Progress is the single most important motivating factor when it comes to work. That might seem obvious. But what’s not obvious is that we don’t always see our progress. In fact, we’re prone to lose track of it, if we don’t regularly document what’s happening in our lives.
Harvard professor Teresa Amabile has been researching what motivates creatives, and what keeps them going, for years. And it turns out the simple answer is: Keeping a diary.
Here’s what Amabile has to say about the power of diaries in an essay penned with Steven Kramer and Ela Ben-Ur for our new 99U book, Maximize Your Potential:
Creative people frequently work solo, without the benefit of colleagues who could help capture or develop their ideas. But even teams and organizations rarely offer creatives the necessary time, understanding, and patience to nurture their creative seedlings. A diary can help fill the void. It can serve as a sounding board and an alter-ego companion—one who will never forget what you say. What might otherwise have been isolated or passing thoughts become permanent and potentially powerful ideas.
This sounding board can serve a number of functions, the simplest of which is planning. Many entries in “The Daybooks” of Edward Weston reveal him focusing on future actions to capitalize on emerging opportunities:
“The excerpts from my daybook and photographs will be published in the August issue of Creative Art… It seems my fortunes are to change for something better. Now I must spend all my spare time in cutting and correcting my manuscript.” —Edward Weston, May 23, 1928
Of course, Weston could have used a simple calendar or to-do list to plan next steps. But notice his remark that his luck seems to be changing. What a calendar cannot do, and a journal can, is help you reflect on the big picture of your life and your creative work—where it is, what it means, and what direction you want it to take.
Diaries can be particularly helpful tools for accurately capturing positive events. In his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” the psychologist Daniel Kahneman distinguishes between experience and memory, noting that human memory of an experience can easily be altered. Kahneman describes a man who was enjoying a concert immensely until the very end, when there was an obnoxious sound in the concert hall. The man said that the noise ruined the entire concert for him. But it didn’t really, of course; he had enjoyed the concert up until that moment. What it did ruin was his memory of the concert.
By keeping a daily diary, you will reduce the chance that some later event will transform your memory of the day’s experiences. So when you feel you have accomplished something, write it down soon, before a client or critic has the opportunity to say something that diminishes that sense of progress.
You can find the complete essay, as well as contributions from Joshua Foer, Jonathan Fields, and Tony Schwartz and more, in Maximize Your Potential, the latest addition to our 99U book series.
As we do every Friday, we’ve collected our most-shared Twitter links for your weekend reading pleasure.
From the web:
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.