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Friday, January 31, 2014

You Can’t Spell Motivation Without Bacon

Dogs can teach us a lot about motivation.

I’m reminded of my favorite commercial of all time:


Bacon! Bacon! Where’s the bacon? I smell bacon. It’s gotta be bacon. There’s only one thing in the world that smells like bacon and that’s bacon! There it is! It’s in the bag! Chewy, yummy smokey bacon! Oh boy oh boy oh boy, num num num num num, it’s bacoooooooon!


That’s motivation.

And what’s interesting is, we all have our own version of this moment.

Those triggers that freeze time, make our left eyelid twitch, activate our deepest cravings and human hungers and move us to execution.

Those currencies that, when sniffed out, override our excuses, tap into our natural motivations and drive us to do things.

I have a client who’s obsessed with personal improvement. As a recovering academic and a higher education advocate, learning isn’t just what she does, it’s who she is. She even warns the people she works with, if you want to get me to do anything, I better be learning something new.

And that’s why she’s so prolific. Learning is her bacon.
                                 
The goal is to find your bacon. To figure out why you do what you do.

Once you know that, anything is possible. Once you identify the small collection of intrinsic triggers that stoke your creative fire, nothing can stop you. Once you learn how to activate your own internal generators, there’s no reason you can’t become a prolific collector, creator and communicator of ideas.

But you have to dig down through the many levels of why. You have to flesh out the drivers that motivate you on an hourly basis. One exercise for doing so is to sit down and physically map out every single decision you made on a given day. Phone calls you made, conversations you had, food you consumed, activities you did, people you saw, ask yourself, literally, why did you do what you did?

The first time I tried this exercise, I uncovered profound truths about myself. I discovered that most of my behaviors can be traced back to one of the following:

A blank canvas. Making things has always been the most natural way for me to engage with the world. When I get up in the morning, there’s a mechanism inside me that says what I’m supposed to make next. And so, I am motivated by the freedom to express myself.

A personal ritual. I can motivate myself to do just about anything, as long as there’s a ritual attached to it. Ritual is an intentional, purposeful experience I layer on top of an activity to make it more meaningful. I have one for everything I do. And so, I am motivated by a repeatable process.

A captive audience. I believe human interaction is a divine transaction. Engaging with people, even for a moment at a time, fuels me. Every time I go out of my way to earn people’s attention, I reward them for giving it to me. And so, I am motivated by a chance to perform.

An interesting problem. Creativity is my gift. As a lifelong thinker, the moment something activates the problem solving impetus of my brain, my body has a physical reaction. I start obsessing, imagining and zealously deconstructing everything in my path until the internal monologue stops. And so, I am motivated by challenging situations.

A meaningful contribution. I’m genetically wired for hard work. It’s just my nature. I’m happier when I’m being productive and prolific. There is a place in me that starves if I go more than a few days without nudging the world in a positive direction. And so, I am motivated by the chance to work.

That’s my bacon. That’s why I do what I do.

What about you?

A similar exercise for uncovering your natural motivations is to plug yourself into the following formulas:

I can feel like I’ve achieved a return on investment, as long as ________.
I can rationalize anything, as long as it has something to do with ________.
I can accomplish anything, as long as I have the organizing principle of ________.
I can stick with a new behavior, as long as I can find a way to incorporate ________.
I can trick myself into doing something daily, but only if I get the chance to ________.

These exercises require a lot of personal reflection. And they often feel like we’re tricking ourselves into taking action. But we all have to be a little deluded to stay motivated. And as collectors, creators and communicators of ideas, our work demands that we become masters of activating own internal generators.

That we find our bacon.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Peripheral Creation Versus Principal Creation

Being prolific doesn’t mean doing everything fast.

In fact, when it comes to the principal act of writing, that is, physically putting words on a blank page, I actually work quite slowly. Which seems unlikely, considering I’ve published two books per year, every year, for the last decade.

But you have to understand, writing is only one step of the creative process.

Before showing up at the page, there’s a mountain of journaling and researching and ritualizing and gathering inspiration and taking notes and organizing material to be done. And after showing up at the page, there’s a second mountain of editing and formatting and architecting and managing and publishing and marketing to be done.

Now, those activities, I do execute quickly. Because they’re peripheral steps in the creative process, where it’s more about speed and less about skill. Where velocity doesn’t degrade value.

