machine in a way, like you’re talking about those guys that Lexus running their head, they’re really part of the assembly line, an integral part of the assembly line, doing something that a machine couldn’t do. And that’s the gap. That’s that’s where they fit. You know, that’s where the people get involved. And that’s where that experience and that love, passion. All these things that we we admire and creative people, that’s where they all come to the forefront. And, and that’s for me, it’s how you make something great. It’s, it’s when we talk about analytics often is discussed as like, that is the one too. But no tool is universal. And if everyone’s using the same numbers in the same models, and crunching the numbers the same way, then what’s your advantage? Your advantage is when you do something a little bit better than somebody else? And how do you get there? Unfortunately, you get there. But like, often mind numbing practice, just experience.
James Taylor 7:39
I remember when mice live in the Bay Area, and then Oakland there you had that, obviously the baseball team, the Moneyball kind of thing became famous. And then you talked about in the book about having looking at that, and someone can beat you to the draft to write that story, because I’m sure that that would have been a kind of fascinating story. But you also talked in the book about times when it hasn’t worked. Really, when everyone has got so focused on the analytics and the data. It’s just taking them away. And one area was in filmmaking and film production. And you haven’t experienced this. I mentioned you’re involved in that Netflix series as well. So can you tell us about what happened in the, in the film industry that is a little cursory kind of tale, I guess about this. It’s something to look out for.
Analytics And Data
Chris Jones 8:28
It definitely informed some of my thinking. Because I did that story, probably in 2009. And I fell for it. So the story is a guy named Ryan Kavanaugh set up Film Company and Relativity Media. And he convinced a lot of very smart, rich people that he had figured out how to Moneyball the film industry. The problem was moviemaking for you know, since it began, nobody really knows what people are gonna go see. So you’re spending a lot of money on what is essentially an informed gamble. You can look at past performance of things and go well, people like that. Maybe they’ll like this and you can try to make something really original that sparks something you can, you know, but it’s always something of a gamble. And in the film industry, movies have gotten more and more and more expensive. So the Gamble’s have become bigger and bigger and bigger. 100 million dollars $200 million $400 million. He Ryan claimed that he had quantified audience attraction, and that he would never make a bomb that he would maybe not always hit homeruns to use another baseball term, but he would always hit singles and doubles. They’d always make a little bit of money. And if you consistently make a little bit of money at making movies and you make a lot of movies, you’re gonna end up making a lot of money. The problem is his system did not work at all. He lost billions of dollars. He made a lot of movies. Most of them weren’t very good. And he lost billions. And it just, it’s just something that you can’t quantify audience reaction is something that’s really hard to quantify. It’s just, you know, your favorite song is your favorite song, not just because of how it sounds, it was who you were in the moment when you heard it. Maybe it reminds you of something that you like, maybe it makes you nostalgic for something, it’s this powerful combination of things. And the way that YouTube will recommend something, or Netflix will recommend something and it doesn’t hit you. It’s because you’ve changed a little bit, you’re not the same person you were, when you watch the other thing or heard the other song. And, and this idea that everything is quantifiable sort of sneaked into the came sort of spread from baseball, to film, you know, criminal behavior, medicine, like everything can be quantified, and it’s just, it’s just not true.
James Taylor 10:52
And in the book, you mentioned a book, I actually going back and reading it again, because it’s you mentioned, Robert McKee story, which is, you know, this idea that there’s these, there’s only a few main stories, and they have a similar story arcs. And if you just plug it into that, and then from there, I actually ended up watching adaptation, the movie Nicolas Cage movie, where it’s kind of the story about, you know, the create human creativity versus they just doing it by the numbers painting by the numbers as well. And so movie people don’t know about Rob McKee story maybe worth considering what that is. And, and I think maybe you mentioned that, and maybe the reason I watch adaptations, you mentioned it in the book. Yeah. So and it was this push, and at the end of it, it was it seemed to fall in the case that you should kind of go with the tried and tested route. It was I was gonna get excited by the end of the movie, but so did you get different take on on that concept of painting by the numbers?
