To open the doors for more opportunities in your career, IDEO co-founder Tim Brown recommends shaking up where you work or who you work with. In a recent post on LinkedIn, Brown explains:
Connect with people outside your major or discipline. I was so focused on being an industrial designer, I didn’t hang out with engineers or business students or artists or writers. I didn’t know what other opportunities were out there for burgeoning design thinkers. Thankfully, the Internet means today’s grads have more context and greater chances to collaborate with people from different backgrounds. Seize every opportunity.
Make time to travel. I went straight from undergrad to grad school. I wish I had had the confidence to take a year off and explore the world, to add some life experience to my academics. It was only after I graduated that I started to travel. It might be a cliché, but getting out of your own culture makes you more mindful and observant. You question everything you once took for granted. When my own children are trying to figure out what’s meaningful to them, what direction to take their lives next, I tell them to take out their passports. It’s time to book a trip.
The more you are able to look outside of your fixed focus on how things are or how you think they should be, the more likely you are to encounter new ideas and opportunities.
Working in the same environment, in the same context, and with the same people, can help you to perfect your craft, but they don’t do anything to energize your creativity and open the doors to new possibilities. Brown recommends hanging out with people outside of your immediate field of interest, seeking out positive cultures, and making time to travel as means for shaking what you think you know or finding a way to try something new.
Of course, if you can’t find the time or energy to do all of that, you can at least look to the internet to see what people are doing or talking about in other fields and parts of the world.
Read Brown’s full write-up on lessons he’s learned over his 27 year-long career right here.
Renowned author Stephen King, who has published 49 novels that have sold over 350 million copies, writes at least ten pages each day. As a creative person, you’ve experienced writer’s block, even if you’re not necessarily a writer; software engineers, artists, or anyone that has to create things for a living is susceptible. We also all know the well-trodden advice of practicing even for just a little bit, at least once a day — But how does one actually stick to it?
Product Manager at Twitter, Buster Benson, recently created 750words.com to help us break through writer’s block and open up our creative passages. He uses a rewards system to keep on track (much like the famous Jerry Seinfeld calendar-method). The idea is simple:
Every month you get a clean bowling-esque score card. If you write anything at all, you get 1 point. If you write 750 words or more, you get 2 points. If you write two, three or more days in a row, you get even more points. How I see it, points can motivate. It’s fun to try to stay on streaks and the points are a way to play around with that. You can also see how others are doing points-wise if you’re at all competitive that way.
Benson shares his inspiration:
I’ve long been inspired by an idea I first learned about in The Artist’s Way called morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of writing done every day, typically encouraged to be in “long hand”, typically done in the morning, that can be about anything and everything that comes into your head. It’s about getting it all out of your head, and is not supposed to be edited or censored in any way.
The idea is that if you can get in the habit of writing three pages a day, that it will help clear your mind and get the ideas flowing for the rest of the day. Unlike many of the other exercises in that book, I found that this one actually worked and was really really useful.
By writing 750 words a day, or 50 lines of code, or a page of illustrations every morning, you’re turning the act of creating into a habit. A creative block isn’t worn down by worrying or procrastinating; it can only be broken by trying.
Make Your Mark, our new business book for makers (not managers!) launches this week. It’s our third book in the 99U book series, which offers pragmatic, actionable advice for managing your time, your career, and your business. You can order the book here.
To celebrate, we’re giving away three Kindle Paperwhite eReader devices pre-loaded with all three 99U books. (Not to mention a totally sweet carrying case that looks like the cover of Make Your Mark.)
To enter, tweet your favorite piece of startup wisdom for creatives in the next 24 hours with this link and hashtag: amazon.com/99u #makeyourmark
We’ll pick three winners at random on Monday, and ship them their snazzy Kindle eReaders.
Visual artist Koosje Koene says that when it comes to creating, you have to be jump right in. In an interview with The People Project, she explains her creative process:
I am a do-er, if that’s a word. If I have an idea, I like to execute it, create it, or at least start planning the project. In Art School, we talked a lot about ideas, the ideas behind the ideas, and so on. It made me feel less enthusiastic about starting a project, since the idea wasn’t fresh anymore. All the thinking sort of sucked the passion and excitement out of me, and that showed in the results. In a bad way.
When a new idea hits, we should take advantage of that initial passion and excitement and jump right in. If we spend too much time thinking, the concept begins to fade and you lose the creative momentum. After the initial burst of creativity, we can always take a step back and do some evaluating. Get out of your head and create.
10,000 hours notwithstanding, practice doesn’t make perfect unless the way you practice is perfect.
In last week’s issue of The New Yorker, James Surowiecki explores the recent “performance revolution” in sports, and how that approach to improvement has also raised the bar in business:
[T]he way to improve the way you perform is to improve the way you train. High performance isn’t, ultimately, about running faster, throwing harder, or leaping farther. It’s about something much simpler: getting better at getting better.
Thanks to more sophisticated technology, ultra-individualized training, and “the mainstreaming of excellent habits,” athletes are working not only harder than ever but smarter than ever—and so goes for a range of other fields in which performance improvement is self-controlled and measurable, from manufacturing and airline safety to higher education and business.
For example, Japanese elementary school math teachers train rigorously, before and throughout their careers:
They’ve developed a vocabulary to describe successful teaching tactics. They spend hours talking about how to improve things… in a way that helps students learn. And they get constant feedback from other teachers and mentors. This method—with its systematic approach to learning, its emphasis on preparation, and its relentless focus on small details and the need for constant feedback—sounds like the way athletes train today.
With data analysis available for everyone these days, there’s no reason not to track your data (even if it seems fairly basic: amount of sleep, time of day, etc.) and experiment with your process in order to improve upon it. Whatever your field, cultivating a methodical, focused approach to advancement could have the most impact on your growth.
While talking to people who do a superhuman job at managing their time, founder and investor Bill Trenchard discovered that one of the most common ways they avoid wasting time is by simply saying “no.”
As your [work] becomes more prominent, you’re only going to get more of everything. More people reaching out through LinkedIn, email, invitations to connect, to go to coffee, to ask for a favor. It’s death by paper cuts. Inevitably, a childhood acquaintance from 20 years ago who you can barely remember will ask you for introductions to all your influential friends at Facebook. This is when you have to say, “No.” Saying no is so hard. It’s hard because you want to pay it forward. So many people have helped you. You want to do the same. But you have to draw the line somewhere, and there are ways to make it easier.
He suggests using templates; canned responses for all the common situations where you might find yourself saying no. Here’s an example:
Great to hear from you. I hope all is well. Fortunately, my company is starting to take off, and I’m under extreme pressure to deliver against some ambitious goals… Unfortunately [I'm not] able to connect right now.
What’s unique about this response is that it blocks further communication. Do it nicely in a way that truthfully explains the situation, but don’t leave things open-ended.
Saying no (when respectful and structured ) deflects distractions and ensures that the right projects are completed. The creative process is paralyzed when you are juggling things that you wish you never committed to. Guard your time from things that don’t warrant your immediate attention or are counterproductive.
Always show what we call “wild card” concepts — things that are out of left field, not quite what you think your audience wants to see, because you just never know. I would never have thought that Educational Insights would love our concept and make a vehicle line. And I would have been wrong. But we did, they did, and kids love them.
Dino Construction came about by combining two favorite childhood toys of Lund – dinosaurs and construction vehicles. They had pitched the idea to a number of companies, but it wasn’t until a team member presented it to a small educational toy company that it finally got picked up. If you have an idea that you love, keep pitching it, even as a wild card concept. It just might be the concept they choose.