It’s easy to get caught up in routines and habits when you’re in the thick of things. However, sometime it is important to step back ask yourself a few questions:
These questions can be difficult to answer, but are important in illuminating your path and ensuring you’re working at a pace that maximizes your potential and ensuring you aren’t getting stuck on the “OK Plateau.” Author and computer science professor Cal Newport recalls a time when he was building out a new curriculum and purposely avoided talking to people who had experience in this:
Reflecting on this experience, I now notice that in my rush to embrace deep work and purposeful bets I had overlooked a more prosaic piece of the puzzle: learning the rules that govern the area where I was making my play.
If I had followed the program director’s advice and pumped experts for feedback, I would have learned about what you absolutely need for a fundable proposal. I avoided this step, I think, because some part of me didn’t want these answers. By writing my grant in isolation, I could ensure an optimal experience, where I had to put in focused hours, but never really challenge myself too much.
This was fulfilling. But it was also a recipe for failure.
I was like the amateur runner who spends her training days doing hard (but not too hard) three mile jogs instead of the brutal interval work she really needs to improve.
In hindsight, Newport admitted he would have chosen not to dive into deep work as quickly — and suggests questioning whether what we’re working on is what is important, and what we need to do to improve, rather than simply continuing forward headfirst all the time.
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.