December 25, 2020

That guy labels everything


Naming things always came natural to me.

From a young age, the creative process of classifying what was going on in my life has been a deep source of joy for me. Whether it was cataloguing inside jokes with my brother, inventing funny nicknames for my friends, giving branded titles to our family vacations, writing our goofy vocabulary for the baseball team, or just sitting in my room coming up with an assortment of fake products, labeling was my thing.

It was never driven by anything unwholesome, either. Pathologize that habit all you want, but naming just made me feel creative, connected, useful and clever. And people in my life loved that about me.

In fact, when my friends and family first heard about my nametag experiment back in college, none of them were surprised.

Scott started wearing a nametag every day? Of course he did. That guy labels everything.

No wonder I made a career as writer, performer, marketer and entrepreneur. In each one of those jobs, you’re basically paid to name things all day.

But the question that intrigues me is whether naming is a useful skill, a fun hobby, or a quirky personality trait. It’s probably all of the above. Because naming is an essential act of human communication.

The everyday taxonomy we use to distinguish the objects of our experience, it’s what separates people from the animal kingdom.

Now, some marine animals have unique click and whistle signatures to identify each other, horses use their whinnies similar to names, and parrots will offer a trademark call when meeting a new peer. But in general, biologists haven’t find this behavior much in other species. They have few examples of learned linguistic signals invented for a purpose.

Naming is a distinctly human activity. Our brains enjoy the act of naming things, the process of association and discernment is satisfying.

What’s more, it’s rewarding. Any time we can deepen our vocabulary for understanding the deeper principles at play in the world, that’s a win.

Here’s a case study from my adult life. Years ago, I was creating a course curriculum on the creativity process for the continuing education department of a local university. A key component to that system was going to be the lexicon. A robust vocabulary with words and phrases that allowed the students to converse about creativity.

Based on a life of working in and researching the subject, I developed an entire language that permitted people to better communicate with themselves and others about their creative process. For someone like me who loves naming things, this was, hands down, the most exciting part of the project.

It became clear to me that building a working vocabulary of what it meant to be prolific significantly improved the chance that someone could cultivate healthy a creative habit.

Long story short, the project didn’t come to fruition at the university. Which disappointed me initially, although it turned out to pay dividends just to go through that process. Naming things gave them greater weight in my mind. My new creativity lexicon ascribed energy and momentum to the work that otherwise wouldn’t have been there.

In fact, that very taxonomy is what sparked my interest in developing Prolific. I had already laid the groundwork for this new organizational system designed to categorize and explain relationships between various concepts of creativity. My structural framework laid it out in a way that made sense to me and to others.

Proving to me, that naming really is a useful skill. Sorting information and experiences into a more useful form to human eyes, that talent has real cash value.

How adept are you at structuring and mapping the world in your mind?