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Monday, June 30, 2014

Moments of Conception 036 -- The Surrealist Scene from Midnight in Paris

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 surrealist scene in Midnight in Paris:




What can we learn?

People who don’t get the joke are dead to you. Bender’s dilemma is that he inhabits two different worlds simultaneously. To the lay person, that would sound like a surreal concept. But not to a group of surrealists. These men long for contradiction, surprise, absurdity and madness. They welcome the bizarre. Their work, after all, is conceived at the confluence of genius and insanity. And so, meeting a man trapped between generations is a great honor for them. That’s the part of the scene that touches me. Bender has found kindred spirits. He’s discovered his own kind. A community that shares a common passion. People who aren’t interested in catering to the normal. Sigh. Has that ever happened to you? If so, you know profound it can feel. But you also know that the whole thing happens in an instant. Even if it feels like a lifetime. It’s relativity at its finest. The dangerous part is, sometimes it happens so fast that you fail to recognize it. That’s why you have to keep your antennas up. You have to stick around and continue to be yourself until the correct people find you. Which tribe is weird enough to make you feel normal?

Every person helps unlock a little piece. This scene illustrates the transformative power of dialogue. In dialogue, we become observers of our own thinking. In dialogue, we understand the self in the context of other people. In dialogue, we connect with others, observe how they respond to us and gain a broader vision of our ideas and our identities. Unfortunately, too many artists are seduced into taking the antisocial low road. Locking themselves in their studios. Staying at home all day. Constantly disappearing into their own work. And as a result, decimating their ability to relate to others. Myself included. Gruber’s theory of gradualistic creativity, however, touts the interpersonal imperative. His research shows that establishing social environments and peer groups for nurturing work are essential to creative success. That our art should be approached interactively, always conducted in relation to the work of others. To use one of my favorite mantras, it’s hard to play basketball without a backboard. How would your work change if you had access to better sounding boards?

Inspiration is the eye of the beholder. Each of the characters hears the exact same story. Bender is confronting the shortcomings of his relationship while falling in love with a woman from another era. And yet, each of the artists envisages a different masterpiece inspired by such an unusual romance. One man sees a photograph. One man sees a film. One man sees a problem. One man sees a rhinoceros. It’s the perfect illustration of the subjectivity of inspiration. And, if you dig a little deeper, if you look for the thing behind the thing, there’s also a subtle message about originality. Artists, after all, are notoriously possessive about their ideas. And when a good one drops out of the sky, everyone wants to be the first and only one to snatch it. But the reality is, everyone metabolizes inspiration differently. Some see what they want to see. Some see what they need to see. Some see what they expect to see. And some see what they can afford to see. Nonetheless, by the time that moment is received, registered, recorded and rendered, everyone’s result will always looks different. Always. What happens when inspiration registers against your template?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

And I was still making art

Whether we do art part time, full time or in our spare time, it doesn’t make us any less serious, less talented or less worthy than anyone other creator out there.

The only thing that matters is that, in lieu of the reality of our life situation, we always find a way to look back and think, and I was still making art.

I’ve been a part time artist, with another job to pay the bills. Meaning creative work was a partial source of my income. In this situation, I kept one eye cocked to the commercial possibilities of my ideas. As a result, my projects often netted a modest, but not insignificant return. And by focusing on being heard first and paid second, getting my name out there and finding my voice, I earned just enough money to support my lifestyle, underwrite my addictions and keep my career alive as an amateur.

One foot in, one foot out. And I was still making art.

I’ve also been a full time artist, with no other job. Meaning creative work was my primary source of income. In this situation, the quality, quantity and frequency of my thoughts determined my livelihood. Creation became the organizing principle of my life. As a result, I committed enough to build an iconic brand, a profitable enterprise and a prolific body of work that did the talking for me. By growing my audience and diversifying my product and service lines, my annual earnings increased every year.

Both feet in. And I was still making art.

I’ve been a full time employee, with art as my side job. Making creative work was a supplementary source of income. In this situation, I started to make art independent of my need to make money and keep the lights on. As a result, that freed my work from the burden of having to support myself. Creativity wasn’t so claustrophobic anymore, now that I wasn’t worrying about money. And by removing the acute business pressure, I had the sovereignty to experiment with new mediums and genres and ideas.
                                             
Both feet out, some toes in. And I was still making art.


Are you?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Moments of Conception 035 -- The Biases Scene from Moneyball

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 whiteboard scene in Moneyball:



What can we learn?

