Usarin and I meet once a month for our book club – we pick a new book at the beginning of each month, and, depending on our schedules, meet either on the last Saturday of that month, or the first Saturday of the following month, to share our thoughts and discuss key lessons from the book.
Our book in February was “How To Fly A Horse” by Kevin Ashton. (Yes, this post comes to you a little later than intended.)
Before I delve into a review and summary of this great book, first a little about the venue we chose for our book club meeting.
We decided to venture away from our usual “Western cafe” haunts to a traditional Chinese teahouse in Outram Park. Although Tea Chapter has been around since 1989, making it one of the oldest teahouses in Singapore, this was my first time here, and I’m sure it won’t be my last!
There are 3 levels at Tea Chapter – each with a different style.
This is the table Queen Elizabeth II sat at when she visited Singapore in 1989 – they even had this photo of her on the wall sipping Chinese tea at this very same spot.
The paintings on the wall don’t match up to the ones in the photo (did you notice that too?), but I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the paintings were replaced at some point in the last 26 years.
Usarin and I sat at the table right next to Queen Elizabeth’s corner as we didn’t want to pay the additional $10 for a table 4 steps away (~ And we’ll never be royals ~)
Making our way upstairs…
To fuel our brain and our stomach before the book discussion, Usarin and I ordered a bowl of Dragon Well noodles which was cooked with green tea leaves. It has a healthy, light taste, which I loved and was perfect for my Cantonese palate!
In addition to tea-inspired food, Tea Chapter also offers a wide selection of tea, and Usarin and I were so spoilt for choice it took us at least 15min to decide which we wanted – “Should we get the green tea? or the oolong? Ooo… the white tea sounds good.” We finally went with the Imperial Golden Cassia green tea, which is what Queen Elizabeth had when she was here – we figured if it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for us!
If it’s your first time at a Chinese teahouse, and you’re as clueless as we were about brewing Chinese tea, don’t be intimidated as the friendly staff are more than willing to provide an orientation for new customers.
The lady in the photo above is one of the founders of the teahouse, and she gave us an introduction to Chinese loose tea brewing and drinking:
- Warm the teapot and cups with freshly boiled hot water.
- Add tea leaves into teapot until 1/3 full, fill remaining 2/3 with hot water.
- Brew first pot of tea for 30sec and discard (that’s what the big white bowl is used for).
- Brew subsequent pots of tea for 30-45sec depending on your preference (this timing applies only to green tea)
- Pour brewed tea from the teapot into the “fair cup” (the white pitcher) to ensure the density of the tea is consistent throughout before serving in tea cups.
- Each cup of tea should be drank in 3 sips (instead of one big gulp), and between each sip, we smell the fragrance notes; before sipping- “hot fragrance (热香)”, after first sip – “warm fragrance (温香)”, when empty – “cool fragrance (冷香)”. -> Of all the steps listed here, I found this one most interesting!
- To fully appreciate the flavours, each sip should also be swirled in your mouth (like wine) so the tea touches your tongue and palate.
We were also told that Chinese tea enthusiasts prefer using Yixing purple sand teapot (宜兴紫砂茶壶) as the material is insulated, preserving heat and retaining the aroma and flavors of the tea. With each time the teapot is used, the clay also absorbs the essential oils released by the tea leaves – you can’t really see this from the photos I took, but the body of the teapot is glossy, while the lid is matte. Who would have known, right?
We arrived at this place expecting to drink some quality Chinese tea over a book discussion, but the experience at Tea Chapter truly exceeded my expectations, and I left feeling a little more cultured and knowledgeable.