Chris Jones 11:52
It’s, it’s so I also find this incredibly depressing because i i screenwriting, and the fact is, there are only a certain number of stories. And once you start screenwriting, for a living, and you watch, you can pretty clearly figure out what’s going on. Because there is a set, there’s almost a template that a lot of movies follow movies, in particular, TV is sort of a more creative form. But movies in particular, usually three acts. At the end of the first act, we’re just like 20 minutes into the movie, there’ll be some inciting incident that gets joined, or something changes for the character. The end of Act Two is usually some kind of you think they’re about to succeed under some kind of terrible setback. And then act three is they conquer, you know, whatever the setback was, in some satisfying way. And that’s, that’s a very standard structure for film. What I tried to say in the book is that, yes, most movies are made that way. And if you’re a novice screenwriter, just learning how to do it, it’s probably not a bad idea to follow the template. It’s, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s hard to take big swings when you’re new at something and no one is going to take a chance on you to make a movie when, unless you’re like a pure genius, and you come up with something incredible, then you’re you’re you’re better off sort of following numbers. But there comes a point when with your skill and talent, you can start to veer away from sort of the paint by numbers approach and make something more beautiful. And it might have some of the basic elements of filming or songwriting is another good example where verse chorus, verse chorus, bridge chorus is a pretty standard structure for a song and a lot of great songs are written that way. But maybe you can do something a little different. Once you it’s like, it’s like, I remember I had an English teacher always used to say, you have to learn the rules before you can break them. And that’s that’s sort of what I sort of discovered when it came to things like screenwriting. It’s not true for everything but screenwriting in particular,
James Taylor 13:46
but there are movies in music like punk music, for example, that went dead against that, no, I’m not gonna learn the rules I’m just gonna go in and it was a freshness about it whether you like punk or not you there was an energy there was a freshness about it as well. And it feels and it maybe it’s a little bit just now it feels like we’re getting so pushed down in terms of the analytics and that kind of the quantifiable self is losing a little bit of the the humanity and things well, maybe maybe I’m just kind of old fashioned.
Chris Jones 14:14
No, I think you’re right. I mean, I feel very passionately about the film industry and was last time you saw movie that really knocked you on your ass. Well, yeah,
James Taylor 14:23
actually most most of his TV and you mentioned because TV can take a little bit of a slightly we just watched afterlife on Netflix. We could you have as a show, and he kind of goes in different directions and there’s a heart and there’s a there’s a soul to it. But it’s and you can absolutely understand why so many TV, film houses now they they do sequels because it’s they’ve they’ve sunk costs in version one. And they can go time and time again. So they can do that. But I kind of wonder where it doesn’t really take us too far.
Chris Jones 14:56
It does something like afterlife is a great example of what I’m talking about. We’re He Gervais couldn’t have made that show 20 years ago, I don’t expect. I suspect he would admit that. Yeah, that has taken years of TV making and storytelling and joke telling to make that for him to be able to make that show, which I would argue is the best thing he’s made. And it does veer from traditional TV and a lot of ways but TV is. First of all, he’s Ricky Gervais. He’s got more rope than most of us get and he TVs is cheaper and easier to find. It’s just just there’s more demand for TV right now than film and you’re allowed to take bigger swings, just moviemaking right now. I mean, it’s it’s Marvel, just comic book movies with sequels, it’s because people will probably go see those. So if you the thing I always try to remember and I hate to think of it this way. moviemaking is a business. The people who make movies are in it to make money. Yeah, they want to make some art, but they want to make money. And so if the movie going audience goes, I’ll go see black widow 19. Or I’ll go see Spider Man 26. Like, okay, then I’ll make that for you. I’m making as well as I can. But I’m gonna make you that. And hopefully you’ll like it. But something like TV like afterlife is a great example of, for me of The Eye Test is someone who is smart and creative at the height of their powers as that earn confidence to make something original and beautiful. And there’s no analytics, there’s no mainframe in a world that would have predicted that people would watch afterlife, or that could have made afterlife. That’s an exclusively human enterprise. It’s beautiful.
