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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Moments of Conception 010 -- The Ives Scene from Steve Jobs

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the design scene in Jobs:



So, what did they do right?

Let your why drive. Apple stood for taste, humanity, heart and design. But somewhere along the way, somewhere in the bloated space between the cubicle farms and copy machines and shareholder meetings, that original vision got lost. Jobs realized his company wasn’t a garage anymore. That’s why he asked his team the crucial question. Why are you still here? He understood that what we create is just as important as why we create it. That the depth of meaning connected to the idea is just as important as the idea itself. Armed with that vision, that running imperative, that underlying nobility, the design team took on a new posture in their work. Ive’s result was the iMac, a product that paved the way for many other designs including the iPod, which changed the way we listen to music; the iPhone, which changed the way we live and communicate; and the iPad, which changed the way we work and learn. All because they remembered why.

Creativity is a function of caring. Jobs was a man on a mission. He cared more than anyone. That was his ideal. That was the objective definition of his values. That was the hallmark of his passionate craftsmanship. And he personally embraced and internalized it to the highest order. Jobs famously commented in his bestselling postmortem biography, “The idealistic wind of the sixties is still at my back, and most of the people I know who are my age have that ingrained in them forever.” Unfortunately, nobody changes the world by caring in a corner. Values aren’t taught, they’re caught. And so, when Jobs returned to the company as de facto chief in the late nineties, he started putting some calories behind his caring. He walked the factory floors, infected his team with his vision, and together they gave visual expression to his sense of life. Proving, that when sheer obsessive caring about what you do drives you, there’s no ceiling on what you can create.

Restructure the system around constraints. In one of my favorite books, The Art of Looking Sideways, famed visual designer Alan Fletcher wrote that the first move in any creative process is to introduce constraints. And not just lines and borders and shapes and colors and physical space and time, but also conceptual constraints. In this scene, Jobs tells his team to forget about whatever they’re working on. To design something new. Something useful. Something they cared about. Even if it’s technology. That was the constraint. The catapult that set them free. Their job was to chase the ugliness away. And what was the result? Packaging became theater. Computers became friendly. Technology became nondisposable. Innovation became human. Customers became evangelists. Apple became iconic. Jobs became immortal.

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?

Friday, May 30, 2014

A New Framework For Becoming Prolific

I'm currently working on a new project called Prolific, which is the art and science of collecting, creating and communicating your ideas.

The system I've built will eventually become a book, a curriculum and some kind of software application. Last week, I shared part one of the glossary, in case you missed it. 


This week, I have another collection of terms to help you rewrite your creative vocabulary. Each definition has a link to a related piece that explains it further. Enjoy.



Bacon. A motivational currency that overrides your excuses, activates your natural inclinations and moves you to execution.


Boundary moments. Existential distresses or identity crises in which our motivation for doing something is just to feel normal again.


Buffaloing. Keeping all of our passions in play, investing in multiple containers of meaning, using our strengths to do what we do best and leaving no faculty unharvested.


Burning creative calories. Channeling your jealousy into something productive instead of crafting your envy into something hateful.  


Content detachment. The creator’s obligation to empty himself of any expectations, perceptions, hierarchies and value chains attached to his ideas.


Creative Commitment. A theoretical constraint of treating your art as a daily practice, professionalizing your art and using daily momentum to keep yourself from feeling detached from the process.


Deep democracy. Treat everything we encounter with fundamental affirmation and radical acceptance.


Delayed gratification. Staying the course, risking today’s time for tomorrow’s treasure and believing that it’s only a matter of time before your   


Digging your creative well. Accumulating ongoing reference files for your brain to work on through a passive, unconscious process.


Exhaling. The creative season of content expression, or output, and shipping work out of the factory.


Existential anchor. Portable, purposeful and private sanctuary that brings you back to center to reconnect with the self, the body, the spirit and the heart.


Framework for inspiration. Metacognitive, ritualistic or recreational tactics for finding inspiration where no one else is looking.


Identity based creation. Tapping into your native endowments and limitations of creativity, motivation, inspiration and intelligence and channeling them in the service of making your ideas happen.


Incrementalism. Building a body of work based on a practice of patience, delayed gratification and continuity.


