Keep Some of Your Process Analog

I recently read a widely citedstudyabout how our brains engage in learning differently when we work by hand.
According to their research, manually manipulating and drawing things out has a
significant impact on our creative process:

“When it comes to
learning and remembering material, the pen is mightier than the keyboard.
Writing entails using the hand and fingers to form letters. It requires more
mental energy and engages more areas of the brain than pressing keys on a
computer keyboard. The sequential finger movements activate multiple regions of
the brain associated with processing and remembering information. And learning
is enhanced when we attempt to retrieve and recreate using multiple modalities,
including kinesthetic, tactile, visual, olfactory, and auditory.”

And so, the question becomes, do we abandon our computers

Not necessarily.

On my
seventeenth birthday, my high school sweetheart bought me a custom embossed leather book cover. She
was, after all, my official muse, so it was only fitting that I had a special
book to hold all the love songs I wrote for her.

although she and I eventually drifted apart, as many first time lovers do, I
never stopped using that songbook. Almost twenty years later, even amidst the
adoption of computer technology, writing software and other digital
applications; even alongside my professional career as an author, publisher,
consultant and laptop monkey, I’ve always insisted on keeping some of my creative
process as a analog experience.

for philosophical reasons:

I use the songbook for nostalgia’s sake. It feels organic
and romantic. It makes for a more intimate, interesting artifact. It allows me
to think in ways hammering at a computer never could. It helps me escapes the
speed and sanitized perfection of contemporary culture. It symbolizes a
creative process that involves slowness, attentiveness and contemplation. And
it reminds me that the more technology we have, the more people will be
interested in what the human mind can create without it.

It just
makes sense intellectually.

I use the songbook for practical

I just love the sound of a pen scratching paper. The gentle noises of the pages
The experience of stumbling into verbal accidents. The
excitement of seeing my words stringing together on a page. The frustration of crossing
out lyrics that don’t make the final cut. The varying shades of ink as I apply more
pen pressure because of the uncontrollable passion and excitement for certain
words and phrases. And of course, the satisfaction of circling the title of a
newly finished tune.

It just makes sense physically.

Plus, you never know. One man’s scribble can become another
man’s heirloom.

Detour is a
traveling art exhibit that featured notebook creations by internationally
recognized artists, architects, film directors, graphic designers,
illustrators, and writers. Some works contained extensive stories, while others
were converted into pieces of contemporary art and design. But once the exhibit
was finished touring, all of the notebooks were published in a beautiful coffee
table book.

I own a copy, and as a physical archive, I must say, having that
whole collection of three hundred handwritten notebooks makes the me feel like I’m
peeking into the brains of modern culture’s brightest creators. My favorite
section is the essay is on the subject of notebooking, written by Lorin H.
Stein, the editor of The Paris Review:

“The computer has
given us permanent cold feet. No sooner do we try one thought, one rhythm or
one piece on for size, we write by deletion and insertion and insertion and
deletion, until at the end of a long day, we end up facing an empty screen. The
notebook, by contrast, demands commitment. You write and there’s no turning
back. You may immediately scratch it out, but the page has been breached. There
are footprints in the snow.”

It’s a powerful case for the analog world.

And yet, it’s not a panacea.

goal isn’t to compartmentalize our creative process into equal parts analog and
digital. Life isn’t always that cut and dry. Not everyone has the square
footage to maintain two different workstations. And trying to enforce a perfect
balance of the two might do more harm than good.

we ought to take a closer look at our creative workflow and ask ourselves, are there any activities that might be
better served without the aid of a digital hand? Is there anything work would
benefit from a more human, organic approach?
Because along the way, we may
discover some corner of how we express ourselves, small as it may be, that’s
begging to unplug and help us get back in touch with our bodies.

reminded of one of my favorite reads on this topic, Shop Class As Soulcraft. This book legitimately changed the way I
work. It
renewed my cultivation for manual competence. According to the
author, we experience a greater
sense of agency, competence and cognitive richness when we do manual work. That
we must reckon with
the infallible judgment of reality, where our failures or shortcomings cannot
be interpreted away. That creating in a more physical way helps us tolerate the
layers of electronic bullshit that get piled on top of machines.

point is, we owe it to ourselves and work to keep some of our workflow free from the constraints of digital. To stay
current with our technological reality, but also to stay true to our analog
humanity. And ultimately, this key decision will help tighten up our creative systems
and release new levels of output and expression. 