James Taylor 16:39
And the other thing I kind of felt there was this kind of tension you kind of pull on throughout the course of the book. This is a test about you know, the, the human side the kind of more we think analytical whether it’s you know, machines side as well. And it kind of playing around with a little bit there was that movie The Big night. And the name of the the director, the actor and director was great movie. And it was this the two characters and second Primo and secondo. They’re they’re making this these two chefs and, and it’s almost like that tension between the art and the marketing, the art, the art and machine as well. But as I was kind of thinking about that it kind of made me think about this idea of of kind of creative peers and Duo’s. You mentioned Ricky Gervais then so we will talk about recovery. So Stephen Merchant. Yeah, the office recently had that that kind of creative pen is something you hear a lot Jobs and Wozniak Glenda McCartney, and I’m wondering, in your own creative work as a writer, is there someone that you have actors that collaborated that creative peer for you?
Chris Jones 17:44
Yeah, my magazine writing career was a was essentially a duo. And I feel bad that only my name was on top of the stories. I had an editor named Peter, who was Yoda. And the incredible thing about Peter is that he would confess really quickly that he’s not a good writer. So a lot of times writers become editors, and vice versa. Peter was an editor. And I’m a terrible editor. I’m a writer, he would see things and I would get so mad sometimes, because I would send them a story. And he would go, Well,
James Taylor 18:19
what if we did this? And I’d be like, of course, of course,
Chris Jones 18:23
we do that. And I was a professional writer. I’ve been doing it for, you know, 15 years? Why didn’t I see that. But it’s something about how Peter read, and how he looked at story. And he would just see solutions. He would suggest things early on in a story process. And I would think to myself, that’s insane. Like, I’m not going to do that. But then it would sort of filter in would find a home in my brain and I would start going home. Maybe I try that like Peters never wrong. Maybe I try that. And it wouldn’t work. And it was just, you know, I wouldn’t you mentioned off topic very kindly, I might try one of these two National Magazine Awards, both of those stories. Peter made significant editorial suggestions that are the reasons they won the award, they wouldn’t have won the awards. And so, you know, young writers always think that editors are there to meddle. They’re there to mess up. They’re gonna screw up my stories are the gatekeeper that’s preventing me from being great. Peter helped me be the best I could be. And, and without him, I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. And I think teamwork. It’s interesting. We’re talking about agent later today about a sequel to the success based on creative teams. And just sometimes teamwork does a group work in school, but sometimes horrible. I don’t know about you, but I usually ended up being the hardest worker in a group and carrying the load and it’s really frustrating for me. But great teams can make incredible things like most TV is Ricky Gervais is the
James Taylor 19:51
so your editor was almost he had a bit of that. That embodied analysis that you’re kind of talking about the heat because you’ve done that What often when we’ve had people on the show before with, you can find behind that person there is another person and his team is judo. The the word that comes up a lot is the word Trust, or having a trusting relationship. And so something like like that editor, how long did it take you to trust each other?
Chris Jones 20:20
It took a took a bit, because I was quite young, when I joined with Peter and I had that sort of arrogant idea that my writing was sacrosanct. And I mean, a terrible way of thinking, but when you’re young, you’re stupid. And what happened was, you can’t sort of go trust me, you just sort of do the work. And I started to see what Peter was bringing to the equation. And I’m really liking what he was doing to my stories. And I think he could see that I really wanted to do good work. And he would trust me to do the work. I mean, magazine, writing, journalism is a faith based exercise, almost every step of the way of getting someone to talk to you getting a source to trust you, they’re trusting you that you’re going to tell the story, right, you’re trusting them that they are telling you the truth, then the writer editor relationship, the the publication reader relationship is all matrix of faith. It’s just, I’m trusting and choosing to trust you, in Peters case, and vice versa, with Peter and me, I hope I think we earn each other’s trust. And it took a little bit it didn’t take decades, it took a year or two. But But we got to that beautiful point in partnership, when you know, shorthand was just, we would finish sentences for each other, we didn’t even really have to say much it was it was. And it was also I shouldn’t say, Well, I liked it very much was a pretty strictly professional relationship. Like we didn’t live in the same city, we’ve hung out socially, sort of a handful of times. It was very workman like, in a lot of ways and, and I recognize like, I will spend the rest of my life searching for a partnership like that, like he was he was the perfect partner for me.
