The Power of Focus

23:23 Fri 17 Aug 2007. Updated: 00:24 18 Aug 2007
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Focus can achieve some rather amazing things. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine mentioned a linguist in Berkeley who knows (apparently to a relatively high standard) over ninety languages. Part of the key to this rather amazing feat was the fact that he spent several years in Korea doing nothing but eating, sleeping, exercising, teaching occasional classes, and being what he termed a “language monk”—that is, spending the rest of the time on language learning. Since his teaching was in linguistics, it didn’t distract him from his main focus, and he hence learned at a prodigious rate.

I was also reminded of this by the discovery of this Star Wars fan-produced lightsaber duel. With obsessive focus, people can create rather impressive creations.

There are more impressive examples of focus, of course, like many works of “great art”, but there’s something about the ability of amateurs to achieve this level that I find inspirational. Even outside day jobs, concentration on a single project can come up with excellent results, especially when more than one person is involved. (I don’t have to look too far for examples.)

The sharp drop in the cost of entry for music and video (and photography) production has made it possible for far more people to enter this arena, and I think the effects of this will continue to alter the cultural landscape significantly. Particularly since these modes of creativity are amenable to the kind of frenzied concentration that has long been present in letters (and other media, but to a lesser extent)—unknown lone writers have long scribbled into the night on these obsessive projects. Now the majority of animators and video editors can do the same thing, and they are.

I think it’s also easier for people to collaborate now, and the technology helps that also. I’m not sure where the numbers diffuse the focus instead of amplifying it, but small groups can certainly work well together to make amazing things (in fact, Burning Man is probably a shining example of just this, and there are plenty of others).

Personally, focus is tough for me. I know I can sustain it for a while, and produce quite a lot, but over the long term it seems tough. Tough to actually bring things to completion, anyway. Starting is hard, finishing is hard, and the bit in the middle is only easier if you’re in that focused groove… but with perseverance, you might end up with a kick-ass lightsaber duel, a new language or two, 19 hours of cult television, or a statistics-tracking website. Or a novel.

One Response to “The Power of Focus”

  1. Brett Says:

    Speaking of focus and fan art, check this out: http://wonderdasher.blog.sohu.com/59275208.html

    Fairly mind-blowing. There’s a great story part-way down the page.

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