“A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Address: 9 & 11 Neil Road, Singapore 088808
Contact: (+65) 6226 1175 / (+65) 6226 1917
Tea House Business Hours
Sun – Thurs: 11.00 am to 10.30pm
Fri – Sat, Public Holiday & Eve: 11.00 am to 11.00 pm
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (5 out of 5)
I absolutely loved this book! This is NOT another book on “how to be creative” (the world has too many of those now), but one that focuses on the creation process of past creators/inventors, the resistance they faced, and how they overcame it. The in-depth research that went into this book is evident in the anecdotes he shares – with examples from the arts, science, business – and though a little long-winded at times, these stories really help make his main points stick. I’m inspired not only by the book’s content, but also by the beautiful way Kevin expresses his thoughts. Oh, if only I could be half as good a writer as he is!
Here are my key take-aways from “How To Fly A Horse” :-
CHAPTER 1 | CREATING IS ORDINARY
- The ability of humans to change anything and the thought that “I can make this better” was the change that changed everything.
- Creating is not extraordinary, even if its results sometimes are. Creation is human. Creating is innate, ordinary, and for everybody. We all have creative minds.
- Creative thinking is simply a special kind of problem-solving behaviour characterised by novelty, unconventionality, persistence, and difficulty in problem formulation.
- Genius does not predict creative ability because it is not a prerequisite.
- Creation comes from ordinary acts. Creating is an ordinary act, creation its extraordinary outcome.
- Creation is destination, the consequence of acts that appear inconsequential by themselves but that, when accumulated, change the world.
- Work is the soul of creation. All that is necessary is to begin.
CHAPTER 2 | THINKING IS LIKE WALKING
- Thinking is finding a way to achieve a goal that cannot be attained by an obvious action.
- Steps, not leaps – Creating is taking steps, not making leaps: find a problem, solve it, and repeat. Most steps wins. The best artists, scientists, engineers, investors, entrepreneurs, and other creators are the ones who keep taking steps by finding new problems, new solutions, and then new problems again. The root of innovation is exactly the dames as it was when our species was born: looking at something and thinking, “I can make this better”.
- Creations starts with 2 questions: 1. Why doesn’t it work? 2. What should I change to make it work?
- “Incubation period” has been proven to be a myth.
- “Brainstorming” is not as effective for creation as we think – The best way to create is to work alone and evaluate solutions as they occur. The worst way to create is to work in large groups and defer criticism.
- The creativity myth confuses having ideas with the actual work of creating. Having ideas is not the same thing as being creative. Many people have ideas, few take the steps to make the thing they imagine. Creation is execution, not inspiration.
- Even in a lifetime of art, creation is a continuum. Creating is the result of thinking like walking. Left foot, problem. Right foot, solution. Repeat until you arrive. It is not the size of your strides that determine your success but how many you take. Ordinary thinking leads to creation.
CHAPTER 3 | EXPECT ADVERSITY
- Creation is not a moment of inspiration, but a lifetime of endurance.
- Creating is more monotony than adventure.
- Creation is a long journey where most turns are wrong and most ends are dead.
- The most important thing creators do is work. The most important thing they don’t do is quit.
- If your idea succeeds, everybody says you’re persistent. If it doesn’t succeed, you’re stubborn.
- Creators must be willing to fail and repeat until they find the step that arrives at success. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
- Time is the raw material of creation. Creators spend all their time on the work of creation. Creators do not ask how much time something takes but how much creation it costs. Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. Saying “no” guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. You have less time than you think and need more time than you know.
- Creators must expect rejection. But rejecters are nearly always sincere. they want to stop wrong and dangerous thinking. They believe they’re right, and they usually are. Rejection has value.
- Rejecting is a reflex. Decision makers and authority figures in business, science, and government all say they value creation, but when tested, they do not value creators. Why? Because people who are more creative also tend to be more playful, unconventional and unpredictable, and all that makes them harder to control. No matter how much we say we value creation, deep down, most of us value control more. And so we fear change and favour familiarity. We do not only reject other people’s creative instincts; often, we reject our own too.
- The creation is not the creator. Great creators do not extend their belief in themselves to their work.
- Creators look at their work even more deeply than other people will. The best step forward is often a step back – to scrutinise, analyse, and assess, to find faults and flaws, to challenge and to change.