The user experience for creativity. Pete converted his dark, stale basement office into an inspiring, personalized and prolific command center. Dry erase boards covered with undecipherable equations, walls collaged with sports page clippings, sticky notes scribbled with algorithms and computer screens sprawling with code and spreadsheets. Forget about the baseball diamond, this is his home turf. His territory. His war room. His creative nirvana where utopia truly manifests itself. Billy may feel overwhelmed when he walks in the door, staring blankly at the surrounding, but not Pete. In this space, he has the home field advantage. And that’s why his message is received. It’s a beautiful lesson about the power of context. Pete proves that our primary creative environment is what becomes the structural asset for creating our ideas, and the user experience for communicating them ideas. Are you cultivating the optimal conditions to make your creative process happen?

Seek out unoccupied channels. Originality comes from tapping into unexpected venues as rich areas to mine for inspiration. Viewing everything around you is a point of connection with crossover usefulness. As my mentor once said, the whole world is your rhetorical toolbox. Pete’s version of this is discovering a sanctuary of defective, unwanted, overlooked and undervalued ball players. The island of misfit toys. The place where no one measures up to conventional expectations. But rather than ignoring the players that most teams don’t like, he transforms brokenness into beauty. He sees disturbing or unwanted things as potentially meaningful and becomes enriched by things people normally treat as garbage. Pete exemplifies the practice of deep democracy, meaning, treating everything you encounter with fundamental affirmation and radical acceptance. Baseball players may be his currency, but the larger creative principle still applies: With the right mindset, anyone can discover a river that hasn’t been fished. Are you trying to change nature or follow it?

Objectify your process. Pete writes a code that builds in all the intelligence he has to project players and get things down to one number. Namely, on base percentage. This is a brilliant strategy for baseball, as it allows him to assemble a team of undervalued players with high potential, despite hamstrung finances. But it’s also a smart approach to being an artist. Some creators call it their critical number, their prolificacy equation, their daily mission piece, or their opportunity filter. The name doesn’t really matter. The point is to boil your work down to one thing. Something clean and simple and easy to calculate. A shorthand that triggers an entire world. A proxy that does the heavy lifting for you. That way you can focus on creating. For example, every time somebody reaches out, requesting my service, participation, resources, time, talent or money, I always ask the same question. Is this an opportunity, or an opportunity to be used? That’s my one thing. It’s a boundary setting technique, and it’s saved me thousands of hours of frustration, kept me focused and prolific and helped me stay profitable over the long term. What’s your critical number?

What's your favorite movie moment?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Moments of Conception 034 -- The Review Scene from Singles

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 review scene in Singles:



What can we learn?

Abstinence is a worthy artistic detachment. Our fundamental drive as creators is to be heard. To extend our sentiments and make our thoughts and feelings and expressions accessible to the world. That’s why reading reviews of our work is such a seductive pastime. It appeals to our deepest artistic desires. But when we get sucked into that ego vortex, it becomes an addiction. A rabbit hole of defensiveness and deflation. And the worst part is, that addiction becomes a tail that grows back everyday. Or, in the case of digital media, every few minutes. Singles is a movie about aspiring. It’s about the burgeoning phase of a career in which artists try to find their creative voice. And so, it represents a crucial choice we have to make. Should we torture ourselves listening to voices that don’t matter, or execute work that does matter? Should we invest time and energy reading reviews about our creations, or develop deeper trust in our creations? Should we expose ourselves to harsh, unsolicited feedback, or drown out the white noise and get back to work? The answer is, whatever keeps us on the side of the creators. Are you focusing on principal creation or peripheral masturbation?

Turn feedback into inspiration. Feedback can be procrastination in disguise. Just another excuse not to do the work. On the other hand, feedback can also be treated as inspiration. An energy source to fuel your creativity. If you look closely at the newspaper, the music critic says the band’s lead singer should move to another town where he can disappear into the masses and not stand out like the relentlessly mediocre talent that he is. Ouch. There isn’t an artist alive, rookie or veteran, who wouldn’t be devastated by that blow. Cliff appears legitimately wounded, of course, even despite his band’s best efforts to keep the painful barbs out of his ears. And yet, in that moment, he reminds himself that he can process his feelings later. He dismisses the negative comments before they make him upset. For now, the negative energy makes him stronger. They will not retreat. This band is unstoppable. And no matter what happens tonight, they just remember, they’re still loved in Italy and Belgium. Are you giving someone’s opinion more weight than it deserves?