Catching Moonbeams in a Jar

Being prolific isn’t just about using your right brain.

It’s about using your brain right.

I’m reminded of a popular interview with Stephen King, who
famously said that when it comes to the creative process, to get scientific
about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar. Isn’t that the
truth? That if we don’t believe in magic on some level, those moments of virtuosity
and mystery and meaning, those acts of human moral beauty that provoke the
kindred and start a conversation with something much larger than ourselves, our
work will suffer.

At the same timer, despite our most romantic inclinations,
the creative process just as much clerical as it is magical. It’s equal parts
sorcery and ditch digging. And in the beginning stages of our work, we have to
get the idea to ground zero before infinity intercedes.

As a
collector, creator and communicator of ideas, you have to hone your ability to
play the roles of both the goofy artist and his scientist buddy.

Have You Made Peace With Piecemeal?

Creativity isn’t a linear experience, it’s an associative one.

If we want to become prolific, we have to make peace with piecemeal.

The problem is, to satisfy our basic human need for unity, order
and completeness, we demand that everything have a beginning, middle and end.
Human life, after all, is punctuated by a definite beginning, middle and end.

And so, it’s no surprise that we require everything we deal
with in life to follow the same structure. Our rational capacities crave a
certain amount of story. We depend on dramatic structure. It’s hardwired into
us. Aristotle was accurate when he said, a
whole is that which has a beginning and middle and end.

I’m reminded of the book The
Literary Mind
, in which professor of cognitive science Mark Turner explains
how story is the fundamental instrument of human thought:

“Narrative imagining,
story, is our chief means of looking into, predicting, planning and explaining
the future. It is a capacity indispensable to human cognition generally, and is
the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”

Looks like there’s no stopping that story train.

Unfortunately, this particular human tendency is at odds with
the creative process. And if we’re not careful, our biological craving for
resolution, our cultural need to perfectly compartmentalize everything into a
neat little package with a beginning, middle and end, can stand in the way of
effectively collecting, creating and communicating our ideas.

When you read the autobiography Last Words, it’s clear why George Carlin was the undisputed
heavyweight champion of standup. Not just because of his years in comedy, but because of his files of comedy. Carlin actually attests that the reason few
writers have ever achieved his level of prolificacy is because they refuse to
keep a record of their reactions to issues. At the end of the book, he tells
the story of an journalist who once asked him if he ever thought he might run
out of ideas. If he ever worried about not having anything to say anymore.

Carlin put the creative process into perspective with the

“Occasionally that
does flash through my mind, because it’s a natural human impulse to think in
terms of beginnings and endings. But the truth is, I can’t run out of ideas,
not as long as I keep getting new information and I can keep processing it. And
as long as I have observations to make, as long as I can see things and let
them register against my template, as long as I’m able to take impressions and
compare them with old ones, I will always have material.”

And so, each one of us needs the freedom to express
ourselves in a nonlinear fashion. The permission to work with ideas without
strict chronological terms. The space to create without corresponding to the illusions
of sequence and rational order. And the detachment from our natural human
impulse to think in terms of beginnings and endings.

We need to make peace with piecemeal.

How do we accomplish that?

By recording our
incomplete, fragmentary associative process.

Creativity, after all, is nothing but a coalescence of fragments. It’s alchemy. It’s associative, not linear.
Meaning, our duty as creators of ideas is to populate our content management
systems, our personal creative inventories, with any snippet that crosses our
cognitive path. Even if the story doesn’t have a beginning, middle or an end.

Edison famously
recorded his thoughts, observations, visualizations, imaginative patterns, experiments,
flashes of inspiration and ideas for new inventions in a series notebooks. By
the time of his death, he had accumulated over three thousand notebooks over
his lifetime, each of which contained more than two hundred pages.

But what’s most important
to remember is, the majority of his documentation was done in a raw,
fragmentary, clumsy and incomplete fashion. Edison’s creative inventory­­, all half
million pages of it, didn’t have a definite beginning, middle and end. And yet,
he still became the most prolific inventor in history.

Because he trusted
the creative process.

And that’s the challenge of the input phase of creation. Setting
aside our biological need for unity, order and completeness, and trusting our
raw materials into the system.

