- Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Sotomayor is used to be being first. She is the first Hispanic and only the third woman to serve on the court, and is well-regarded for her toughness (she often is the lone voice on a given side of a Supreme Court decision). Her advice to others breaking ground rings true whether you’re a Supreme Court justice or venturing out to new creative territory.
Quote via NPR’s interview with Sotomayor.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Programmer Chris Maddox writes about the time he realized the benefit of expressing his opinions, even when he knew he had a lot to learn. He recalls a college economics class where Christina Romer, former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, was guest a lecturer:
Far too often, I have seen peers cowed in the face of brilliance and, as such, failed to leave with any useful knowledge. Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure if sending checks to Americans during the recession was a good idea. But I bet that if I told Christina Romer that the economics taught in our ivory tower ignored fundamental tenets of human psychology, she’d have a profoundly interesting answer. [So I asked.] She laughed…then tore me to pieces.
Those 90 seconds taught me more about economics than two semesters of lecture, problem sets, and pretty graphs.
Read his entire essay here.
The difference between success and failure often lies in bouncing back and re-igniting the artistic fire we need to work. So how exactly can we bounce back into creating? Fred Waitzkin, author of Searching for Bobby Fisher, says bouncing ideas off his wife (or anyone, really) helps:
I have a couple of friends that I rely upon. They are very perceptive about the human heart. I’ll talk quite specifically about what isn’t working in a section of my book. I listen closely to what they think. I’ve done this many times. My wife Bonnie has helped me many times like this.
Here is the curious thing. Often her advice or the idea of a friend isn’t what I end up doing. But listening to the ideas engenders a new idea. The whole point is that you have to get moving. Movement begets movement. You need to get unstuck.
The principle is to do anything that builds momentum. For example, if it’s writer’s block, and you truly can’t write – then tape yourself talking/ranting/raving about a subject, then type it out in a word processor. Talk to a friend about your concept. Or, lay out the overall structure of the piece.
Defeat your analysis paralysis by moving. Just make a move.
It doesn’t matter how creative you are, if you can’t communicate your vision to decision makers, you’ll forever be relegated to a supporting role. Like all communication, talking to busy people is all about empathy for the other person’s goals and priorities.
Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins write about the issue for the Harvard Business Review, using a client named Jason as an example:
Jason often got mired in the details when communicating with higher level colleagues, and therefore missed opportunities to share his insights. To stop this from happening, he started to prepare two to three key messages before every meeting, and made sure to focus on how his group’s analytical work drove value for the organization. In essence, Jason conditioned himself for the expected, leaving his “thinking on his feet” energy for those situations that were least predictable.
Even if you’re the youngest person at the table, you’re at the table. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. Just make it count.
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.
In a wide-ranging interview with GQ Ricky Gervais, comedian and creator of The Office, discusses dealing with notoriety, critics and how fame has (or hasn’t) changed him. In this excerpt, he’s asked how he dealt with one particularly seething critic writing about his show Derek:
GQ: It did get some fairly savage British reviews.
Ricky Gervais: It was the usual suspects, the same four or five journalists who have hated everything. It bored me, but it didn’t bother me. I could have predicted what they’d say.
GQ: But when someone says “vile, cynical, and dishonest”? Or an “appalling piece of comedy hackwork”?
Ricky Gervais: [chuckling] Both of those made me laugh when you said them. “Vile, cynical…” [laughing more] That’s something you’d say about Charles Manson, not a bloke who made a twenty-three-minute sitcom! “Vile, cynical, and dishonest”! “What’d he do?” “Did a sitcom…” [falls on his side to the sofa, he is laughing so hard] Cunts!
GQ: But can you just brush it off?
Ricky Gervais: Yeah. Who said it?
GQ: I can’t remember specifically right now.
Ricky Gervais: Right. But who wrote and directed Derek?
GQ: [puzzled] You did.
Ricky Gervais: You remember that, don’t you?
Lots of us are willing to work when we’re feeling inspired, but what about when you’re not? According to Seth Godin, the true creative professional distinguishes himself by doing work even when he’s not in the mood.
Here’s what Godin has to say in an interview for our new 99U book:
Everybody who does creative work has figured out how to deal with their own demons to get their work done. There is no evidence that setting up your easel like Van Gogh makes you paint better. Tactics are idiosyncratic. But strategies are universal, and there are a lot of talented folks who are not succeeding the way they want to because their strategies are broken.
The strategy is simple, I think. The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.
There are many ways you can signify to yourself that you are doing your practice. For example, some people wear a white lab coat or a particular pair of glasses, or always work in a specific place—in doing these things, they are professionalizing their art.
The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.
This is an excerpt (and interior photograph) from Manage Your Day-to-Day, the new book from 99U, with contributions from Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Steven Pressfield, Dan Ariely, and many more.