James Taylor 22:09
So a lot younger records today, I guess it’s a doing mock up article based work there. They don’t have that, that creative pairing. And I hear a lot of writers, younger writers are saying that thing that’s getting pushed on them a lot is the number of views of that article that page. And that’s almost like the analytics bit the quarter that kind of called our analytics bit. But and there’s a there’s also a, there’s a hardness to it, because that number is not going to tell you how to write a better article unnecessarily. It’s just a kind of a cool dump. And you’re left to kind of fend for yourself as to figure out what you have to do. And maybe it’s the it’s gonna take you down a wrong path.
Chris Jones 22:53
So I hate the influence of analytics on on journalism. It’s made demonstrably worse. I’m it’s it’s, you know, the importance of views, clicks, likes all that nonsense. It’s just it’s it’s wounded the business and sort of ways that I don’t know how we get it back. And that’s sort of I think the overarching message of the book in some ways is, is this the path we really want to be on? Should we hit pause here and make some changes? Because I’m not sure we’re going in the right direction and a lot of ways and what you were talking about, you know, we had two kinds of analytics, we that they would tell us when people stopped reading stories, for instance, on page three, you lost 12% of your readers. Oh, great. You know, and you would try to do better. The other thing is it encourages you. The two things that sparked engagement are anger and fear. So it encourages you to locate extremes, to cater to a stream you want, you know, we were talking that there was a brief period where I worked for another place where there was some talk of you getting paid by the views. And I was like, Oh, you want me to write something that gets attention. I can write something super racist. I can write something super sexist, that’ll get some traffic. You know, it’s like it’s it’s, it’s it’s sort of the lowest common denominator approach. And it’s, it’s, it’s bad for journalism. It’s just it’s, it doesn’t encourage smart thinking. It doesn’t encourage nuance. It doesn’t encourage doubt or uncertainty, which are valuable. It leads to black and white thinking that leads to extremes that leads to polarization. It’s everything that we see in society. I think a lot of it you can blame on like our lives being governed by our Facebook. Facebook is demonstrably bad for us. As a society, it hurts people and it’s because they want you to be engaged. fear and anger. And away you go. It’s just it’s bad. It’s might be good for business. It’s bad for people.
Analysis And Creativity
James Taylor 24:53
As you’re coming back to the kind of, I guess the humanistic side. You mentioned about your next work being around teams. You read a lot Sports in the book, other examples that you’ve seen where sports teams have been able to combine that the analytics, the creativity and the teamwork into a really nice mesh, Liverpool,
Chris Jones 25:16
Liverpool are sort of the platonic ideal of that. They have. They have a physicist and Dr. Ian Graham on their staff, who does not watch football.
James Taylor 25:29
He says, I’m my kind of guy.
Chris Jones 25:32
He won’t, he’s like, it’ll bias me, I don’t need to see it. He has a database of allegedly over 100,000 players. He knows what they’re good at. He’s the one who convinced Liverpool to hire Juergen Klopp in the first place, because he looked at Dortmund’s results saw that they weren’t awesome but also saw how Locke had sort of played against them in a lot of ways he was like Juergen Klopp, is better than you think he is. And then they bring in your again and Juergen is, obviously listens to Dr. Graham, but he also has his own embodied analysis about how football should be played, he’s evolved the fullback position, your country and Andy Robertson has become sort of an integral part of the attack. He’s also just the kind of guy who would run through a wall for those players clearly loved him, and will do anything to win for him. And that, that sort of chemistry that that lightning catching, that’s, that’s the human part of the Liverpool equation. So they’ve got this, they’ve got this extremely analytical component, you know, their owners, also on the Boston Red Sox, which is one of the most analytical baseball teams in North America. But then they’re led by this charismatic, intuitive, slashing speed metal, German, and that is just an awesome, potent combination. They won their first title in 30 years. It’s because I don’t think one could have done it with the other without the other, I think it was, it was that combination of the best parts, both tools that allowed them to succeed.