Photographers know all about this distinction.

According to the landmark study by the International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers, after editing, designing, bookkeeping, going to meetings, communicating with clients, marketing, networking, equipment setup, technical maintenance and working in photo labs, only about twelve percent of the photographer’s time is actually spent taking pictures.

Twelve percent.

No wonder they take their time.

Shooting is their principal work unit.

And that’s something that should never be rushed.

But as for everything else in the creative process, if you want to achieve artistic prolificacy, put the pedal to the medal. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Calls Out is the State of the Heart

When I have a headache, I take aspirin.

Thirty minutes later, the pain usually goes away.

But when my mind starts going to dark places, conjuring up horrible thoughts that are far too ugly and desperate and destructive to be okay with me, I snap out of myself like a werewolf turning back into a man and wonder, jesus christ, did I really just think that?

Yes, yes I did.

In these moments, I try to suspend judgment. I try to have compassion for the bewildering mental lows I am capable of. And I try to tolerate and survive my difficult thoughts, as opposed quarantining them out of existence.

It’s okay.

Whatever happens solely inside my mind is not cause for moral alarm.

These thoughts don’t make me a bad person, they just make me a person.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Scott's Sunday Sentences, Issue 011

Sentences are my spiritual currency. 

Throughout my week, I'm constantly scouring and learning and reading and inhaling and annotating from any number of newspapers, blogs, online publications, books, articles, songs, art pieces, podcasts, eavesdroppings, random conversations and other sources of inspiration.

Turns out, most of these sentences can be organized into about eleven different categories, aka, compartments of life that are meaningful to me. And since I enjoy being a signal tower of things that are interesting, I figured, why not share them on a regular basis?

In the spirit of "learning in public," I've decided to publish a weekly digest of my top findings, along with their respective links or reference points. Sentence junkies of the world unite!

Creativity, Innovation & Art 
"I want to build a solid house, but I want to leave all the doors and windows open so that varmints can come and go as needed and steal what they desire," from American Songwriter.

Culture, Humanity & Society 
"Anthropologists estimate that hunter gatherers only had to spend around four hours a day searching for food, the rest of the time was leisure time," from Working Our Lives Away.

Identity, Self & Soul 
"It pleases us to see ourselves burdened by the sorts of difficulties that only a warrior hero could meet," from Eric Maisel.

Lyrics, Poetry & Passages 
"I know how crazy you are about all the things that I don’t care about," from Neil Young's Speech.

Meaning, Mystery & Being 
"Choose your obsessions rather than letting them choose you," from Brainstorm.

Media, Technology & Design 
"Releasing people from their dependency on email will free up the time and mental space needed to move the species forward," from The Next Big Thing.

Nature, Health Science 
"Patients are very possessive about their conditions," from Dr. Khoo.

People, Relationships & Love 
"The ones whose eyes meet ours when we wake in the morning," from Hopeful World.

Psychology, Thinking & Feeling
"Don’t do what I did, but ask what I asked," from Liz Gilbert.

Success, Life & Career
"Whatever gets you down the hill faster," from Steven Pressfield

Work, Business Organizations
"If you keep to a routine, there's no limit to how much you can deliberately not achieve," from The Onion.

See you next week!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to Save Radio Shack

A few months ago, I posted my thinkmap, research and narrative arc about why Radio Shack is broken, and how we can use digital to fix it.

I've been fleshing out the details of my strategic execution, which you can preview in the slides below or on Slide Share.

Enjoy!

Friday, January 24, 2014

While Time Ticks By Like a Winded Toy

Yoga and creativity are parallel practices.

Both require patience, discipline, flexibility, focus and vulnerability. Both can be done individually or with a group. And both achieve the most meaningful results when I’m wearing as little clothing as possible.

Recently, I discovered another quality they have in common.

In yoga, it’s actually easier to do the posture than it is to sit out.

No matter how tired and sore and sweaty and frustrated I am, when I resort to squatting on the floor, slugging back water and staring at myself in the mirror, that only magnifies the pain. And I end up just sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, with nothing to focus on except my own suffering, while time ticks by like a winded toy.

And that’s when I say to myself, look, I didn’t come to class to not practice, so I may as well stand up and try again.

