Transcript for Zane Claes

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human experience is in session my guest

tonight is mr. Zane clays Zane welcome

to hxp thank you very much I’m glad to

be here so Zane um I mean your book is

called the joy of craft can you just

walk us through a little bit of your

background how you got to writing this

book sure I studied video game design

and a little bit of neuroscience in

college because I was very interested in

attempting to essentially bring

entertainment and education together and

really create products that and that

made you know just an enjoyable

experience for people but I found that

the more and more I worked on these

things the more I enjoyed the process

rather than the outcome I wasn’t so

concerned with how many people

downloaded or played my games or used my

software but I just really enjoyed

actually building them and even one

person was enough to make it worthwhile

for me and I was really fascinated by

that concept like why was that process

so interesting and so valuable for me

and I started diving into the psychology

and neuroscience of how that works and

what the what the scientists to tell us

about how we engage in dec the arts of

creativity the craftsmanship behind

building things and found that

ultimately a focus on outcome is

somewhat detrimental to the process

itself and paradoxically can actually

hurt the results

yeah that seems like a really wise

standpoint to kind of approach your your

career and what you’re doing so I mean

video games are often viewed as kind of

time wasters by mainstream media but you

you developed a game called or you

created a game called forever maze which

is designed to help people battle

depression how I mean can you tell us

about forever amazed and how you feel it

it counteracts depression sure it’s just

one of many different little experiments

I do with video game design for social

good I’ve mostly focused on games around

learning but this was a little bit into

a different realm as you said it’s about

battling depression I somewhat got the

idea from Jane McGonigle’s work who has

written books like reality is broken and

she’s talked about this sort of using

video games for unexpected and unusual

ways of improving the human experience

so there’s lots of different examples

that we studied in my university at USC

of for example the US government using

games to help soldiers that are going to

or coming back from the battlefield such

as with PTSD and things of that nature

right but there’s there’s many different

ways that you can apply video games to

elicit response responses and people

that kind of go deeper than any sort of

explicit training program so forever

maze while not I wasn’t trying to create

any sort of clinical treatment for fit

for depression but rather kind of create

an allegory for what it feels like to be

depressed having you know met friends

and met people who have gone through

that experience in the game you are in

this endless world where each of the

four tiles in the world are an emotion

they are they form a maze and as you

explore you have to keep these four

emotions in balance and you’re being

chased by depression at the same time

the antagonist and your objection or

judge objective i should say is

to reach one of your friends so your

friends who play the game or actually

scattered around the map and when you

reach one of them you progress to the

next level so the whole thing is just

essentially a note the notion of

building a bridge bridge to your friends

through the emotions that you have and

keeping them in check and keeping an eye

on them because we know that when you

have a mind for your emotional state

mindfulness as we would say right that

you are able to essentially keep them

keep them balanced you’re able to

maintain healthy emotional state yeah

it’s fascinating I mean there’s so

there’s an aspect of forever maze where

you kind of show the benefit of social

community in this way by finding your

friends how how did you use this came to

rely on community well I’m very

fascinated by the notion of communities

in games in general I started myself

playing online games like MMORPGs the

predecessors to World of Warcraft in my

youth and I found them too they really

changed the direction of my life in a

very positive way I found there to be a

community waiting for me in this online

world that broke me out of my shell as a

rather introverted young child and

ultimately helped me developed into a

much more you know socially aware of

socially adept person as an adult and

forever maze is as I said a small

experiment into this it’s not the the

large rich world that you would see in

an MMORPG but it’s trying to tap into

that same idea of using games and using

the online space to make you realize

that there are other people out there

and get you out of the room if only in a

sort of projected way hmm intriguing one

of the elements that seems to cross over

from your games to your book joy of

craft is the need for people to enjoy

what they are spending their time doing

rather than being solely focused on

achievement I guess

enjoying the journey and the process and

in your book you talk about hedonic

treadmill yeah how I mean how does that

affect the way you see modern society

and I know can you define hedonic

treadmill for us please sure yeah the

hedonic treadmill is you might think of

it as keeping up with the Joneses it’s

this psychological experience that a lot

of us have of wanting something more

than what we get whenever you get

something you want the next thing and

the next thing in the next thing there’s

never an end to it you get that fast car

and you want a faster car you get

whatever you get never actually

satisfies you and what’s fascinating to

me too is that there’s a interesting

parallel here with video games where

some of the worser games i would say

have what players call a level treadmill

a grind where you just do the same thing

over and over and over and sure you

level up you get further but ultimately

those games are unsatisfying and that’s