Keith Kennif has made peace with piecemeal. He’s a composer,
multi instrumentalist and music producer who releases ambient electronic
music under several monikers, all of which fall under his independent record
label, Unseen Music. He’s best known
for his music’s wide use in film, television, dance, advertising and
performance art. Facebook famously commissioned one of his songs for their
tenth anniversary video, which received hundreds of
millions of views and shares.

But in addition to being a daily listener of his music, I’m
also a diehard fan of his approach to organizing it.

Keith’s website has an astounding music library. It contains
hundreds of tracks––not full songs, just tracks,
just fragmentary associations of music––in various styles for the purposes of
commercial licensing. Each track is labeled in relation to its general mood
and tone, some of which are even available as alternate versions and lengths. That way, when clients submit their licensing requests, they can include all
the details about their project, including media type, industry, intent of use
and the like.  

Keith’s piecemeal approach to creating music is brilliant.
In a recent interview with public radio, he
explained it as follows:

“I write distilled,
powerful tiny pieces of music, like mini film scores, telling so much story in
so few notes. They’re very simple melodies, often very simple chord changes
that everybody can kind of pick up and play. That’s the point and function of
these songs. Everybody be able to relate to them.”

Not full songs, tracks. Hundreds of incomplete, jigsaw
puzzle pieces of music. With no beginning, no middle and no end. The
accumulation of which makes Kennif one of the most successful and prolific
commercial musicians working today.

Who knew?

One man’s fragment is
another man’s fortune.

Are you treating creativity as a linear experience, or an associative

Inviting Nature As Your Creative Collaborator

If we
want to become more prolific, we have to create a more visceral and spontaneous
contact with our work.

We have
to invite nature as our creative collaborator.

Pollack famously laid his canvas on the floor of a converted barn instead of
using the traditional easel. Back in the forties, he did an interview with an limited
edition art publication called
Possibilities, in which he made the following

“My painting does not come from
the easel. I hardly ever stretch my canvas before painting. I prefer to tack
the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of
a hard surface. On the floor, I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more a part of
the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and
literally be in the painting, allowing the creation to take on a life of its

changing the way he approached his work, he put himself in a position, quite
literally, to listen for what wanted to be created. By changing the perspective
of the canvas in front of him, he changed the perspective of the ideas inside
of him. By relieving his body of the necessity of gravity, he freed up his
brain to float wherever its fancy led it. And by grounding himself physically,
he grounded himself psychologically, engaging a posture of humility,
appreciation and respect for his creative environment.

what’s really interesting about his process is the science behind it.

published a fascinating article that analyzed the application of fluid dynamics
in Pollock’s art. Their hypothesis was, to the degree that he let science take
a role in the painting process, he invited physics to be a coauthor of his art
pieces. And by creatively ceding some of the responsibility for the appearance
of his work to a natural phenomena, he used fluid dynamics to contribute to the
creation of an art object.

of course, was no physicist. Had he been asked to explain the application of
scientific concepts like hydrodynamic instability, surface tension,
gravitational acceleration, axial velocity, inertial force, flow rate, liquid
density, fluid stream, kinematic viscosity and coiling oscillations, Pollock’s
head probably would have exploded. Instead, through trial and error, through
pure chance and guided inquiry, he intuitively assimilated the implications of
those scientific relationships into his work. And thanks to this process, he
became a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement, inspiring an
entire generation of painters.

lesson, then, is to operate at the intersection of what is aesthetically viable and what is physically possible. To invite the collaboration of natural
phenomena, forcing ourselves to think about art from a more scientific

I had my first experience with this practice a few
years ago, when I started busking on the weekends under the historic Meadowport
Arch, which is located at the entrance to Prospect Park. Over one hundred years
old and one hundred feet long, this limestone tunnel has a unique double
entrance onto the park’s great lawn, giving the traveler a choice of which way
to go in their journey.

It’s quite breathtaking. The tunnel has benches
built on both sides, a restored cedar sheathed ceiling and with paneling
covering the entire surface, making it an iconic destination for daily joggers,
curious tourists and frolicking children alike.

It also happens to have the best natural acoustics
I’ve ever heard in my life.

And I’ve played everywhere.

Since I started performing music as a kid, I’ve been
obsessed with singing songs in obscure venues, including apartment stairwells,
old churches, long hallways, hotel bathrooms, even post office vestibules.
These are the magical spaces where voices carry like bells and footsteps echo
like gunshots, and frankly, it just seems wrong not to make music there. The spaces
are aching for it. Like a match waiting for a spark. 