In creativity, it’s the same thing.

It’s actually easier to write than it is to not write.

No matter how lonely an uninspired and disillusioned and angry I am, when I resort to artfully creating constant distractions instead of working, jacking myself off on social media and pathetically waiting for that one email that changes everything, that only magnifies the pain. And again, I end up just sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, with nothing to focus on except my own suffering, while time ticks by like a winded toy.

And that’s when I say to myself, look, I didn’t come to the page not to write, so I may as well bear down and try again.

The point is, doing the work may be hard.

But it’s a hell of lot better than the alternative.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Specter of Completion Never Stifles Me

The biggest barrier to starting is finishing.

That’s why so many artists die with their music still in them. They’re too busy twisting themselves into psychological pretzels, paralyzed by the wrong questions:

When I’m done writing this script, then what? What if nobody likes it? What if the final product isn’t good enough? What if my work gets criticized and compared to everybody else? Or, what if my audience actually embraces it? Then what? Does that mean I’ll have to go out there and actually start selling the damn thing?

No wonder people never start.

They’re too afraid to finish.

Psychologically, this makes total sense. Humans have a natural aversion to completion. We don’t like when things end. Endings represent loss and change and death and dying and saying goodbye and starting over.

But as I learned from watching way too many karate movies in the eighties, the best way to block a punch is to not be there.

And that leads to a different question. One that most artists never think to ask:

How can I eliminate the construct of “finishing” from my creative equation?

Simple.

By deciding that my work is never finished.

This proclamation gives me the freedom to approach my creative process as a fluid experience. Viewing each piece of output as a constantly evolving organism, within the ecosystem of my larger body of work. As a result, everything I create is assigned its appropriate home on the artistic continuum. And with no visible end in sight, the specter of completion never stifles me from starting.

Because there is no finish line. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Suffering Surfaces the Self

Misery isn’t doing something you hate.

It’s becoming someone you hate when you do it.

I have no problem executing the grunt work, sucking it up and grinding it out until the job gets done. With a little creativity and lot of focus, I can rationalize most of life’s activities into something at least marginally meaningful.

Unless.

When an experience causes me to degrade into the lowest version of myself, this cynical, bitter, apathetic, antisocial, hypercritical sack of flesh and bones, that’s my definition of miserable.

When my relationship to the world no longer makes sense to me, and I feel like a lonely chunk of tofu taking on the flavor of whatever disgusting soup it’s immersed in, that’s my definition of miserable.

When I’m trapped in a system of rules that put me at odds with myself, one that keeps my intellect on pause and my expression on mute, forcing me into a false self I can no longer comfortably inhabit, that’s my definition of miserable.

See the difference?

It’s less about activity and more about identity.

Because I don’t care about being the best at what I do.

I just want to be best of who I am.

The upside is, misery also gives me a window into my values.

Suffering surfaces the self.

So it’s still a net gain. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

When You're Good, You Make Others Gooder

With great chops comes great responsibility.

When you’re the top talent in the room, you have a social obligation to share the artistic wealth. To elevate the collective game of the other players. To fight the selfish urge to concentrate all your skills and energies and sensibilities into your own performance and blow everyone away, and instead, to disseminate the volume of your spirit far and wide, so that your magic illuminates everyone, not just your own reflection.

That’s why they call you a pro.

Because you operate from the right pronouns.

Real leaders stand for the we.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Scott's Sunday Sentences, Issue 010

Sentences are my spiritual currency. 

Throughout my week, I'm constantly scouring and learning and reading and inhaling and annotating from any number of newspapers, blogs, online publications, books, articles, songs, art pieces, podcasts, eavesdroppings, random conversations and other sources of inspiration.

Turns out, most of these sentences can be organized into about eleven different categories, aka, compartments of life that are meaningful to me. And since I enjoy being a signal tower of things that are interesting, I figured, why not share them on a regular basis?

In the spirit of "learning in public," I've decided to publish a weekly digest of my top findings, along with their respective links or reference points. Sentence junkies of the world unite!

Creativity, Innovation & Art 
"Artists have an itch that nothing can scratch except work," from The Artist's Way Everyday.

Culture, Humanity & Society 
"Evil wasn’t invented, it’s just what happened when somebody got tired of all the effort it took to live right," from Trusting Soul.