Inhaling. The creative season of content inspiration, or input, and listening for what wants to be written.


Integration. Employing the whole of your personality, talents, gifts and experiences to contribute the highest amount of value and firepower those around you.


Internal revolution. Updating the identity story you tell yourself after spontaneously doing something you didn’t realize you could do.


Making room. Relieving your brain the necessity of remembering, freeing up your working memory to opens your mind to receive new ideas.


Meaning context. Making motivation significantly easier by making an activity existentially painful not to do.


Mini sabbatical. The opposite of ambition, the antitheses of labor, in which you leave the creative land alone for a given period of time.


Momentum device. An elegant excuse just to have ideas and validate the process with a sophisticated piece of office technology, building your confidence, commitment and competence.


Pausing. The creative season of content intermission, or throughput, and managing your ideas as an inventory system.


Preliminary trigger. A simple, easy and incremental ritual that keeps creative production going and grows your executional victory bank.

Principal creation. The primary work unit of your creative process that requires focus and craft, i.e., putting words on paper or clicking the shutter.

Peripheral creation. The secondary activities of your creative process where it’s more about speed and less about skill, i.e., editing, formatting, social media and billing.


Regeneration. The creative product is subordinate to the creative moment, which is subordinate to the creative process, which is subordinate to the holistic creative life.


Safety container. A space without circumference where judgment can’t enter, a free venue where ideas can run free without the scrutiny of readers, critics, editors and yourself.


Seasonality. The three stages of the creative process as modeled after the respiratory functions, i.e., inhaling, pausing and exhaling.


Self Organization. Some form of global order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an initially disordered system.


Triggers for joy. Something, anything, gives you sustenance from the act itself and puts you back together.


Unfinishing. Approaching the 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.


Why work. Identifying the running imperative that drives your creative behavior, the nobility behind your work and the posture with which you approach your art.



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moments of Conception 009 -- The Bathroom Scene from As Good As It Gets

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the bathtub scene of As Good As It Gets:


So, what did they do right?

Listen for what wants to be written. Simon is down on his luck. Assaulted and nearly killed during a robbery, bankrupt from accumulating medical bills, estranged from his disapproving parents and devoid of creative inspiration. It’s no wonder he hasn’t created in weeks. Simon is a starving artist in every sense of the word. Until one evening, the muse, with her trademark divine timing, materializes in the form of a woman. I love the way it’s written in the original screenplay, “Instinct, sound and the faint glow of hope turns Simon over so that he faces the bathroom, where we have sitting at tub’s edge, a bathing beauty exposing a better than perfect breast.” In this moment, the tortured artist comes alive for the first time in the film. Carol’s spirit infects him with vigor and imagination. His face and posture and voice and attitude shift with the speed of a cool wind’s turn. And before he knows it, his hand starts moving across the canvas. Because the muse was hammering on a pane of glassing yelling, can you hear me? And the artist answered the call.

Don’t take your lightning for granted. Simon makes the crucial creative transition from inspiration to momentum. He doesn’t just register the moment, he rides it. Because he’s smart enough to know, if he doesn’t write it down, it never happened. He’s humble enough to know, art comes through people, not from them. And he’s mindful enough to know, inspiration comes unannounced, and you have to capture it before it vaporizes. Meaning, in this moment, Simon’s job is to take dictation. To stay with the muse, stay focused on the work, stay engaged with the subject, and mine the vein until it’s out. Because moments like these don’t come around all that often. That’s the price of admission. That’s the cover charge he pays to plug into this immense power source. And he respectfully reimburses the muse with his time, talents and tenacity, lest she never darken his doorstep again. It’s a helpful reminder to all creators, don’t stop while you’re ahead, stop when your muse tells you the power source is dead.

Inspiration is a reciprocal transaction. Collaboration built the world. Collaboration is how most of our ancestors used to work and live. And the work of an artist is no different. Carol claims that what she needed, he gave her. But let’s not forget, what he needed, she gave him too. It’s the third law of motion. We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own. And that’s the delightful irony of this scene. Simon is gay. Melvin even asks him earlier in the film, “Do you ever get an erection for a woman?” to which Simon patiently shakes his head no. Meanwhile, this moment of conception, this energy exchange, this highly sexual yet wholly plutonic exchange between two consenting adults, is the hottest, most memorable scene of the whole movie. Proving, that if we want to influence the people around us, we ought to pay attention not only to what we do that gives us energy, but what we do that gives others energy. Oh, and Helen Hunt is one foxy mama.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Risking Today’s Time for Tomorrow’s Treasure

I started blogging over ten years ago. 

