Amid today’s obsession with busy-ness and productivity, many neglect an important ingredient to creative execution: sleep. Creative leaders such as Arianna Huffington are now advocating that artists take more time to renew their fuel in order to preserve their well-being. Yet there may be an even more practical reason to sleep. Time senior editor Jeffrey Kluger writes:
We’ve all slept on a problem and had it sort itself out by morning. But that’s only a small part of what the brain on nighttime autopilot can do. Paul McCartney famously said that he came up with the melody for “Yesterday” in a dream; Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine, is said to have solved the problem of the machine’s needle when he dreamed of an attack by warriors carrying spears with holes in the tips.
If you’re wrestling with a problem, prime your brain before you’re about to hit the hay:
Barrett’s studies suggest that engaging in some type of pre-bedtime priming—contemplating a problem you’d like to solve—increases the likelihood that sleep will bring some answers. Up to a third of the subjects in her sample group reported that priming had helped them find a solution that had eluded them during the day.
Benoit Mandlebrot was a legendary mathematician and father of fractal geometry. Before he passed away in 2010, filmmaker Errol Morris had a chance to get his thoughts on the creation of fractals, his talents, and more. In this brief preview, Mandlebrot shares his insights on what it feels like when you know you’ve discovered your natural talent and passion, the value of declaring a problem as impossible, and how naming an idea after a random word in a Latin dictionary can give it a sense of reality.
Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative is a keystone book for any successful creative career. While the book is from 2011, there are timeless tips on how to nail a creative project strategy within its pages. One of the most powerful insights Henry shares is about nailing your project strategy by asking the “Five W’s”:
1. Why is this a project to begin with?
2. What purpose does the work serve, what is the end-goal?
3. Who needs to be involved, and who is the project ultimately for?
4. When does it need to be completed and when are the project milestones (if there aren’t any, make some)?
5. Where will the work appear and where will it be worked on?
Henry goes on to explain that, while the most critical part of any creative project is to first answer the five W’s, the next (and sixth) question is what often makes or breaks the creative side of the project; “How will these objectives be accomplished?”
Get the book here.
The Harvard Business Review posits that our language can have a profound effect on our creativity. Compare “How can we” with “How might we” The latter suggests wide open possibility, the former a glimmer of probable success. From the piece:
When people within companies try to innovate, they often talk about the challenges they’re facing by using language that can inhibit creativity instead of encouraging it, says the business consultant Min Basadur, who has taught the How Might We (HMW) form of questioning to companies over the past four decades. “People may start out asking, ‘How can we do this,’ or ‘How should we do that?,’” Basadur explained to me. “But as soon as you start using words like can and should, you’re implying judgment: Can we really do it? And should we?” By substituting the word might, he says, “you’re able to defer judgment, which helps people to create options more freely, and opens up more possibilities.”
Read the entire article here.
Entrepreneur Ivan Kirigin share his process for preparing a presentation. A few gems:
But if the target is a talk, don’t write a script because it won’t sound like you. You shouldn’t memorize the talk word for word, but you should have the ideas down front and back. This means an outline is as close as you want to get to writing everything down.
Don’t be that guy that surveys the crowd asking for a show of hands. The process is bland, biased, and lazy: you should already do the legwork to research your audience beforehand. A story is far more engaging than a survey.
The running theme through Kirigin’s post? Respect the audience. Read his entire post here.
Game of Thrones creator and author George R. R. Martin discusses his creative process in an wide-ranging interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. One of our favorite insights? The two kinds of writers:
There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running, and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners, but they tend to one side or another, and I am definitely more of a gardener. In my Hollywood years when everything does work on outlines, I had to put on my architect’s clothes and pretend to be an architect. But my natural inclinations, the way I work, is to give my characters the head and to follow them.
The “architects and gardeners” dynamic can seemingly be extended to many other aspects of our creative lives as well. Read the entire interview here.
There will always be the outliers, but most accomplished creatives need many years of practice, mistakes, and determination before they make their best creative work. So when can the average person expect to hit their stride? Economist P.H. Franses decided to come at the question in a different way with surprising results.
In a newly published paper, he reports that painters create their most masterful works (at least as determined by the marketplace) “at the 0.618 fraction of their lives.”
Does that number sound familiar? Another term for it is the “Golden Mean,” the mathematical ratio that appears throughout nature.
On average, the painters produced their most highly valued work when they were 41.92 years old; they had lived just under 62 percent of their total lives.