what the crossover taught me from video

games to real life is that you might get

completely wrapped up in this process at

the moment it might feel good to get the

next level to get the next car to get

the next paycheck but ultimately you’re

just going to look for the next one and

the next one and if you if you keep

thinking that the next one is going to

solve your problems if you believe that

there’s some answer that exists beyond

the horizon and if you don’t stop to

actually enjoy where you’re at then

you’re never actually going to be

satisfied yeah I find that so important

I mean even for myself like my my own

ego is always like you know what the

next guest the next guest was the next

thing for me so yeah I mean I appreciate

that you cover that in your book you’re

the first part of your book talks about

motivation and why science kind of says

we do what we do I mean what what have

you found are the processes in the brain

that are going on when someone is

enjoying activity versus not

there’s a lot of talk of implicit or

internal versus external motivation this

notion that you know you’re either

motivated by something that you find

implicitly enjoyable or motivated by

some extrinsic factor like money or

rewards now it’s pretty easy to create a

you know a line and say like Oh internal

motivation is good and external

motivations bad like that’s our initial

reaction but once you start diving

deeper into it you start realizing that

it’s not quite that clear-cut so the

study that I actually opened the book

with is one of my favorites about the

process of drawing what the study does

is to start by having children just draw

and essentially see how long they do it

and how much they enjoy it and then in

the other groups of the study they

actually start introducing rewards so

might give chocolate to that child for

drawing again this doesn’t seem to

change much like chocolate great kids

love chocolate they’re going to keep

drawing they’re going to keep enjoying

it so now we’ve got the implicit reward

or the intrinsic reward of enjoying the

drawing and the extrinsic reward of the

chocolate but here’s where it gets

interesting if you tell the person how

much extrinsic reward you’re going to

give them beforehand then they actually

end up drawing for shorter periods of

time and producing worse work as judged

by you know external judges so you know

it’s the same people it’s the same

enjoyable process and yet once you start

conflating those two once you start

mixing the internal and external then

you end up in this weird state where it

seems to detract from the overall

process and that that really stuck with

me when I read that study that was kind

of the the genesis of the book right

there was you know if how can you enjoy

something if the very act of being

monetarily or extrinsically rewarded

from it starts to detract from your

intrinsic enjoyment Thanks what I try to

get at the heart of in the book yeah i

mean it’s it’s amazing that you are kind

of touching on this this is i mean this

is the first book that you’ve written

right it is yeah yeah it’s amazing that

you I mean who would you say are your

influences I mean how how did you how

did you get to writing a book like this

oh well I’ve always wanted to to write a

book it’s been I’ve written many US diff

it was the first book I’ve written it’s

the first book that I’ve finished

qualified to show the world I think you

know every every authors got a few of

them at least a few sitting in a shelf

somewhere that hopefully will never see

the light of day 48 but that that said

you know I I certainly appreciated the

style of malcolm gladwell for example

simply because he was able to bring

science to the masses and I really

appreciate that because I I love science

i love the fact that it can tell us so

much about the world but frequently it’s

daunting to people and all of these

studies are you know not something

people are going to dive into so I

wanted to kind of mimic the that that

style that he had and that some of the

other writers in that genre had as well

as folks like Daniel Kahneman Danna

rarely at the behavioral economic

economic spokes it all just kind of

delve into the these stranger aspects of

psychology and show you how they might

be used to improve the quality of life

so the book has something like 200

citations in it from a wide variety of

different sources but I try to keep it

very readable very keep it afloat moving

and not not linger on any particular you

know science except this to say yeah

there’s data to support this right and I

mean you really do you really talk about

money in this book and how happiness is

not the possession of money let’s let’s

get into that let’s talk about that a

little bit i mean what would you do if

you had a million dollars right the

office space question or that’s how i

think of it if you’ve seen the movie

office space

or any any guidance counselor really yes

that in in high school you know for me I

realized that the answer to that

question is that I would just keep

building things I might you know I might

approach it slightly differently I might

live somewhat somewhere slightly more

exotic than I do but I would very much

just keep building the things I’m

interested in building namely video

games and software that are meant to

impact social good and keep writing as

well hmm yeah I mean why do you why do

you think it’s so important that we

separate this sort of end result which

is money which is what everyone seems to

focus on versus what a person is doing

and how the quality of what they’re

doing there’s one study that I find

pretty interesting that some readers

mirror or some listeners may have heard

of it’s about lotteries and one of the

key findings of this study just to

summarize very briefly is that about a

year after winning a library most

people’s happiness returns to a baseline

level about the same point that they

were at before winning the lottery so

what that seems to say to me is that

money is something of a multiplier it

might you know it might make you go