- Never have a failure in public that you could have in private. Private failures are faster, cheaper and less painful.
CHAPTER 4 | HOW WE SEE
- “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact” – Sherlock Holmes
- Experience is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating.
- Experts do not think less; they think more efficiently. The practical brain eliminates poor solutions so quickly that they barely reach the attention of the conscious mind. Expertise is efficiency: experts use fewer problem-solution loops because experts do not consider unlikely solutions. Which means “selective attention” is another way of saying “obvious facts”. Developing expertise is essential, but it can block us from seeing the unexpected. Becoming an expert is only the first step to becoming creative. The second step is becoming a beginner.
- In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.
- “Why didn’t I think of that?” is a beginner’s mind. To see the unexpected, expect nothing.
- Paradigm shift – when we change what has meaning, we change what we see. Know what you assume, why, and when to suspend your assumptions.
- Confidence is a belief in yourself. Certainty is belief in your beliefs. Confidence is a bridge. Certainty is a barricade.
- False certainty is common in everyday life, and being shown wrong does not stop us from feeling certain. Make an enemy of certainly and berried doubt. When you can change your mind, you can change anything.
CHAPTER 5 | WHEN CREDIT IS DUE
- The Harriet Effect – The world tends to give the credit to already famous people. The person who is known best in the group, or who is from a “superior” group is given an inordinate amount of credit.
- “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giant.” – Isaac Newton
CHAPTER 6 | CHAINS OF CONSEQUENCE
- Chains of tools have chains of consequences as creators we can anticipate some of these consequences and if they are bad, we should take steps to prevent them up to and including creating something else instead. What we cannot do is stop creating. The answer to invention’s problems is not less invention, but more. Invention is an act of infinite and imperfect iterations, new solutions beget new problems, which beget new solutions. We will always make things better. We will never make them best. We should not expect to anticipate all the consequences of our creations or even most of them, good or bad. We have a different responsibility: to actively seek those consequences out, discover them as soon as possible and, if they are bad, do what creators do best: welcome them as new problems to solve.
CHAPTER 7 | THE GAS IN YOUR TANK – PASSION
- Prizes are not always carrots of creation. Sometimes, they can inhibit and impair.
- Great creators work whether they feel like it or not, whether they are in the mood or not, whether they are inspired or not. Be chronic, not acute. Success doesn’t strike; it accumulates.
- “I’ve found over the years that any momentary change stimulates a fresh burst of mental energy. It’s such a help to change the atmosphere.” – Woody Allen
- Passion is the most extreme state of choice without reward. Or rather, it is its own reward. an energy that is indifferent to outcomes. Passion is energy. Use your passion as the courage to create.
CHAPTER 8 | CREATING ORGANIZATIONS
- Small, isolated, highly motivated group is the best kind of organisational team for creation
- Creative organisation does not resent conflicts over concepts, it resolves them.
- Partners create together by helping each other create individually. Creative partnerships are not hierarchical, hence little or no energy is expended on dominance rituals.
- Organisations are made of people interacting, and it organises everyday human interactions.
- Organisations are made of rituals – millions of small, moments-long transactions between individuals within groups – and it is these rituals that determine how much an organisation creates.
- The most creative organisations prioritise rituals of doing; the least creative organisations prioritise rituals of saying in the forms of meetings.
- Creation is action, not conversation. Creative organisations have more “doing” than meetings, and more external meetings than internal meetings.
- Have high expectations about what and few expectations about how because nothing ever goes according to plan.
CHAPTER 9 | GOOD-BYE, GENIUS
- Genius is a myth.
- Creation is contribution. We must create for creation’s sake, trust that our creations may have impacts we cannot foresee, and know that often the greatest contributions are the ones with the most unimaginable consequences.
- The chain of creation is many links long, and every link – each one a person creating – is essential. All stories of creators tell the same truths; that everything right with us can fix anything wrong with us; and that progress is not an inevitable consequences but an individual choice. Necessity is not the mother of invention. You are.