Becoming More Creative

Creativity is useful in a variety of situations. Whether you use it in the development of software, the construction of a business, in telling stories, or in witty conversations with friends, being able to harness the very human power of creativity is essential to living the best life that you can live. The road to success is littered with people that have failed to reach their potential. The ability to creatively overcome roadblocks and problems can often be the difference between a fulfilling life path and one that ends with regret.

Now, you may be hearing that and thinking that this all sounds bleak, especially if you don’t think of yourself as creative. We disagree. As a species, we have a long genetic heritage of creativity going back (and through) the ice age. This potential is in all of us, even when we don’t think we have it. If you are still thinking we’re full of crap on this, make a list of why you aren’t creative and send it to us if you’d like. However, once you get done with the list, realize that you just engaged in an act of creation. Because you did; you just didn’t do it in a way that was enabling to you. Once you get done with this episode, we hope that you’ll have tools to truly unlock your creativity. While the two of us have successfully created over 170 podcast episodes at this point, and have nearly five years worth of ideas in the backlog (seriously), there’s nothing special to the way we did it. You’re more capable than you imagine.

Being creative is seen as difficult or as something innate. However, that isn’t true. Once you understand the process of creating things, you can usually tweak it to your advantage. While natural skill and luck will help, you can get a long way with sheer determination and iterating on your own process. Our podcast is a good example of that.

Episode Breakdown

10:55 Noticing

Most of us have hundreds, or even thousands of opportunities to collect ideas in a given day. If you are looking up from your phone and interacting with people (or just observing them in their natural environment), you’ll start to notice things. Do it with intentionality and you’ll notice useful things over time. We have a bias towards treating stuff in the background as noise, but the world opens up when you treat it as a signal.

Favor activities which immerse you in reality, rather than “digital reality”. You have to increase your surface area, as opportunities for creativity have an element of chance. Applications, TV programs, games, and even podcasts are not built to be random. That stuff gets sanitized out. This doesn’t mean that you cut these things out entirely, as you can learn a lot about how to polish creativity with them (in addition to the entertainment value). It does mean, however, that you shouldn’t consider them to be your default.

16:40 Evaluating

Ok, so you are out in reality, moving around. What do you do when you don’t notice anything? What do you mean by “don’t notice”? You presumably aren’t regularly getting hit by buses, cars, and trains, so you do at least notice some things. The real problem is that you aren’t notice stuff that helps you. Take some time and try to intentionally notice things. It can be a little more eye-opening than you’d like, but try carefully “people watching” at an airport, park, or even at Walmart is a very interesting exercise. Just don’t stare like a weirdo.

“I wouldn’t recommend that Walmart at midnight.”

Some questions to ask. Why is it that way? Kids do this all the time. What would it be like if it were different? A corollary to “why” is “why not”. How might the situation be a surprise? Opposites attract and interact – the world gets weird when you think about everything required to make anything the way it is. How could you describe the situation using two other unrelated things? Why did I notice this? Something jumped out at you – figure it out. If there are multiple people in a situation, how do they know each other? If this person was a programming language, what language would they be?

21:25 Recording

If you don’t take note of things, you don’t have them. That great idea that you had while eating lunch will evaporate by the time you pay. It feels bad to have a good idea and lose it. It’s worse when you see someone else come up with and run with it. The act of writing down an idea also forces you to expound on it a little, which can be helpful later.

Why you should write down stupid ideas, crappy ideas, and even ideas that make you squeamish. Your ability to evaluate an idea in the moment is severely compromised by your experience, your emotional state, etc. More than likely, you aren’t the target consumer of your idea. Someone else is and you need to evaluate that later. “Bad ideas” have a tendency to spark better ones later when you come across them again. This is also why you shouldn’t delete ideas, even if you think they are dumb.

24:40 Sorting

Once you’ve gotten some ideas down and given them some time to mellow, you need to evaluate them. The “mellowing” time is necessary both to reduce your attachments to the ideas as well as to let them continue to develop. You want to avoid “feeling” too much about the ideas at this point, as this is when you decide whether they are practical or not. When you revisit some ideas after some time, you’ll often find that you have new insights about them, even though you haven’t thought about them since you wrote them down.