And after over a million words written, blogging taught me was to adopt an incrementalist mindset. Because it’s not about one key post that changes everything, it’s about performing day after day, helping a few people a little at a time and trusting that the accumulation of the work will bear fruit. And, because most blogs are abandoned a few months after creation, maintaining continuity over the long haul separates you from the pack. Proving, that the best way to beat the odds is through massive output.

Blogging also taught me that every blog post is a product. Every post its own piece of digital merchandise, with its own launch date, target market, social trajectory, leveragability and profitability. Some blow up, some just blow. Some make a killing, some just make a thud. But as long as you show up every day and post, you’re still in the game. But if you never click the publish button, you’re just winking in the dark.

It’s only a matter of time, as I like to tell myself.

I’m reminded of when Don Marquis, the renowned humorist, journalist, author and playwright, famous said that publishing was like dropping a rose petal down a canyon and waiting for the echo.

What a perfect way to describe delayed gratification.

The problem is, delayed gratification isn’t sexy. Patience is not a primary agenda item for most of the world. Especially these day, when our technology tricks us into thinking that everything does, and should, happen right now. And yet, it’s something all prolific creators have in common. Their capacity for delayed gratification makes it possible for them to aspire to objectives that others would disregard.

Bob Lefsetz, former attorney, music industry analyst and critic, writes a prolific, insightful and useful publication called The Lefsetz Letter. He explores a variety of themes, including the diminishing role of the major record labels, grassroots artist activities, digital media distribution, new business models for the music industry, and my personal favorite, what it takes to become a successful artist.

In a recent issue, he made a powerful case for delayed gratification:

“Stay in school. I know, some of the biggest legends of the entertainment business never finished college, some didn’t even complete high school. But that was then, and this is now. The sixties were different. We lived in an homogeneous society. Social mobility was rampant. You could go from middle class to upper class quite easily. Rich was within your grasp. But no longer. And the brightest stars of today’s society know it. That’s why the graduates go into finance and stay there, while the great unwashed star in reality television programs, get famous for a few years, then slide back into obscurity when the trade on their fame has lost most of its zeros. We know their names, but they’re footnotes, trivia questions, if you think they’re rich, you don’t know what rich is. Life is long. If you’re not prepared for delayed gratification, you’re going to have a very rough ride.”

The point is, it’s not about college, it’s about continuity. Staying the course. Delaying gratification. Risking today’s time for tomorrow’s treasure. Believing that it’s only a matter of time. And know that those who practice patience, become prolific.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Moments of Conception 008 -- The Chicken Wing Scene from Tommy Boy

All creativity begins with the moment of conception.

That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.

And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.

Today's clip comes from the diner scene of Tommy Boy:



So, what did they do right?

Anger is the ember of initiative. Tommy nearly destroys his partner’s prized classic hotrod. Richard, overwhelmed with anger and adrenaline, finally lashes out and calls him an ungrateful, moronic, worthless, no selling waste of space, which leads to one of the greatest fight scenes in comedy history. And yet, the outcome is much more than a facial bruise the size of a pork chop. It’s an epiphany that changes everything. Tommy, fueled by the fire of frustration and rejection, launches into a hysterical, overdramatic outburst about his pathetic sales abilities. The waitress looks at him like he’s just escaped from the psych ward. Ironically, this performance taps into a business capability he didn’t know he possessed. Selling. He may not be able to sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman with white gloves, but Tommy does know how to captivate and entertain and connect with a complete stranger. And since sales is nothing more than transferring emotion to another person, we realize he’s not as worthless as we once thought. The point is, he didn’t take things personally, he channeled them productively. Proving, that emotion is oxygen for the creative fire.