Identity, Self & Soul 
"We are the model for what we create," from Eliot Frick's speech.

Lyrics, Poetry & Passages 
"Every door has a key, and if you can’t find it, make one," from Pharrell.

Meaning, Mystery & Being 
"Longitudinal relationships increase a sense of meaning, transient relationships increase a sense of happiness," from The Unhappy Life.

Media, Technology & Design 
"Social media allows brands to start conversations, but are they conversations worth starting?" from The Marketoonist.

Nature, Health Science 
"Nature equips human beings with appetites, but not with meanings," from Meanings of Life.

People, Relationships & Love 
"A person who can defend themselves with a gun is just not very interesting," from Jerry Seinfeld.

Psychology, Thinking & Feeling
"What do you have to lose? You’re already depressed," from Chris Brogan.

Success, Life & Career
"Stick around and continue to be yourself and the correct people will find you," from Lena Dunham and Alec Baldwin.

Work, Business Organizations
"Jobs that require intuition and personality and connection and genius should never be outsourced," from Seth Godin's Skillshare Class.

See you next week!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Beating People to the Personhood Punch

Wearing a nametag everyday has its advantages.

I’m easy to find in a crowd, strangers are friendlier to me on the subway, I get better service at restaurants and airports, people never forget my name at parties, and I’m statistically less likely to commit violent crimes.

That last one is a fact. Sociologically, there’s a direct correlation between anonymity and accountability. You don’t stab someone when everybody can see your name. That’s just good science.

But the best part about wearing a nametag is, I get to label myself first.

Think about the implications of that for a minute.

Are you making a name for yourself, or is someone making one for you? Are you living other people’s ideas about who you are? How often do you find yourself apologizing for who you are? And, how will you remind yourself who you were before the world told you who you were supposed to be?

Wearing a nametag gives me ownership over my identity. It beats people to the personhood punch. And it refuses to give the world a chance to tell me who I am.

I come pre-labeled, literally and figuratively.

And in a world where people are constantly trying to tell you who you are, who you’re allowed to be, and who you need to be, that seems like a smart move to me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Perfect Quietness of Heart

Expecting nothing changes everything.

It creates contentment, since you’re grateful for what you have. It builds humility, since you’re surrendering control. It invites calmness, since you’re not meeting some standard. It allows acceptance, since you’re saying yes to what is.

Expecting nothing changes everything.

It triggers presence, since you’re not obsessing about the future. It achieves freedom, since you’re liberated from the past. It summons wonder, since you’re open to whatever happens. And it enables stability, since you’re never knocked off center.

That’s what happens when we shake off the shackles of expectation.
                                                 
We experience the perfect quietness of heart.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Earn Your Way Into People’s Memories

Anything worth doing is worth doing for a long time.

Because eventually, you’ll start to run into people who have heard of you. Or remember one of your works. Or talked to their friends about you. Or saw you perform somewhere. Or listened to you do an interview. Or read something you wrote. Or did a case study on you in one of their marketing or psychology or communication classes.

Proving, the shortest distance to someone’s brain is through your body.

Your body of work, that is.

Julia Cameron, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, and composer, has accumulated an astounding body of work in the last thirty years. Her insights have had a profound influence on my creative life, from my tactical daily routines to my strategic career decisions. In her book The Sound of Paper, she paints a powerful picture about the importance of longevity:

“Creators must take the long view and be in it for the long haul. The ability to see distance is critical to a creative career, because we’re out to accomplish a body of work, not merely one piece. And so, making great strides in creativity means taking small steps. We must always bear in mind that each day’s work is part of a larger body of work, and that slow, steady output amasses into a work of a lifetime. But unless we are able to take this long view, we will be derailed by rejection.”

The goal, then, is to leave behind an easily found trail of accomplishment. And not just any creative output, but work that’s worth collating and highlighting.

Here’s what that means:

Putting yourself into as many mediums and channels and expressions as possible, so that over time, the total output of your work becomes a collection that people can access in many different ways.

Standing for something faithfully, so that you become a living embodiment of that thing, almost like a placeholder, bookmark, beacon or a reminder, which allows people to start equating you with the thing itself.

Staying with yourself as the world orbits around you, knowing that no matter how long it takes before people come back into your atmosphere, they’ll still find you doing what you do, even if you’re doing it in new ways.