You can’t argue with a ringing register. Criticism creates a visceral reaction in almost everyone. Especially artists. We are a thoughtful and romantic and empathetic breed, easily wounded and frequently derailed by shame and humiliation. Worse yet, criticism can lodge in our minds and eat away at our core. The solution, according to one of my favorite books, is transforming ourselves into people less willing and less likely to be criticized. Maisel explains that we can actually orient our personalities in a direction that uses criticism as an opportunity to effect positive change. I’m reminded of the time I was featured on a list of the worst tattoos of all time. How proud my parents were. But of course, the shady underworld of anonymous commenters lashed out at me. They called me names that would make a rainbow blush. Meanwhile, something occurred to me. I was the one who built an iconic brand, a profitable enterprise and entire career out of wearing a nametag. Not them. So who’s the joke really on here? Will you let criticism prevent you from fulfilling your dreams?

What's your favorite moment of conception?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Moments of Conception 033 -- The Gigantificationism Scene from Big Fish

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 fishbowl scene in Big Fish:



What can we learn?


Creativity is not location agnostic. Artists come from everywhere. But if they want to reach the higher echelons of creative success, eventually, they have to go somewhere that’s big enough for them. Big enough in geography, big enough in mindset, big enough in access and big enough in resource. The challenge is, it’s not a clean break. Humans are emotionally attached to the flock. And so, the joy of moving toward something doesn’t stop the melancholy of what you leave behind. Especially for the people closest to you. Edward’s family senses the gravity of his growth, so they literally tie him down. For years. They were terrified of his bones settling into their adult configuration. Because they know, once his body grows big enough to match his ambitions, he’ll blow this popsicle stand and never look back. What I love about this scene is, exaggerated and cartoonish as it may be, the boy’s predicament is deeply relatable. The bed symbolizes the childhoods of a million creators whose families and friends figuratively tied them down, endangering their talent. What are the limitations of your environment?

Respect and respond to nature’s agenda. Edward’s encyclopedia isn’t just a book, it’s beautiful reminder of what could be. It’s an invitation to evolve. A mandate to become the big fish he always was. And so, he wisely pays attention to this moment. He allows the epiphany to kickstart his ambition. And before long, he starts to see horizons that most people can’t even tell exist. The goldfish, then, is his spirit animal. His archetype. A totem that represents the traits and skills and potential throttling inside of him. Personally, my spirit animal is a duck. Here’s why. Growing up, I used to fed ducks almost every weekend at the lake by our house. And since then, they’ve always had a presence in my life. Also, all the men in my family waddle. It’s genetic. We walk with duck feet. And lastly, ducks are connected to feminine energy, have a community frame of mind, act very affectionately toward their partners, don’t hold grudges and live in the moment. That’s me. The point is, amazing things are possible when we focus on the natural, not the supernatural. What’s your spirit animal?

No labels, no limits. Parkinson’s law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Identity is a similar process. The world will conspire to keep you working small. To live less than you are. To stay in the small fishbowl. And it’s your responsibility to show people who you’re becoming, so they can stop seeing you as everything you’ve been. To let people know, this is who I am now. Edward’s journey is about shedding outdated ways of speaking about his identity. And any artist seeking to step into his own will go through the same process. When I first started my company, I worked nights and weekends parking cars to make ends meet. Not a bad job, actually. Got tons of exercise, met cool people, always had a drug wad of cash in my pocket. Eventually, though, I grew tired of dabbling. I was sick of being an amateur. And if I had any intention of making it as an artist, I knew I had to go all in and play in the big leagues. So I quit parking cars and went full time as a writer. And my business exploded immediately. Funny what happens when we live larger than our labels. What’s the one extra degree that will propel you beyond your threshold level?

What's your favorite movie moment of conception?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Moments of Conception 032 -- The Driving Scene from Happy Gilmour

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 backyard scene in Happy Gilmore:



What can we learn?

Develop an appetite for playful experiences. Imagine how many significant ideas, inventions, projects, businesses, even careers, that started out as innocuous little blips. A bet between competitors. A joke between friends. An experiment between colleagues. An absurd idea between you and the bedpost. These are the moments that become fertile playgrounds in which innovation flowers. Our guards are down and our curiosities are up. And that’s the ideal mindset for creativity. The tricky part is making the transition from blip to brilliance. Noticing you’ve stumbled upon something with a high level of movement value, and then taking immediate and massive action upon that. Gilmore dramatically recognizes his moment of conception. It’s the unorthodox swing. And so, he spends the rest of the movie leveraging it. First, as a driving range hustle to make a few extra bucks on the side. Second, as a strategy to pay off his grandmother’s tax debt. Third, as a calling card for his career as a professional athlete. And finally, as a catalyst for the generation of golf enthusiasts. All because he made some stupid backyard bet. How do you give the people around you permission to be playful?

