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A conversation with Ron Hale Evans, author of "Mind Performance Hacks"

In my continuing interview series with top people in productivity I'd like to share highlights from a recent conversation with Mind Performance Hacks author Ron Hale-Evans. I'm a big fan of Ron's book, having mentioned it in How To Use The "I'm Not Going To ____" Mind Hack and An Idea (and Question) Dump From The Big-arse Text File. It's loaded with great tips, including (paraphrased):

  • #12 Overcome the Tip of the Tongue Effect: Instead of focusing on the few relevant things that you can remember, it's better to recall as much information about the topic as possible no matter how loosely it is related. For example, if you can't remember the title of a movie, try to remember plots and details from other movies with the same performer as well as what you were doing when you saw the recent film who you were with, etcetera.
  • #14 Write faster using a shorthand hack called Dutton Speedwords.
  • #22 Scamper for Ideas: It's an acronym, substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate and reverse (from the book Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques).
  • #57 Learn Your Emotional ABCs: The ABC of a model of emotion holds that it is not an activating A event that causes your emotional consequences C, but the linchpin is your invisible beliefs B. You use this in practice to perform a rational self-analysis in the order CABEDF.

    1. Experience emotional consequences C.
    2. Identify the activating event A.
    3. Identify which beliefs B the event filtered through.
    4. Determine what effect E you would have preferred.
    5. To that end dispute D old beliefs and create new ones.
    6. Make plans for further action F.

I won't go into the book's detail here. You can find summaries at Safari Books Online and its O'Reilly page. Of particular interest is his self-management tool (an "exoself"), described in the Google Book Search entry.

Instead I'll focus on Ron, the history of the book, and other parts of his story. As we covered a wide range of ground, I'll structure this as a bulleted list of goodies. Enjoy!

  • Origin of the book: The book emerged from Ron's Mentat Wiki ("thinking without computers"), a project he started to collect thinking about thinking. (Hey, who can avoid circularities?) Ron credits a dozen people for their contributions (including Lion Kimbro, author of How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought you Think [1]), which eventually led to the book via Merlin Mann. Ron says the Wiki structure [2] lead naturally to the more structured format of the book.
  • Book license: While not able to release the book under a more general Creative Commons license, Ron worked out a Founders' Copyright for it (after 18 years). I'm very new to how the different licenses work. Any comments?
  • External factors driving intelligence: I asked Ron what is it about our minds that's so fascinating. He talked about how tools and environments cause us as individuals to stretch our faculties. Two examples are the difficulty of using the vi editor [3], and a drooping economy, which might require taking on additional jobs, which leads to seeking out tools to squeeze more out of our minds. He likens these as puzzles to solve that make us smarter.
  • General Intelligence: He mentioned this term, taken from Greg Egan [4]. Snooping around led to Egan dismisses Singularity, maybe and Levels of Organization in General Intelligence. Neat!
  • Mobile computers: Ron was excited about these, especially the One Laptop per Child project (site here). He's also a fan of ebooks [5], which the OLPC will support. Ron currently uses the ASUS Eee PC ($299 at Amazone) with its bundled FBReader.
  • Information sources: Given the problems of information overload, I was curious how Ron managed to find high-value sources. He admitted blogs and sites are a distraction, and stays on a pretty strict media diet with some of his favorites being Creative Creativity and Kevin Kelly's blog. He says carrying his ebook reader helps focus on what he's previously decided is important. Check out Ron's Delicious account for others.
  • Legos et al.: Ron mentioned a love for construction kits like LEGO and K'NeX, and esp. interconnecting them (a metaphor for many of his interests). Check out WeDo and Sploids. :-)
  • MotivAider: Ron uses one of these gadgets to help his productivity, including as a reminder to check his To Do cards (his "stack") and as a procrastination controller to interrupt wasteful activities like (some!) web surfing. The folks who make it wrote the book Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start, which passed the Scribble Test with flying colors - a bunch of good ideas there.
  • Sci Fi goodness: A few classic ideas from speculative fiction came up including the Fermi paradox, the Drake equation, and Buckminster Fuller's Synergetics. OK, the latter isn't necessarily Sci Fi, but it seems cool anyway. Check out this mind bender:
    It is one of our most exciting discoveries that local discovery leads to a complex of further discoveries. Corollary to this we find that we no sooner get a problem solved than we are overwhelmed with a multiplicity of additional problems in a most beautiful payoff of heretofore unknown, previously unrecognized, and as-yet unsolved problems.

  • The source of ideas: When asked about the best sources for ideas, Ron said that he usually finds that the ideas that inspire him "don't come so much from a single trove of ideas as from the juxtaposition of multiple books or articles with my own ideas or one another." He gives the example of a doctoral thesis on ludology (Games Without Frontiers) and how its concept of metamood could be useful:
    "Metamood accounts for a mental process where individuals experience unpleasant emotions on the object level, but also positive emotions and enjoyment on a meta-emotional level. This is done to achieve other goals and purposes, such as being entertained. Hence, underneath the agony of losing, being scared, or shouting in anger, the player might enjoy the gaming encounter - in similar fashion as a roller-coaster rider enjoys the ride, or a film audience enjoys suspense or horror." (p.36)
    In this case Ron extends it to productivity: "It may be very hard and painful work to do something productive, but on a deeper level, it can be an utter joy. If you can discipline yourself to tap into your happy metamood, you may be more productive because you can somewhat ignore the pain of the task." He calls this collecting and filtering of ideas "meme condensing" - gathering ideas from disparate sources and dumping them together in one place in an organized way - and is how his book came together.
  • Currently reading: Perdido Street Station, Incandescence, Finnegans Wake, The Physics of Christianity, and some of Stanislaw Lem's works.


Ron's next work is a book on games called Games Unboxed covering ones you can play with "standard equipment" - Chess and Checkers sets, a plain deck of cards, coins, etc. Sounds like fun! He's also interested in writing a second edition of "Mind Performance Hacks," but hasn't been approached yet.

Thanks again, Ron.


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