James Taylor 27:01
So yes, it’s almost impossible for one individual, one human to embody all of these things. But that’s why you can need that team, you can sort of like archetypes in a team, you can add these different things. And you can add these different ingredients into the mix.
Chris Jones 27:16
Yeah, it’s hard to be all of the things because creative people tend not to be particularly mathematical, or they’re creative in a very, like numerator of Word, which is also its own kind of beauty. Like, that’s a beautiful mind. But it’s hard to be, it’s hard to be everything. And that’s, that’s kind of basically the case of the book is analytics, it’s hard to be everything. Analytics cannot be the solution to every problem. It’s just not, we wouldn’t use a hammer for every situation. It’s just it. And I hesitate. Like, I worry that people are gonna go off the ante. Moneyball. It’s not sometimes analytics are the best way to make a decision. But you have to be it takes a human to go oh, this is when we employ this. And this is when adequate by what’s going on here. We need to do
James Taylor 27:59
this. We had mathematics professor at Oxford University, Marcus du Sautoy, on and he was talking about, in his great book, creativity code, he was talking about how, with the Turing test, we almost set the bar too low. on artificial intelligence, he said it needed to be able to imitate humans to point you couldn’t recognize the difference. And he said, Really, the person we should be looking to is Ada Lovelace when they can original coders, I guess, you know, from the Victorian age. And she was a nun. And that’s, that’s really not what it’s about, it should be about, that a machine can create a new art form, you know, create a new thing that we can do. And, and, and, and what he was saying, you know, until this machines can feel some of those emotions that you’re expressing that that, you know, the anger, hatred, that that sadness, that all those things that we go through as humans, it’s going to be very, very difficult for it to be able to can imitate incredibly well. And the analytic side helps it kind of do that, but to create that new form, that new thing that that, that using this, that imagination is is a more challenging endeavor, your imagination
Chris Jones 29:03
is our biggest strength. And you know, that’s that’s the thing that, you know, I open a book with a quote from Einstein about knowledge and imagination, where he’s give me imagination, because knowledge is limited, but your imagination is not. And that’s where machines, I still think that’s where we outrun machines is we, we can see things that machines can’t see because they’re programmed to think a particular way. They’re not self correcting, which I think is what someone like ADA would wish for them to be, they would go, Oh, I’m making a mistake. I need to not do it this way. Machines tend not to do that. People are the ones who sort of self analyze people are the ones who go, oh, this situation is not something we’ve seen before. But I trust what I’m seeing because it’s in front of my face. You know, that’s happening now with climate. There’s storms that we haven’t seen before. And the models have a really hard time predicting, because data mining is based on past performance, replicating itself into the future. Climate is an example where it’s not doing that anymore. More, only people can look outside and go, Ooh, that’s a real doozy. It’s like, the machines that so the imagination is for me, is our greatest strength. It’s the thing that we have that machines up to this point, don’t have.
James Taylor 30:18
Imagination is our greatest strength in and you consider your greatest strengths. How do you keep your own thinking fresh? What influences Do you try to surround yourself with? And also environment? I mean, I believe you live on a lake over there and Canada as well. What role does environment in terms of keeping your your inspiration your kind of imagination fresh?