I am an idea, give me money. It’s the ultimate entrepreneurial epiphany. You’re doing something you love, something you’re naturally good at, something you would gladly do for free, and then out of the blue, somebody offers you money to do it. Like, real money. They’re going to cross your palm with silver for being yourself. It’s a pinch me moment. Because you think to yourself, wait, you can get paid for this? I remember the first time an organization asked me what my speaking fee was. That was the first time I’d ever heard that term. Ironically enough, I was speechless. Eventually, though, I gathered the courage to charge the company a whopping hundred dollars. And as soon as I held that first check in my hot little hands, my world changed forever. Just ask any artist or athlete or entrepreneur. It’s the strangest sensation. Physically hold real money that you earned from doing what you love, from being who you are? That’s a transformative moment. But again, only if we allow it to be one. If we shrug the money off like it’s no big deal or we didn’t deserve it or the experience was a fluke, we may never see it again. Besides, you don’t do it for the money, you do it for what the money stands for––that you’re worth it. Are you still playing for free?

The only way to belong is on your own terms. Happy says golf is a stupid sissy game that requires goofy pants and a fat ass. Even when he discovers his unconscious competency to drive one hell of a long ball, he still maintains his position about the sport. Golf, for him, is a means to an end. Money for grandma’s house. That’s it. But after a few months of playing, he has another epiphany. He can succeed on his own terms. Gilmore can still participate in the game without marching in lockstep with its historically rigid and pretentious culture. With his unorthodox swing, overaggressive streak, wild television antics and rockstar fan interactions, he refuses to be swallowed by everybody else’s vision. And in the end, he wins the tournament, gets the girl and saves the house. And as ridiculous as the movie may be, it’s still a story about what’s possible when you trust your own voice and take responsibility for the reverberations. Which certainly beats spending your sacred time living in other people’s worlds and putting your life on hold until somebody stamps your creative passport. Whose permission are you still waiting for?


What's your favorite movie moment of conception?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

20 Movie Clips About The Creative Moment of Conception

As a companion piece to The Prolific Framework, I've been building and publishing a series of case studies about the moment of conception, which is the single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value.

If you haven't been following this blog for the past few months, each post contains a short video clip from one of my favorite movies, along with three creativity lessons we can learn from the characters.

Good news. I'm delighted to share that the reviews, comments, social shares and audience feedback for these case studies has been off the charts. I deeply appreciate everyone who reached out to share their thoughts and make suggestions for future clips. Fear not, there are 40 more of these case studies completed and queued up for publication:

In case you missed a few along the way, here is a list and links to the first 20 posts:

Moments of Conception 001 -- Coyote Ugly
Learn to stop resisting and start creating.

Moments of Conception 002 -- The Social Network
Learn to get the idea to ground zero.

Moments of Conception 003 -- Jerry Maguire
Learn to memorialize your process with a product.

Moments of Conception 004 -- Dead Poets Society
Learn to love what’s good for you.

Moments of Conception 005 -- The Pirates of Silicon Valley
Learn to steal ideas from everybody you meet.

Moments of Conception 006 -- A Beautiful Mind
Learn to respond with the right organ.

Moments of Conception 007 -- The Rainmaker
Learn to go fishing for inspiration.
        
Moments of Conception 008 -- Tommy Boy
Learn to initiate through anger.

Moments of Conception 009 -- As Good As It Gets
Learn to listen for what wants to be written.

Moments of Conception 010 -- Steve Jobs
Learn to restructure the system around constraints.

Moments of Conception 011 -- High Fidelity
Learn to know those in the know.

Moments of Conception 012 -- The Doors
Learn to get fresh fuel for your ideas.

Moments of Conception 013 -- Eight Mile
Learn to create the user interface for your brain.

Moments of Conception 014 -- What Women Want
Learn to leave people’s campsites better.

Moments of Conception 015 -- Patch Adams
Learn to sniff out resonant identities.

Moments of Conception 016 -- October Sky
Learn to build cognitive richness.

Moments of Conception 017 -- The Hudsucker Proxy
Learn to capture people’s imaginations.

Moments of Conception 018 -- Moneyball
Learn to walk in and create a problem.

Moments of Conception 019 -- Throw Mama From The Train
Learn to establish gentle flow.

Moments of Conception 020 -- Walk The Line
Learn to make the word flesh.

If you can think of a movie with an inspiring or interesting moment of conception, just email scott@hellomynameisscott.com and I'll be sure to give you credit when it's published.

Happy creating.