To shove people is to love people. Richard is, as one customer suggests, a smug, unhappy little man who treats people like they were idiots. But he’s not immune to teachable moments. At the restaurant, he recognizes Tommy’s chicken wing epiphany. But instead of shrugging it off, he pauses to recount the moment, probes to discover the motivation behind the moment and assures that his partner understands the significance of the moment. Turns out, Tommy actually possess tremendous business acumen. He just needed someone to hold up a mirror to his abilities. Maslow dubbed this phenomenon a our unconscious competence, wherein we has so much practice with a skill that it becomes second nature and can be performed easily. The challenge is, we’re always the last ones to recognize our own value. We’re simply too close to ourselves. We rarely have the eyes to see our highest talents. That’s why we need people in our life to be mirrors and witnesses and encouragers. To make sure our potential doesn’t go to waste. Otherwise we’re just eating sugar packets in the dark.

Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing. Tommy’s interaction with the waitress comes back into play a later in the movie. The phrase chicken wings becomes a neurolinguistic anchor––a stimulus that calls forth certain thoughts and emotions­­––that he can later use to produce the appropriate state of mind needed for a given situation. Richard knows this intuitively. And so, a few scenes later, when the time comes to make a sale, he whispers the phrase chicken wings into his Tommy’s ear. And that anchor activates the sales subroutine in his head, snapping him into appropriate state of mind to sell brake pads. This is a huge lesson in personal motivation. Whether you’re running a business, writing a book or performing a concert, part of your job is to build an arsenal of associative triggers, aka anchors, which allow you to enter into your creative zone. Personalized workspaces, curated playlists, sacred objects, daily meditation rituals, these are your chicken wings. And once you tailor make these triggers to your obsessions, compulsions, preferences and idiosyncrasies, there’s no stopping you.

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?


Monday, May 26, 2014

How to Rewrite Your Creative Vocabulary

The adjective people have always used to describe me is prolific. 

It makes sense. As author, blogger, public speaker, video producer, consultant, columnist, strategist, storyteller, filmmaker, publisher, musician and songwriter, I’ve spent the better part of my life as a collector, creator and communicator of ideas. 

And so, in the past year, I've been researching and writing and experimenting extensively on this topic. I've also been reverse engineering my own creative process, cobbling together the world’s first comprehensive framework for becoming prolific. 

It's the art and science of collecting, creating and communicating your ideas.

Imagine The Artist’s Way meets Getting Things Done meets Behind the Music. That’s the best way to describe it. The goal is to change the way you think about the way you think. But it’s more than just a collection of exercises; it’s a rubric for operable behaviors at all stages and levels of the creative process. 

My hope is that it will help you:

*Eliminate creative blocks for life with daily routines, rituals, postures and disciplines.
*Create rigor around your intellectual property and knowledge management.
*Tighten up your systems with infrastructure to produce high levels of output
*Fully flesh out your thoughts and messages for maximum impact.
*Strategically publish and position your body of work as a crafter of compelling content.
*Build a personalized content management system for collecting, creating and communicating your thoughts.

The system I've built will eventually become a book, a curriculum and some kind of software application. For now, I wanted to share a glossary of terms to help you rewrite your creative vocabulary. Each definition has a link to a related piece that explains it further. Enjoy.

Active listening. Tuning into the muse and the situation and the gleams of light that flash across your mind, trusting what the world is trying to tell you.

Arbitrary sorting mechanism. An organizing principle, free of judgment and expectation, which allows you to notice patterns in your ideas and inspiration.

Associative trigger. Personal patterns and physical objects, from music to visual stimulation to desk style, that echo the habits of action and allow you to enter into your creative zone.

Awareness plan. A metacognitive procedure or mental recipe for perceiving and thinking about the environment around you, a lens for interacting with the world.

Cognitive richness. The sense of agency and competence you experience during the process of manual or analog work.

Commitment device. A physical object or prototype that makes the effects of your work real and visible for all to see, even in the early stages of production.

Constant. Muscles to count on, places to return to, rituals to abide by, people to confide in, rocks to anchor to, practices to rely on, structures to lean against, that keep your creative life stable and fruitful.

Creative kindling. A source of inspiration that reignites your original enthusiasm and the impulse that initially fueled your artistic energy reserve.

Creative limbo. A lack of excitement around not having discovering something worth doing, a knowledge that you’re on the verge of a fiery new artistic pursuit, but an inability to turn yourself over to some pressing, meaningful creative demand.