And so,
on most weekends, I play a concert in that tunnel by the park. My shows usually
last about two hours, I sing all original songs, it’s just me and the guitar,
and I perform for anybody and everybody who walks past. By the time the show is
over, I’ll earn anywhere between ten and twenty dollars in change.

But the
revelation was, since I started playing these shows, the tunnel helped me create
a more visceral and spontaneous contact with my work. Turns out, the physical
act of performing music in a naturally reverberated environment changes the
biology of the songs. Notes, riffs, rhythms, melodies and lyrics, ones that
might not have worked when I was just singing in my bedroom, magically started
to make sense under the arch. By collaborating with the tunnel’s scientific
principles, I was able to do things I never thought I could do as a songwriter.
It’s like I
finally let out a deep breath I had no idea I was holding.

tunnel didn’t just give me access to the park, it gave me access to myself.

The challenge,
then, is for each of us to cede some
of the artistic responsibility to an environmental phenomena. To invite nature,
in any of its infinite forms, as the creative collaborator against which our
work is hurled.

I’m reminded of
famous study conducted by the Carlson School of
, which explored how ceiling height affected the way
people think and act.

Scientists tested
how people processed information in different environments, and they found that
a twenty food ceiling helped them feel more free, enabling them to brainstorm
more creatively and process more abstract connections between objects.

Does your current
project require you to discover innovative solutions to problems through
divergent thinking? Find a room with high
. Consider collaborating with that natural phenomena.

On the other hand,
a person in a room with only an eight foot ceiling is more likely to focus on
specific tasks, details and other tactical concerns.

Does your
current project require you to bring thinking down to a more detailed and
accurate level? Find a room with low
Consider collaborating with that natural phenomena.

Ultimately, there is no force more honest, more reliable, more
ubiquitous, and more scientifically proven than nature. It’s not supernatural,
it’s just natural.
as creators and communicators of ideas, as people with an inherent need to
connect with something bigger than ourselves, we ought to design systems
and structures that invite nature as our collaborator.

it’s hard to be creative alone.

like playing basketball without a backboard.

Daily Rituals for Prompting a Work Mindset

The brain takes cues from
the body. 

As creators and communicators of ideas, part of our job is to activate the creative
subroutine in our head, bring up our energy and snap ourselves into the appropriate
state of mind to do our work. In the same way that the physical act of smiling
triggers the chemistry in our brain associated with happiness, the on ramp is
the cue for releasing the chemicals that stoke our work fire.

That’s why so many creators start every day of their lives
in the exact same way. They don’t want to have to wake up, drag their butts out
of bed and look for options of what to do first. That’s just another
unnecessary decision making process that’s exhaustive, stressful and wastes
valuable energy that they should be dedicating to their ideas.

To make matters worse, most people’s creative processes are solitary
endeavors. Which means the inevitability of showing up has to be created by
sheer willpower. They have to summon tremendous reserves of discipline and
energy. And so, the power of the on ramp is, it allows creators to cultivate the seeds that have already been
planted, as opposed to going out into the rocks to chip away at a brand new

There’s an intriguing book called Old Type Writers, which explores the obsessive habits and quirky
techniques of great authors. Turns out, many of our most cherished creators used
methods that were just as inventive as the works they produced:

Joyce wrote in crayon.
Colette picked fleas from her pets before picking up her pen. Poe balanced a
cat on his shoulder. Hugo placed himself under strict house arrest, wearing
nothing but a long, gray, knitted shawl. Schiller filled his desk drawer with
rotten apples, relying on the pungent smell to spark his creativity. Steinbeck
always kept exactly twelve perfectly sharpened pencils on his desk. Christie
munched on apples in the bathtub while pondering murder plots.

Each of these creators, whether they relied on specific tools,
eccentric routines, strict schedules or bizarre environments, steadfastly
adhered to them. The combination and accumulation of which constructed the
creative on ramps that enabled their prolificacy.

My on
ramp is to spend the
first half hour of every day inhaling. Not just reading,
because that limits the medium, but inhaling. Breathing in. And doing so promiscuously.
The routine is, I read and browse and learn from a diverse range of websites,
blogs, pictures, comic strips, trending memes, online publications, interviews,
research studies, books, articles, songs, street art, store signs, podcasts,
eavesdroppings, conversations and other sources of inspiration. Plus, I take notes. Lots
of notes. And by the time I’m done making my
rounds, my desktop is littered with new documents and ideas and perspective and
insight. I feel engaged with what’s going on in the world. I view the news as a
source of energy, not just a source of information.