Generating as many potential brand touches as possible, so the universe of people you’ve interacted with grows naturally and incrementally until eventually, the right group of people finds you.

Getting up in the morning, listening to what you’re supposed to make next and shoveling coal into your creative locomotive, laying down track as fast as you can, without the fear that your best ideas are behind you.

Establishing themes in your work so your art is less random and more of a representation of your feelings and ideas and sense of life, like a physical index of your human value system.

That’s how your body of work, which is everything you create and contribute and affect and impact, will earn its way into people’s memories. To get there, here’s the formula:

Small times long equals big.

That’s the equation for prolificacy. Proving, that we just have to learn to be incrementalists. To make our art like a mosaic, adding one small piece at a time.

The writing formula I’ve been using for years was five hundred words a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year. Now, for most professional writers, that isn’t that many words. And yet, the number nets out to about three books a year. All from one page a day. That’s not mystery, that’s not mastery. That’s just math. And yet, few artists have hooked into this way of working. They haven’t committed to a critical number of creative output. They don’t realize that building a body of work boils down to those everyday disciplines that contribute to the sheer accumulation of material.

Small times long equals big.

Seinfeld understands this formula. As a comedian and writer, he has an estimated net worth of eight hundred million dollars. And so, it’s no surprise that he famously said that the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes, and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. He suggested getting a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hanging it on a prominent wall. And for each day that you hit your quota, you get to put a big red x over that day. Then, after a few days you’ll have a chain. And if you just keep at it, the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain as a visual reminder of progress, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. And at that point, your only job is to not break the chain.

Small times long equals big.

Schultz understood this formula. In his biography, he famously said cartooning was a job where you’re doing the same thing over and over, but you’re never allowed to repeat yourself. And yet, he explained that the secret of his success was focusing on drawing one good comic strip every day. Not making millions. Not achieving fame. Not changing the world. Not advancing his personal agenda. Not making publishers and newspapers happy. Just the art. Just the work. Just one good strip, every day. That single goal, that incrementalist approach, governed Schultz’s work for more than fifty years, and it made him the most influential, popular and profitable cartoonist in the history of the medium. The strip was his mission piece. That one chunk of art he committed to, focused on and obsessed over, each day, until it was done, no exceptions; trusting that everything else, from the television specials to the merchandising to the books, would flow from that.

Small times long equals big.

Proving, that consistency is the ultimate shortcut. That the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That small times long equals big. And as a result, he forever put his body into our memories.


And so, whatever you’re creating, don’t just do it well, do it for a long time.

Monday, January 13, 2014

If Commitment Isn’t the Answer, Rephrase the Question

Productivity is not a science.

We just tell ourselves it is. 

That’s the human tendency. 

To seek out systems and structures and seven step equations for getting things done. We just love any construct that satisfies our sense of order, offers security, conserves cognitive effort and gives us reassurance that some outside agent is absorbing the responsibility and doing the work for us.

But the reality is, when it comes to taking initiative and chasing your dreams and managing your time and juggling multiple projects simultaneously, the best technique is commitment.

Which isn’t exactly a sexy answer.

Saying to someone, look, if you would just freaking commit, everything would start to fall in place, rarely lights a fire under their ass.

All I know is, when we are willing to bleed for it, amazing things happen.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Momentum Hinges on the Power of One

I have a friend who’s a perfectionist.

She would rather show nothing than show work that’s less than her best.

And I tell her all the time, look, I understand you want to put your best foot forward, but you’ll never impress anyone by putting no foot forward.

The reality is, being amazing is nice, but it’s not always necessary. What’s most important––at least, for now––is having something, anything, that you can point to. Something that gets you on the runway. Something you can hold up and say, this is me, this is what I do.

Even if it’s not a ten.

My first book wasn’t exactly a literary masterpiece. Considering all the typos and adverbs poor grammar and rambling stories, I can’t even bring myself to flip through the pages anymore. It’s just too painful.

And yet, that book brought me here. I wouldn’t be where I am without it.

The point is, momentum hinges on the power of one. Sometimes you have to put work out there that’s less than amazing today, to motivate yourself to make something even better tomorrow.

Otherwise the curse of perfection trumps the commitment to progress.