Chris Jones 30:39
It’s for me, it’s always been about. I don’t want this to sound egotistical because for me, it’s always been about curiosity. It’s always asking questions and training yourself to never look at a situation and just accept it for what it is always ask, like, why is that that way, and, you know, working for Esquire for as long as I did, you know, ideas, story ideas, were the hardest part of the process. You always had to find something that would sustain like a four or five 6000 word piece that didn’t have to come up tomorrow. So it can be breaking news, it had to be sort of a law that no one else was doing because you needed time to it was really tricky to come up with good magazine stories. And that sort of I trained myself to just constantly, oh, why is that? And something as simple you know, I know, I’m a voracious reader, and I’ll read something. I’ll go, Damon, I should have thought of that. Like, it’s John McPhee is a writer for The New Yorker who does amazing stories, but the most ordinary things like he did this great story about how FedEx delivers a package. And it’s fascinating, because when you think about FedEx, we will get that there tomorrow. Now, if it was just one package, that’s something. It’s millions of packages. And it’s a crazy system. And it’s incredible. It’s fascinating. You wrote a whole book about Orange. Orange industry is super interesting. It’s like I’m eating this orange, how can I be eating this orange? I grew up in Florida, how did it get to me like, so I have just trained myself to constantly go, Oh, why is that? And doesn’t have to be that way. But environment is huge inspiration from other people. I like to teach I like to talk to classes, you get so much back from students will ask questions and see things a different way. Writing reading now, as I am doing more screenwriting, I’m constantly watching television, I’m constantly watching movies, and I will see moments where I’ll just go off, that’s fantastic. I want to do something like that. And that’s, that’s where you get it from, I don’t get it from being sort of inside yourself, you have to be open to the world. And it takes some mindful process where you just constantly I gotta be open, I have to be open, I have
James Taylor 32:52
to go. So I’m often intrigued why Canada for a country with a relatively small population produces so many creative individuals at such a high level, whether it’s in music, the arts, loads of different areas, writers are so many great races come from, from Canada. And part of me thinks it must be the weather, you know, you’ve got a similar kind of weather to it and scan in like that here in Scotland or Scandinavia, where it’s cold a lot of the year, so you stay inside. And I often have this this lovely imagination of myself being able to go and sit in a lovely beach in the Caribbean and sit there writing, but my wife always wakes me up to the reality of what that would really be, which said, you will get no work done. You wouldn’t do anything. You said you need this type of environment. So So do you think actually maybe claimer has maybe a bigger part to play in our creativity than we necessarily think?
Chris Jones 33:46
I do. I you know, again, we’re now we’re entering the realm of narrative. I don’t have any statistics to back up my assertions. But my sense is that winter in Canada is a very creative time. Because you are inside it’s dark. And you find sources of light and hope elsewhere. You don’t have the sun to rely on. And so you, you, you consume, and you think you spent a lot of time thinking it’s like the summer I consider June July, August to be sort of my off time. And that’s when I try to devote that to my children’s sports and I coach and things like that and but the winter is my work time. And that’s really when creative things start to happen. You can see it in music scenes in America. A lot of great music scenes are often in towns with terrible weather. Seattle rainy Apalis Yeah, you know, Athens, Georgia is hot as balls in the summer. You know, there’s just it’s often associated with Scotland. I mean, think of the bands that are part of Scotland. Fantastic music and it’s just it’s I think the weather does have something
James Taylor 35:00
So, now coming back to where we can start talking about technology. Are there are there any technologies that really kind of free you up for doing the kind of creative work you do? Or perhaps augment the work you do as a writer?
Chris Jones 35:15
So, this is where you, you know, this is where you expose me. I am a Luddite. I am I have a very old MacBook. I have a brand new one that I’m refusing to use because it doesn’t it does things differently than the way I like. I will say that I could not have written in the typewriter era because I do too much cutting and pasting. I don’t outline. So I’m a writer who moves pieces around and without cut and paste I would have been lost I think, but as far as technology goes with what I choose to do with what I do, there’s not a lot of technological influence i
James Taylor 35:59
What about software but 10 of screenwriters leave the office a lot of screenwriting or the use of Final Draft Yeah. And use that for your when you came to your article more you’re you’re kind of squire writing, you’re using more word type God’s word.