This morning
practice, this creative subroutine,
ensures that the first part of my
day has a cadence and rhythm that includes movement. By giving my ritual of thinking the primacy it deserves, never forcing it to
compete for my attention with anything else, I find that I’m able to stay

your on ramp?

I have a
therapist friend who specializes in sleep hygiene. He tells his clients the key
to ensuring restful, effective sleep is to establish a soothing presleep
routine. According to the famous Harvard
Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep
, this presleep ritual, an hour
of relaxation before bedtime, reduces the body’s secretion of the stress
hormone cortisol––which is associated
with increasing alertness––and helps to ease the transition from wake time to
sleep time.

Now, that
particular subroutine focuses on sleep, but it still points to the same general
principle: The human brain craves routine
and likes to know what’s coming.
And so, the goal is to establish a clear
association between different types of activities. To prime ourselves to do our
creating. To set the tone that it’s time to go to work.

reminded of the book The War of Art,
which has inspired people around the world to defeat the internal foe of resistance.
In fact, it’s the only book I’ve read once a year, every year, for the past ten
years. And although it was written for writers, it has also been embraced by
business entrepreneurs, actors, dancers, painters, photographers, filmmakers,
military service members and thousands of others around the world.

opening paragraph of the book gives us an inside look at how the author
activates the creative subroutine in his head:

“I get up, take a
shower, have breakfast. I read the paper, brush my teeth. I’ve got my coffee
now. I put on my lucky work boots and stitch up the lucky laces that my niece gave
me. I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt
is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy for only
eight bucks. I have my lucky nametag that came from a dream I once had, and I
put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend gave me. I point
it toward my chair so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, invoke the
muse, and I sit down and plunge in.”

That’s his on ramp. The ritual that prompts the work mindset
and merges him into the creative process.

What’s yours?

You never know where you might use it

If you don’t write it down, it never happened.

When I first heard this phrase, it had a profound effect on
my creative process. It taught me to relieve my mind of the necessity of
remembering. It taught me to stop trusting my memory and start managing my
creative workflow intelligently. To train myself to become an informational
virtuoso who’s fast, responsive, proactive, organized, and never lets a single
idea get away. And to never encounter inspiration without picking its pocket.

Mitch Hedberg used to have a great joke on this:

“Sometimes in the
middle of the night, I think of something that’s funny, so I go get a pen and I
write the idea down. Unless the pen’s too far away, and then I have to convince
myself that what I thought of wasn’t funny.”

And so, before the documentation process even begins, the
creator’s obligation is to empty himself of any expectations attached to his
ideas. Rather than ignoring or evaluating or trying to get rid of the ideas he doesn’t
like, he breathes them in and writes them down. He allows his work to be
enriched by the things he would normally consider to be useless. And no matter
how strange that little germ may seem, no matter how much the idea goes against
what he intended to create, he honors it by at least hearing it out and finding
out what it has to say.

Because you never know where you might use it.

In my office, I have a songwriting station. It’s a classroom
style rolling whiteboard, chaotically collaged with lyric sheets. Most of the
ideas aren’t fully formed yet, they’re just long typed lists of words and
phrases and sentences that I’ve been collecting from a variety of inspiration
sources over the years.

And you’ll notice, my material is sorted chronologically
from left to right. Meaning, I can visualize lyric ideas from three years ago,
three months ago or three days ago, depending on where I stand in relation to
the board. And the exciting part about this process is, at any given songwriting
moment, I might end up using some old, obscure lyric from three years ago that I don’t even remember writing down.
But it doesn’t matter, because that’s what wanted to be written.

I had no way of knowing that at the moment of conception,
but because I wrote down that idea, without expectation or judgment, it
eventually found a home three years later.

And so, this approach to collecting ideas has both cognitive
and strategic implications. You have to process information quickly, but you
also have to manage your creative workflow intelligently. You have to avoid trusting
your brain, but you also have avoid editing your instincts.

Because if you don’t write it down, it never happened.

The Power of Polyamorous Creation

I once read a fantastic book called Realizing The Impossible, an anthology of commentaries and images on
the relationship between art and social movements. The book gathered
contributions from around the globe, both from current artists and historical creators,
curating a vibrant history and overview of political art.