This should be done based both on how difficult they will be to accomplish and on how much impact they will have. You could probably do it based on lots of other criteria, but it just complicates things. When an item is both easy to do and has a high impact, you should do it as soon as possible, as it will open other opportunities. When an item is easy and low impact, hang onto it for a time when you are tired. When an item is difficult and low impact, put it aside for now (don’t throw it away though), making sure to take note of what makes it difficult. When an item is difficult and high impact, try to figure out how to break it into smaller pieces that you can evaluate (and execute upon) individually.

31:00 Expounding

Once you have an idea, you’ll need to dig down into it. This is where you break out a mindmapping tool and try to split the idea into smaller pieces. Another good thing to do here is to use a keyword tool along with google search to see what other likely things come up. Once you have a mindmap or other breakdown of your ideas, convert them to a an outline (or series of outlines) of a suitable size for a single session of work.

This is probably the most tedious step of the process, but it is important to separate it from the production of content. It’s much easier to organize content when there is less of it. This also forces you to come to a deeper understanding of the thing you are trying to do, before getting into the weeds with it. Using an outlining tool also lets you make sure that your “pieces” of work are of roughly equivalent size, which helps keeps things balanced.

33:40 Producing

Once you have a rough outline of how you want to structure things, then you start actually producing it. Notice that this doesn’t conflict with things like the agile principles. The idea is to get enough structure so that creativity is focused, not so that it is stifled by the structure. You should still have a fair bit of creative freedom during the actual work, but do so with a general idea of the big picture.

This part is a grind. Part of the reason we suggest having your stuff together before starting to actually create anything is that this part is hard and is a lot harder when you have to go back and rework things after the fact (ask us how we know…) Ideas are easy, but execution is going to be difficult. You’ll find yourself constantly tweaking your creative process once you’ve done it a few times, both to try to keep things organized and in an effort to improve efficiency. No one’s process will be perfect for you here. At best, they are a guide.

36:45 Taking (Useful) Feedback and Refining

You should make a first pass to look for major problems on your own. Not only does this make your first attempt better, but it will improve your confidence in showing it to others. Don’t overdo it, however, as it’s easy to trap yourself here until the content is “perfect”. This is like development, you can spend all of your time perfecting an app but then it never makes it to market because there’s always more improvements you can make.

You should find a few trusted people to whom you can show your work. If you don’t have those, take some time to cultivate them. If nothing else, you can usually give a few copies of your stuff away for free to interested people to get feedback. When you get feedback, determine if it is actually useful to your audience (as opposed to how you feel about it) and adjust things accordingly. You may need to do this several times to get it right.

40:00 Releasing

Once things are edited to a reasonable level (not perfect), then you release it to the general public. Generally speaking, if it’s something you hope to get paid for, you should have been doing some work to build hype and get your marketing together far before now. Try to release to the public in a way that lets you edit after the fact. For instance, with a book, you should probably release the e-book before the printed version, so that you can change it more easily.

Be careful about how you measure feedback here. Your satisfied consumers are often going to be very quiet, while the unsatisfied are often very loud. Sometimes they are right, but they often aren’t. Don’t base your self-esteem on what these people say. We’ve looked up people that had very negative things to say about this podcast, and a fair bit of the time, they’ve been people who had a lot of other problems. Most of the vitriol will be hurt people lashing out and it isn’t about you.

44:40 Reusing Waste

There is one other critical thing to note, when you create something you probably didn’t use all the material available. This is actually a good thing, because it means that you edited well. However, this “waste” is actually very useful itself, as you can often reuse it for other purposes.

“There’s a lot of times I’ve cut stuff out of this podcast and used it as the basis for another episode.”

Some uses for creative “waste”. Turn it into a small e-book and sell that. Or give it away for free as a way to get people on your email list. Expand the content and produce it in another format. Not only does this let you experiment, but it will also get you in front of a much broader audience.

IoTease: Article

4 Ways “Internet of Things” Toys Endanger Children

It’s an article discussing the dangers posed by IoT toys. These include the obvious unsecured wireless connections to tracking children’s location through the toys. This does not mean that you should get rid of any toys you’ve gotten for the kids in your life, even the adult kids. But you should be aware of the risks and mitigate them. Do your research and learn about the risks of toys you buy and how to mitigate them. You wouldn’t buy a lego set for a 1 year old because they might swallow the small parts. You need to be just as cautious with IoT toys.

Tricks of the Trade

Let reality limit you. Don’t let your internal monologue do it.

Editor’s Notes:

We’re still learning the remote recording. You’ll hear a few clicks and pops we didn’t know about until post production.

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