Creative on ramp. A ritual that prompts a work mindset, a moment that merges you into the creative process, an environment that sets a tone that says work happens here.

Creative subroutine. Using a ritual that brings up your energy and snaps you into the appropriate state of mind to do your work.

Discipline transplant. Doable, less threatening strategies to enable your ideal mental, emotional and existential space from which to create.

Distributed cognition. New ideas that arise from combining many disparate pieces of information or concepts over an extended period of time.

Ember of initiative. Instead of taking things personally, you channel them productively, using emotion as oxygen for your creative fire.

Faithful force. Routines that keep your creative life stable and fruitful when circumstances get a little too overwhelming.

Fragmentary associative process. Creating ideas in a piecemeal, nonlinear fashion, without the constraints of chronology, sequence, rational order and narrative.

Going perpendicular. Intentionally walking away from your current work to engage in something unrelated to the flow of activity.

Gradualistic creativity. Rejecting the notion of the elusive eureka moment and practicing an existential and holistic approach to a creative life, living your life in a way that your art gets done over and over.

Gravitational order. Using motion to create equilibrium so your work finds its place in the universe, thus conspiring towards some unifying geometrical situation.

Ground zero. The entry point into the creative processing workflow, the primary location for offloading raw materials into your idea factory.

Hyperfocused expression. Whatever little world you investigate to a great, high level, something that fascinates and ignites you.

Limitation leverage. Identifying your deficiency, deciding how to exploit it and then restructuring everything in the creative process around it.

Medium agnostic. Instead of forcing our own expectations upon the work, you allow patterns to emerge and open our work to becoming more dimensionalized, in whatever form it needs to live.

Module. Treating each thought as an uncategorized chunk of creative material, an objective, portable piece content that accumulates and categorizes into its own structure.

Moment of conception. The single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to you, something wants to be built here.

Movement value. The discipline of recognizing conceptual beginnings, witnessing ideas in their nascent state and spawning as many creative offspring as possible.

Natural collaboration. Creating a more visceral and spontaneous contact with your work by designing systems and structures that invite nature as your collaborator.

Organizing principle. The core assumption, central reference point or guiding pole, which governs action and allows everything else in its proximity to derive value.

Physical displacement. A problem solving technique whereby working in unusual settings helps you see patterns you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

Polyamorous creation. Pursuing relationships with multiple creative projects, with a full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.

Primary creative environments. The essential environment asset that reflects who you are and what’s important to you, so that the ideas flow as a natural consequence of that workspace.

Portable creative environments. Any alternative workspace that functions as a transportable lightning rod, tailor made to your artistic tendencies, which enables you to snap into work mode and make the word flesh.

Premature cognitive commitment. When people become emotionally or intellectually bound to a course of action, a form of mindlessness that results after a single exposure to an idea.

Proactive unconscious. Viewing your mind as idea processor, waiting at your beck and call, begging you to assign it a problem so it can immediately go to work for you.

Prolificacy equation. An incrementalist, easy does it approach to creating a body of work, which is everything you create and contribute and affect and impact.

Prototype. Something that gives your mental obsession a physical expression, a physical thing that adds energy to the system, moves the creative ball forward and gives the creator the psychological pat on the back.

Ritualized vomiting. A daily ritual of emotional release where you metabolize your experiences, make serious mental headway into your ideas and get the creative faucet flowing.

Runway. Your first creative output that builds momentum, paves the way for prolificacy and does the talking for you.

Solvitas perambulator. Using rhythmic, repetitive exercise or action to clear your mind, stabilize your emotions and increase the production and release of endorphins to pump the well of creativity.

Thievery muscles. Respectfully and ethically other people’s ideas as sparks to superimpose your own meaning and take the idea somewhere else, somewhere different, somewhere better, until the original idea can no longer be identified.

Unconscious rumination. Allowing your inner mind to get to work mulling over, sorting out, organizing and categorizing material that has been previously absorbed, ultimately generating an idea at a time when the mental spotlight isn’t on it.

Walking the factory floor. Creating the ritual of an established parcel of structured curiosity, whereby you casually and thoughtfully peruse every idea you’ve recently accumulated.

There will be a quiz next week.