This interview
with multidisciplinary artist Shaun Silfer said it best:

“The best artists have
shit on their shoes. They’re running around in the middle of everything, they
can’t settle down, they can’t shut up and they can’t quit fidgeting with

And what’s interesting is, if you study the world’s most
prolific creators, they all work the same way. They’re masters polyamorous creation,
or, working on multiple projects

The term polyamory is the hybrid of the words poly,
meaning “multiple,” and the word amor, meaning “love.” The controversial
idea first penetrated public consciousness in the seventies, but its definition
has been researched, redefined and revisited by a number of accredited
institutions over the years.

In the romantic sense, here’s the essence of the philosophy:

“Polyamory is the practice, state or ability of having
more than one intimate, loving relationship at the same time, with the full
knowledge and consent of all partners involved.” 

Obviously, there’s much criticism around the topic. Issues
of relational stability and marital longevity have been widely debated, researched,
even satirized by a number of cable and reality television shows.

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

I’m interested in the concept of polyamory from the
perspective of a creator, not a couple. I’m interested in transferring
polyamory from the interpersonal domain to intellectual domain. In this regard,
it’s not about pursuing relationships with multiple romantic partners, it’s
about pursuing relationships with
multiple creative projects.

Our artistic endeavors, after all, are living, breathing
things, with which we have intimate relationships. Ask any artist in the world,
and they’ll agree there is a profound connection between the creator and the

But as the definition
of polyamory suggests, there is a full knowledge and consent of all partners
. Meaning, the act of
dividing your love and attention among
several creative works doesn’t automatically lessen it. Just because you’re
juggling multiple projects simultaneously, doesn’t mean you love either of them
any less because of the existence of the other.

I have a writer friend who’s incapable of polyamorous
creation. It drives me crazy. Whenever his latest book enters into the editing
and design phase, he refuses to work on his next project in limbo. As if doing
so would be the equivalent of cheating on his current project.

But I always tell him, look, just because you switch gears
midstream and dive into another creative endeavor, doesn’t make you any less
focused, efficient or loyal to your current pursuit.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Albert Bandura is one of the most frequently cited and
influential psychologists of all time. He originated the theoretical construct
of self-efficacy, which is the belief in your own
ability to succeed and achieve the goals you set for yourself.

In his research on the cognitive
functioning of creative thinkers, here’s what he found:

“People’s creative
efforts are more productively deployed when they pursue multiple projects
simultaneously, at varying stages of completion, shifting among them as
circumstances dictate. In doing so, they’re less likely to succumb to the
impediments, false starts, inevitable delays and distractions of the creative
process, and more likely to experience greater productivity and goal

How many creative irons do you have in the fire?

When you practice polyamorous creation,
it also produces positive interactions between projects. In my current workload,
I’m building a course curriculum, writing a book, producing a documentary and a
composing musical album. And initially, each project was mutually exclusive.
Unique in its own right. Four different mediums, audiences and messages. But
over time, the projects began to bump into each other. And I couldn’t help but
notice thought bridges, cross fertilizations, subconscious connections, natural
relationships and unexpected integrations between them.

As a result, that unconscious
integration allowed me to quickly, easily and effectively transition from one
project to another on a daily basis. And that contributed to a greater
consistency in my body of work and overall artistic vision.
that our creations may be multiple, but the creator is singular. 

Are your ideas talking to each other?

Of course, the question of polyamorous
creation is, how do you know when it’s
time to switch gears between projects?

That all depends on your schedule,
rhythms, natural energy cycles, creative preferences and environments. As I’ve mentioned before, the great creative
discipline is simply knowing what season it is.
Developing an exquisite
of your own timing. Listening for what wants to be

Scott Adams, cartoonist and
entrepreneur, says one of
the most important tricks for maximizing
productivity is matching your mental state to the task.

“When I first wake up,
my brain is relaxed and creative. The thought of writing a comic is fun, and
it’s relatively easy because my brain is in exactly the right mode for that
task. But I also know from experience that trying to be creative in the
midafternoon is a waste of time. At six in the morning I’m a creator, and by
two in the afternoon, I’m a copier.”

How does your physical body dictate
your creative body of work?