someplace faster it might give you the

resources to get there but it’s nothing

more than a resource it doesn’t change

your internal emotional state so if you

think of money as something that is

actually going to impact or have any

sort of the change on your internal

state then you’re really ascribing

values to it that it doesn’t have you

have to you have to change that yourself

mm-hmm and money you know I’m not saying

that money is an evil thing in fact

there’s that you know the quotation

about money being the root of all evil

well that’s actually a partial quotation

it’s the pursuit of money to the

exclusion of all else is the root of all

evil so it’s not the fact that money is

something that is by itself

intrinsically bad it’s simply the fact

that it’s a tool it’s something that we

can use to get somewhere and as long as


respect it for that value that it does

have but don’t give it powers or you

know they inflate it with something that

it can’t do Oregon it’s still useful I

mean how important do you think time

management is to all this it seems like

discipline is a really huge thing for

you so do you have any time management

tricks that you could share with us yeah

I certainly I would certainly agree with

that statement that I’m very much a

disciplined or regimented person I think

my friends would would say as much as

well but I actually might the first

thing I would say is don’t get too

stressed about it I am that’s actually

something that I struggle with is kind

of fighting the opposite end of the

spectrum like being so obsessed with

doing things and accomplishing things

that I have to remind myself to slow

down and you know stop and smell the

roses sometimes but you you know you ask

for tips and tricks so I think that

simply having a routine is a really good

start knowing the things that make you

happy not the things that other people

tell you make you happy but the things

that you actually genuinely enjoy I

think of things like you know going out

to the bar getting drunk stuff like that

and if you for some people those may be

enjoyable but I think for a lot of us a

drink with friends is pleasant seven

drinks and waking up hungover is really

not a very pleasant experience so if you

can if you can keep your eye on the big

picture there and think about you know

what is it that ultimately I want then

it becomes much easier to you know to

keep yourself focused on the things that

really do make you happy and I think it

you have to acknowledge first that a lot

of the times what other people I’m not

saying people explicitly tell you this

will make you happy but society kind of

implies it to us that oh you’re supposed

to be out drinking you’re supposed to be

you know doing these things that it’s

okay to say the

that’s not what you want it’s okay to

pursue something different in your life

and you know I’d certainly tack on other

things like meditation and exercise

there’s so much science to back up all

of these different practices and support

the notion that they can actually just

improve your overall quality of life I

mean the the adrenaline and endorphins

from exercise can actually end up giving

you more energy throughout the day kind

of paradoxically despite the fact that

it seems like you know exercise where

you out or meditation is is I like to

think of it like a weight training for

your brain it’s a mental bicep curl to

help improve your focus and improve

perhaps other things too like empathy or

happiness so that all of these things

can just contribute to an overall more

enjoyable life yeah man and that kind of

leads into my next question I was going

to ask you know there’s a party in your

book which is an intrinsic part I

thought in your book which was how the

reader can kind of adjust course and

direct themselves two or more more

joyful life you explain this by a way of

a number of character archetypes and

various virtues and vices that a person

might however the characters might have

what are some of these dark types and

what is the sort of core message that

you’re trying to get across in this

section of the book sure yeah the first

half of the book is much more analytical

and much more scientific but as you

pointed out the second half is each

chapter is an archetype of some some

persona so what I was trying to do there

was understand the the different

approaches that different people take

towards life or the different directions

that the world can lead us and kind of

put myself in the shoes of that sort of

person so one that jumps to mind is the

rock star it’s one of the archetypes in

the book and I once I thought about it

like what I really have wanted to be a

child star like a you know a child actor

or a someone who had that sort of early

success very early on

and the more I thought about it the more

the answer was no because it creates

this kind of distorted sense of the

world when your very first attempt at

anything was a wild success but how do

you know that anything you do after that

is good like everybody could be a

second to you have no idea yes so like I

I had to sit down ask myself honestly

what I want that no so that that’s kind

of what I do go through each of these

character types i mean i also look at

stuff like the scientist that’s one or

the engineer is one that i personally

relate with a lot being a computer

programmer myself and you know there’s

there’s a certain virtue and a certain

vice to each of these the engineer is

very analytical but sometimes

exceedingly so sometimes to the

exclusion of some of the kind of more

human and beautiful sides of the world

you you talk about the pursuit of novel

experiences at the heart of living an

enjoyable life and you talk a lot about

sort of novelty and I mean it you do

this on your blog why why do you think

that this type of learning is so

important why is it so significant to

sort of learn in this way on it on your

own scientific level sure yeah so

neuroscience has to tell us about

learning is that there’s when you

practice the introduction of novel

stimuli is extraordinarily important now

the reason for this is that let’s

