A Pond, Not a River

Alright Internet, it’s been a helluva week. My post (ostensibly) about paid apps has been read by over 13,000 people and shared by dozens. I am full of gratitude and appreciation. There’s already an outline for a sequel that is geared more towards the developer side of the app market, but that will have to wait until my RSI-like problems begin to alleviate.1

A confession: there is one phrase in the aforementioned article that I thought meant something entirely different than what it turned out to mean. Here’s the relevant snippet from my piece:

The impending yearly car test, why do you need to remember when that is? The house insurance you need to renew, the phone call you promised to make for a friend, your mobile plan expiring soon, the meeting you just agreed to. You think you don’t spend time thinking about these little, mundane bits, but they are there, accumulating brain-cruft at the back of your head, not letting you achieve a “mind like water”.

“Mind like water” is a simile which David Allen mentions in his book about the “Getting Things Done” framework. I bought it a few days ago as I’m increasingly intrigued by Allen’s brainchild, and have been considering Omnifocus, an app that’s based upon it.

When I referred to “mind like water”, I was pretty sure “water” was recruited to emphasize flow. It makes sense: an unobstructed mind flows powerfully, like a river. But apparently, the karate master that coined it saw a different image. I really like how Allen describes it in his book:

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness, “mind like water”: imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond, how does the water respond?

The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact, or underreact.

So there you go, a complete opposite of the state I had in mind. And perhaps one that’s appealing even more.

Bonus: an excellent, actionable essay on designing metaphors.


  1. I’ve been employing Siri for my reminders, and to “write” this post, I’m using Yosemite’s built in dictation system. It’s less awful than what I thought it would be, but that’s for another occasion to discuss. ↩︎
Share: Facebook · Twitter · Email

Email This Page


Subscribe: RSS · Newsletter · Twitter