And keep in mind, just because you’re working on multiple projects,
doesn’t mean you’re not focused. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You’re more
focused than ever. Focus, after all, isn’t about activity, it’s about identity.
Keeping all your passions in play, while still staying true you dominant
reality. Not hammering one nail all your life, but hammering lots of nails, one way, all your life. And believing that
doesn’t matter how many different things you do, it matters that you’re the
same person when you do them.

Polygamous creation, then, is not about spreading yourself too thin.
It’s not about procrastination. It’s not about chasing too many rabbits. It’s
not about becoming a jack of all trades. It’s not about accumulating a bunch of
unfinished projects. And it’s not about placing too many cumbersome demands on

It’s about hedging your creative bets.

It’s about insuring yourself against the daily discouragements, delays,
distractions, depressions, derailments and disappointments of the creative
process. And in many cases, that means giving yourself permission to go work on
something else.

New project receive an unflattering review? Go work on something else.

Editor move the final deadline back two weeks? Go work on something else.

Meaning starting to drain from your current endeavor? Go work on something else.

Computer freeze at an inopportune time? Go work on something else.

Client go on vacation and forget about your website? Go work on something else.

Receive a rejection letter from a publisher? Go work on something else.

Stuck on a song lyric that just won’t rhyme? Go work on something else.

Spirit won’t move the way you want it to? Go work on something else.

That’s how you use polyamory to buttress your creative practice.

fact, I read interviews everyday with artists, songwriters, painters, designers
and other creative professionals, 
and they all echo the
same sentiment. Prolific creators know resistance will eventually rear its ugly
head, and so they always have something waiting in the wings, ready to be
worked on.

With only one iron in the fire, you wouldn’t have the
freedom to do that.

Ultimately, polyamorous creation, the practice of pursuing relationships with multiple creative
projects, is a proven strategy that allows you to be both prolific with, and
protective of, your artistic work.

Go get some shit on your shoes.

Don’t run from your limitations, leverage them

I met a
travel photographer who had an interesting philosophy.

He said
natural lighting was the only way he worked.

Not only
because of the image quality, which was often stronger than staged lighting, but
mainly because he didn’t want to schlep all his heavy equipment through foreign
countries for weeks at a time. Imagine marching through a rainforest carrying flashes,
umbrellas, light boxes, reflectors, backdrops, accessories, optical slaves,
power supplies and metal stands.

What a

because of his decision to only use natural lighting, he never committed to one
particular photographic aesthetic. He never stylized himself into a corner. Which
meant he was able to experiment with a variety of different approaches. And as
a result, that freed him to evolve his visual voice as he saw fit, solidifying
his reputation as an interesting, versatile and unique photographer.

didn’t run from his limitations, he leveraged them.

And I
remember thinking to myself, I wonder if
this happens in other fields?


the musician,
whose early records were limited to three minutes on a side. That put pressure
on him to the keep the pieces short, but helped him become a master at creating
short, concise musical statements that were close to perfect.

the commercial artist,
whose day job gave him a steady income that allowed him to delve into each
chosen project without having to worry about a deadline or a panic to sell.
That allowed his pieces to become complete on their own schedule.

the photographer,
whose antique photograph paper had a chemistry that was overly sensitive to
ultraviolet light. This allows his white and featureless skies to become strong
graphic elements in his pictures that echoed the shape of the land.

the painter,
whose vision dimmed due to macular degeneration. But since he couldn’t see the
details of the canvas anyway, his conditioned enhanced his impressionistic
painting style.

the standup
, whose incurable perfectionism forced him to develop jokes
glacially. But since he waited sometimes years for punchlines to full ripen, that
allowed for breakthroughs he wouldn’t reach otherwise.

the homebuilder,
whose client had a severe slope in her land, which inspired him to add
terraces, stonework, waterfalls, and extensive landscaping. As a result, he created
an unexpected feeling of calm and contentment for the residents.

There’s the choreographer,
whose principal dancer was struck by a motor scooter and couldn’t perform the
traditionally powerful moves. But he exploited her stillness to powerfully
evoke the feeling of loss and separation between her and the other dancer.

the rock
, whose nominal music skill and crappy equipment forced them
create unconventional performances with props, staging, masks and costumes.
These elements later became a crucial component to their mysterious brand

Each of
these artists leveraged their limitations.

How are
you leveraging yours?

I remember when I first transitioned from being a full time
artist to being a full time employee. Initially, I was concerned. Because now
that I had a new day job, I also had a serious time limitation. And I wondered
how that might affect my output.

