Jason Silva is hard to put a label on — he’s been called a futurist, an “idea DJ” and a performance philosopher. His popular video series Shots of Awe is a cinematic exploration of science and philosophy, and he also hosts the National Geographic Channel’s BrainGames.
There’s no doubt Jason has eclectic ideals and aspirations and a unique career path; how has he gone about achieving his diverse accomplishments? We caught up with Jason to learn about his background, his methodology and how he works.
Location: NYC / SF / London / Amsterdam… and sometimes Miami.
Current Gig: Host of BrainGames TV series on Nat Geo and creator/narrator of Shots of Awe web series / global keynote speaker / futurist
One word that best describes how you work: Cognitive ecstasy
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: MacBook Pro
What does it mean to be a futurist?
People started calling me a futurist because I make a lot of content about the idea of the “technological singularity” where I echo people like Ray Kurzweil and Kevin Kelly‘s ideas about technology and innovation and self organisation. I sort of describe my work as digital DJ’ing because I recombine existing ideas into new modalities of expression, hopefully introducing new audiences to this mind bending stuff.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
iTunes for musical inspiration, YouTube and Vimeo for video content and Twitter for serendipitous idea finding.
YouTube is ubiquitous, so a presence there is a must. Vimeo is a more curated audience of artists and designers, so you reach like minds easier. It’s nice to be on both platforms when possible.
How do you use Twitter as a source of “serendipitous idea finding”?
Carefully considering who to follow is a kind of anticipated serendipity. Using other minds as 'content filters' means that your Twitter stream becomes a digital trail of where these people's minds have been. You get a glimpse into their wanderings. You also benefit from the shared cognitive bandwidth of many brilliant minds sharing the labour of filtering the endless stream of media for you. And you take the leap of faith that if these people have impressed you with their thinking before, they will do so again through their choice of tweets.
What's your workspace setup like?
Laptop / music / ultra mobile / hotel rooms. I work out of wherever I am.
Mediocre hotel Wi-Fi can definitely be an issue. I have a laptop connect card just in case that can connect via AT&T's LTE signal. When travelling internationally you can always depend on the cafe culture to provide ample spaces to sit and people watch and let the wind wander between flurries of email. When shooting Shots of Awe we usually book a place that offers a sense of being somewhere else. My favourite place to shoot Shots of Awe is Amsterdam. The Dutch seem to really have a work/life balance and I love their bicycle universe. AirBNB has transformed travel as well, and those apartments always have great Wi-Fi.
What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
Get enough sleep! You function much better and more efficiently if you're rested.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
Just my notepad on my iPhone.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
Extra battery pack for iPhone -- Mophie's 8 charge unit. I believe it's the heaviest one. Need to be able to juice up! For Shots of Awe, we use Avid to edit and we shoot on Canon 5D's
For our readers not familiar with it, what is Shots of Awe? How did it come about?
Shots of Awe is my digital soap box, a web series I often describe as "philosophical espresso shots" where I explore various aspects of the human condition: futurism, technology, metaphysics, existentialism, love, sexuality, etc. The format is 2-3 minute stream of consciousness bursts of idea association. Shots of Awe aims for one thing: to induce cognitive ecstasy, an "exhilarating neurostorm of intense intellectual pleasure", media-as-drug in the very best sense. The videos have resonated with audiences, having been seen over nine million times and tweeted by the likes of Ron Howard, Richard Branson, Leo Dicaprio, NASA, Mark Ruffalo and many more.
How is Shots of Awe produced? Does it start with an idea, and then a script, or perhaps it's something more fluid?
The production style for Shots Of Awe requires creating a "Flow state"... Very similar to jazz improvisation or freestyle rap. Flow states are said to remove the inner critic and allow "a butterfly effect in thought" by apparently inhibiting the lateral pre-frontal cortex in the brain. Once you're in a flow state, you're fully in mind-wandering mode and you create idea-associations you never had before, this is the space where the idea-collisions erupt, and you start channeling a kind for existential jazz. Everything I've been thinking about suddenly connects together, new patterns emerge, and there is an accompanying rhapsody and sense of clarity. It's bliss.
Has hosting BrainGames changed how you work?
BrainGames certainly has longer days than my web series... television is still a bigger commitment. Need to find balance between shooting and my travel/keynote schedule.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
Consistency. I create certain rules and patterns and largely stick to them, including a healthy diet, consistent exercise, etc. The secret is a commitment to high executive function. Perhaps a little OCD. That way I can produce better work.
What sort of diet and exercise rules?
Lean proteins, legumes, lentils and brown rice whenever possible. Avoid processed carbs and sugar. My exercise routine is with my own body weight: pull-ups, push-ups, bar dips, etc. I used to do a bit of bouldering and rock climbing and fell in love with working out using your own body mass instead of weights.
What do you mean by a "commitment to high executive function"?
A recent New York Times article said the brain switches between "mind wandering mode" where we get our best ideas, and "executive function", where we execute and apply our ideas. Learning to master that switch, to be able to open yourself up to creative rhapsodies, but then being able to APPLY those insights into your work is crucial. I split my day up into those two modes of being when possible.
My day starts with executive function, then moves into mind wandering mode, and finally ends with a kind of merger of the two. It's a bit hard to explain, but essentially it's about getting comfortable with various states of consciousness and using each one in the best way possible.
What do you listen to while you work?
What are you currently reading?
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Site specific extrovert. Usually an introvert.
What's your sleep routine like?
Prefer to sleep around midnight and wake up around 9am. Need to get to bed a few hours before so I can unwind while watching a movie.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Passion is your compass. And be kind.
We've asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we'll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.