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.
LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman famously said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” Failure isn’t fatal, yet many creatives get caught up trying achieve perfection, often at the expense of innovation.
The author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, Dorie Clark, urges us to stop believing that we have to be perfect:
Innovation of any sort entails risk and trying new things — and that mandates failure. A 100% success rate implies you’re not doing anything new at all… It’s not so much that you’re creating something (such as a product or service) that failed; it’s that you’re steadily improving a series of drafts.
Recognize that innovation requires failure. As paradoxical as it may seem: if you’re failing, you’re doing something right.
According to Creativity For Sale author Jason Surfrapp, “90% of people are afraid to ask for things.” True or not, he’s dead on about the fact that we don’t get what we don’t ask for — including the raise, the sale, or even the date. But simply asking for what we want isn’t enough. In a piece on Inc., Surfrapp suggests that asks be made with creativity, confidence, and effort:
Creativity: When it comes to selling something online, your product or service most likely has competition. Someone else is already asking people to buy, so that alone should give you the validation and confidence to ask. But, you should also think about a unique or creative way you can package your ask so it stands out from the crowd.
Confidence: When it comes to relationships, confidence is key. No one wants to talk to, let alone go on a date with, someone who has zero confidence. But just like asking for things, the more you work to build your confidence and the more practice you put in, the more results you’ll see.
Effort: No one has ever put in an insane amount of effort for something and not gotten some value out of it. The more you ask for things, in the right ways, the better you’ll get at it. And the better you get at asking, the amount of times you hear “yes” will increase.
Here’s your challenge: decide to make an ask (one that you’ve been avoiding or too afraid to bring up) and do it in a creative, confident way that shows effort. Then repeat.
We’ve all been to the notorious status meeting, where in a round-robin fashion everyone says what they’re working on. According to research by Atlassian, you’re highly likely to daydream during this meeting, do other work during this meeting or just miss it entirely.
Author of Read This Before Our Next Meeting, Al Pittampalli, suggests that in an effort to skip the status meeting and get right to work, that we kill the status meeting altogether, and only have meetings that support a decision that has already been made:
If a decision maker needs advisement pre-decision, he should get it from others via one-on-one conversations. Only after a preliminary decision is made can a meeting be convened. A meeting might be necessary for either of two reasons:
Conflict: The relevant stakeholders can debate the decision, propose alternatives, suggest modifications, or have concerns addressed. The decision is ultimately resolved.
Coordination: If a decision demands complex collaboration from different people, teams or departments, stakeholders can convene to coordinate an action plan.
In an interview with Explore Create Repeat, graphic designer Adam J. Kurtz talks about the importance of having a side project:
I do think it’s important for everyone to do “things” on the side. Regardless of your chosen profession, career, or job, I hope that everyone enjoys other hobbies and activities and hopefully you have the resources to take them as far as you’d like to. If you love baking, bake a whole lot of cakes sometime and Instagram that sh*t. If you’re super knowledgeable about pizza and love bringing friends to your favorite spots (like Scott Wiener, who I met recently) then maybe you start a pizza tour.
For makers, side projects are not about generating extra money or developing new skills, they simply cannot stop creating. For Kurtz, making stuff is his life, his therapy and his hobby. It’s a way to experiment and combine multiple interests without an end in mind. When you work full-time in a creative field, sometimes you need to be reminded about the joys of simply creating. Kurtz reminds us that “everyone can do anything, we just forget.”
What’s the secret to good business? “Create more value than you capture,” says Tim O’Reilly, the entrepreneur and deep thinker behind O’Reilly Media.
A key figure in the rise of the open-source and maker movements, O’Reilly knows a thing or two about launching world-changing ideas. That’s why we interviewed him for our new book, Make Your Mark.
Here’s a glimpse of O’Reilly’s take on how creatives can build businesses that really make an impact:
Where do you think great business ideas come from?
Innovation starts with enthusiasts. The reason why it starts with enthusiasts is that they are focused on the right priority, which is the change they want to make in the world, versus say, a business idea that will get funded. Their perspective is: How cool would it be if we could all have our own computers? How cool would it be if I could put up information for free on the Internet and anybody could access it? How cool would it be if I could build an assistive robot for my grandmother?
What should entrepreneurs be thinking about if they really want to make an impact?
Aaron Levie of Box tweeted something great about Uber recently. He said, “Uber is a $3.5 billion lesson in building for how the world should work instead of optimizing for how the world does work.”
Being able to see the world in a fresh way is the essence of being an entrepreneur. You have an idea about the way the world ought to be. You have a theory about why and how you are going to connect the dots.
Read the full interview with O’Reilly—and 20 more insights from creative visionaries—in our new book on building a creative business: Make Your Mark.
Bonus: Use promo code “MAKEURMARK” to get 20% off pre-orders through Nov 17th, 2015.
So you want to build make some connections in your creative community? Fantastic. But if your first instinct is to attend a networking event and distribute business cards, think again – traditional networking aka “dirty networking” actually makes people feel physically dirty and is an ineffective way of making a name for yourself.
Building social currency is about being honest and authentic, and showing that you value others. In their Social Capital Building Toolkit, Harvard University researchers Thomas H. Sander and Kathleen Lowney, share some high impact and more natural ways to build social capital, including:
Food/Celebrations. ie. host a start-up open house or celebrate your agency’s anniversary.
Joint activity around common interest or hobby. ie. organize a team of friends or colleagues and play agency ball.
Doing a favor for another. ie. help another company move into their new office or volunteer space for a meetup.
Discussion of community issues. ie. talk about poor trash pickup or organize a town-hall about bike lanes.
Intentional relationship building (“one on ones”). ie. set up coffee dates with people you want to know.
To enjoy all the benefits of social currency, you first have to build it. Then be patient and let your relationships mature organically.