Chris Jones 36:12
Yeah, that’s like the only my little tip that I one thing I do and this will make me sound like a weirdo but I there’s a little note at the end of the book about this I write and Garamond so Microsoft Word I can’t remember what the baseline scientists can please
James Taylor 36:31
help. It may be I think it’s area law times area.
Chris Jones 36:35
No, sir. It’s like a fight without tariffs to me is like, no offense to your logo, but I like I, I,
James Taylor 36:45
the romantic and you
Chris Jones 36:47
romantic me. So I try to make my writing on a computer experience speed pretty close to writing as close as I can make it to writing manually. And if you switch, I have found that switching my font to Garamond makes me careful. slows me down. It’s a really beautiful font. It makes your words seem valuable. And it’s an how they fit on the page really starts to matter. And when I’m screenwriting, your listeners who have never looked at a script, a script has a lot of whitespace it’s just you know, scripts are entirely dialogue driven almost there’s not a lot of words on a page. I like to make them look nice. On the page. I like for scenes to end at the end of the page I like I’d like for paragraphs to fit nicely. Like I for me writing is is a manual art in a lot of ways and that’s that I try to I think that helps me be creative too. I would never write in Helvetica
James Taylor 37:42
does it distress you when you go on set and you see actors with all their notes and this scribbles that marginalia? Oh, no, because
Chris Jones 37:50
maybe it’s good. It was helpful. I wouldn’t do one of those. But I know a lot of people were like, the words are sacrosanct. Peter taught me that sometimes that outside input you know, there’s a great I am if you have seen the end of succession, please don’t tell me anything about it.
James Taylor 38:05
I’m on so I haven’t seen it either. So
Chris Jones 38:08
I have I there’s a great character. There’s recently a New Yorker story written about Jeremy strong who plays one of the main characters Kendall Roy, and there’s a restaurant scene where he was to eat a Waldorf salad. And apparently, Jeremy strong gets deep into the character and he was like he would never eat a Waldorf salad and they had an argument on the set about he would never eat that and they ended up with shaved fennel, che che fennel salad with a vinaigrette. And that’s his and it’s perfect that’s exactly what this if you don’t if you haven’t seen the show, just trust me that that’s exactly what this character would be. And it took him going I don’t know about that and then a little give and take and then they settled on the right thing and it’s that’s a very human people invested in what they’re doing care passionate just accounts and and yeah get these seems like a very small thing. But that accumulation of very small things has made for a very entertaining show as that’s true of most creative work it’s an accumulation of of discipline and care and every word count
James Taylor 39:11
I think it machine would struggle on the analytics that put a little something like that it’s annouanced like that and Chris Jones The Eye Test: A Case for Human Creativity in the Age of Analytics is out now. I will put a link to it if people want to learn more about you and your your other writing your other work. Where’s the best place to go and do that? Well,
Chris Jones 39:26
like we’ve explained, I’m a Luddite but I do participate in one social media and that is Twitter. Where my handle is N swell Jones, e n s w e l l Jones, which is because Chris Jones has a horrible name. My parents were not creative when it came to that and an N swell is a boxing tool that they use to take down the swelling. So it’s like a cold piece of metal that you see them press against boxers to take down bruising and swelling. And I am trying to provide an antidote to social medias doom and gloom. I tried to take down the swelling So Twitter is my only that is that is that is my that’s the only place I surfaced on the internet.
James Taylor 40:07
Chris Jones, thank you so much for coming on today sharing some of the ideas in The Eye Test been a pleasure having you on the SuperCreativity podcast. Thank you so much for having me, James. You can subscribe to the SuperCreativity podcast on Spotify, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcast while you’re there. Please leave us a review. I would really really appreciate it. I’m James Taylor. I knew I’ve been listening to the SuperCreativity podcast