imagine that you’re different memories

are like say different cities and you

are a planner of highways now one

approach to connect the different cities

would be to build one highway from city

to city B then another highway from city

to city see and you know one connection

between each like that and that would

work people would be able to get between

every city however you would be

constrained by each of those roads and

you’d have to keep you keep building

bigger and bigger roads but if you

wanted to get from City see back the

city a

it actually kind of difficult much more

like it imagine if the three of them are

in a triangle will be much easier if you

just had a road from city to city a so

imagine now that each of those cities

are neurons in your brain and each of

those neurons represents a memory so the

point being that the more connections

there are in different directions from

the different ideas to each other the

easier it is to get from any one place

to another so that’s kind of a

simplified way of thinking about it but

the point is that in learning theory we

talk a lot about transfer which is the

ability to take what you’re learning

from the context in which you learn it

into another context well the more

tightly bound what you’re learning is to

the context namely by only studying in

one way over and over and over and over

again mm-hmm the harder it is to

transfer outside because those there’s

not a rich assortment of different

connections so you’re kind of tight to

that scenario in which you learned it

you can only apply the formula in a very

if we’re talking about math wrote sort

of plug-and-play approach as opposed to

learning the underlying theory and

understanding the basis of the formula

in which case you can use it in in any

which way you can you can derive it on

the fly you can apply two scenarios that

you wouldn’t have considered before

because you understand it on a much

deeper and more well connected way path

to mastery seems like straight long

arduous lifetime kind of achievement

award frode I mean um why when I found

your book I it seemed like such a relief

kind of reading it as opposed to you

know some of the other books that I but

I’ve read but is there is there any

specific one thing that you would kind

of relay to the people listening or some

of your readers something that you use

that has benefited you thank you very

much for that I appreciate you saying

that it’s that the one takeaway for the

book for me is that there’s wisdom in

that statement that

the you know the journey is more

important than the destination but the

way you approach that is going to be

different for every person and what that

means is that each of our roads

throughout life are going to vary wildly

and you can’t use somebody else’s path

as your is your signposts like you can’t

compare yourself to another person and

say that is what’s good and that is

what’s bad the only person you can

compare yourself to is yourself and is

if you’re doing that not a self-critical

not an a you know I need to push myself

harder faster stronger sort of way but

just in a you know am I being honest am

I being true to my own experience am i

doing the things that make the world

what I want it to be and as long as long

as you’re being honest to that then

who’s anybody else to say whether your

life is good or bad yeah and it’s so

important to kind of self actualize all

this and you’ve you’ve online you have a

skill cookbook can you can you tell us

about that and kind of how you how you

curated the idea for that sure so skill

cookbook started as just a blog about

different learning theory so as I

mentioned I studied video games and also

a little bit of neuroscience in college

and I started by wanting to create

educational video games and when I

started getting deeper and deeper into

that research I found that I started

exploring different products that were

out there different learning software

different approaches that other

companies had taken and I wasn’t ready

to go start my own company that was

going to you know create a learning game

just yet but I was really interested in

sharing what I found with other people

good strategies for learning new things

so it touches on everything from the

science of learning to product reviews

of different software games and apps

that might help people learn anything

from the guitar to the periodic table

really anything that you might want to

memorize or internal

hmm okay I mean just to touch back on

the book here and how important do you

think failure is to the process of

learning and growing failure is one of

those words that all of a sudden in

Silicon Valley at least or you know in

the in the different lexicon here it’s

it’s getting a lot of press and people

talk about you know the need to fail and

failing fast and the lean startup and

all different ideas like that these are

all certainly very important but I think

something kind of gets lost in the

message which is that in failure it’s

not about failing for the sake of

failure it’s about finding the

boundaries it’s about conducting

experiments and learning you know where

where the point of breakage is or what

you can or cannot do and to that end you

know if anything that you want to get

better at needs to be defined by what

you cannot yet do so if you if you push

yourself to that point and you fail then

you learn what you need to improve in

but if you just you know if you just

fail and say oh look I’m happy because I

failed that’s that’s not a productive

experience it has to be in surface of

understanding where you’re trying to go

wow it’s I mean it’s really important

and I really do recommend this book the

joy of crap Zane I really appreciate

your time and where can people find your

work thank you very much the joy of

craft is at the joy of crafts com and of

course the blog is skilled cookbook and

all my stuff is over in xenia com ing a

and I a calm awesome I really appreciate

your time and thank you so much for

being here thank you

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