But because my creative work had became a supplementary
source of income, I began making art independent of my need to make money and
keep the lights on. That freed my ideas from the burden of having to support
myself. And I found that creativity wasn’t as claustrophobic anymore, now that
I wasn’t worrying about money as much. Ultimately, by removing the acute
business pressure that previously hung over my head, I experienced a newfound artistic
sovereignty that allowed me to experiment with new mediums and genres and

I leveraged my limitations.

It’s a form of optimism, really.

Which doesn’t increase your success, but what it does increase is your field of vision, and
that allows you to better notice the opportunities that lead to success.

I’m reminded of this fascinating interview I heard between a
physician and a cancer survivor. Recounting his diagnosis experience, the
patient said:

“If you have a bad
attitude about your disease, odds are, you won’t get better­­, because you
won’t do the necessary research on the resources that will make you better.
You’ll never find the solution that leads to the solution. That’s the physical
and procedural manifestation of a bad attitude. Mindset may not affect the
outcome, but it does affect the experience.”

In this way, leveraging your limitations becomes part of your
expanded field of vision. It’s not about mind over matter, it’s about using
your mind to allow more things to matter, so you can expose yourself to the
best solution. 

Think of it as a filter.

In the production
management world, factories and organizations call this the theory of constraints, in which they identify
the limitation, decide how to exploit it, and then restructure everything in
the system around it.

sound like dry, dense corporate speak––and it is––but it’s also a useful filter
for approaching your creative work.
The artist’s journey, after all, is
a journey of revealing to yourself what you love, who you are and who you aren’t.
And so, the goal of the
filter is to
embrace the entirety of your
personality, not just your strengths.
To creatively channel your
liabilities, play the ball where it lies and make the most of what you’ve got.

Don’t run
from your limitations, leverage them.

are catapults.

Updating the Story You Tell Yourself

Writing always came naturally to me.

It was the only thing I can’t remember not doing.

But when it came time to switch gears from words to images,
when teachers or parents asked me to start designing and illustrating and
sketching, I froze like a bag of peas. My standard excuse was, I
couldn’t draw a straight line if my life depended on it.

At least, that was the story I told myself.

Fast forward a few decades, and I landed a job that would
require me to do a substantial amount of drawing. Nothing overly technical, and
nothing that required a fine arts degree, but I was working at
a design and innovation company, and our bread and butter was thinking and
communicating visually.

I was terrified. All those childhood fears of drawing came
floating up to the surface. And whether or not I thought I
could draw, didn’t matter anymore. Whether or not I feared the
process of creating images instead of words, was irrelevant. This was my job
now, and I had no choice.

So I just started moving the pen.

And after a few weeks of noodling around, the result evolved
into something really interesting. I called it a thinkmap.
This was a large scale, illustrated whiteboard mural that combined
research, storytelling and insight. I created it for our team to
use during client workshops as a strategic framework for sharing ideas and
observations. Also, what we learned was, from a professional services
standpoint, a thinkmap was a powerful act of generosity, thoughtfulness and

But what surprised me was, once clients and coworkers and
friends started seeing these thinkmaps in person and online, there was an
immediate reaction. They started asking questions and giving compliments and
telling their friends and even taking pictures of the murals on the wall. And I
thought to myself, huh, maybe I’m not as bad at drawing as I thought.

I was no longer terrified.

Because life rewards the actions we take, not the
assumptions we make.

So whatever preexisting beliefs I had about my drawing
abilities, or lack thereof, vanished. I read the writing on the wall, quite
literally, and it said that I no longer sucked at drawing. And now, instead of
proclaiming that I was just a writer, deflecting people’s comments with the
justification that I couldn’t draw a straight line if my life depended on it, I
just said, I’m good at thinking and communicating visually.

I updated the story I told myself.

This reminds me of a classic episode of Justice
, in which Flash and Batman are captured, thrown into a prison cell
and locked to metal gurneys. But just when you think all hope is lost, Flash
uses his superhuman reflexes to speed up his pulse so the heart monitor reports
him as flatlining. This fools the guard into unlocking the door to come and
check on him, which gives him the perfect opportunity to escape. Once he
punches out the guard and frees up his companion, Batman says, “I didn’t know
you could do that,” to which Flash admits, “Neither did I.”

It’s an incredible moment. And it happens to all of us.

You spontaneously do something you didn’t realize you could
do, and that experience illuminates what’s possible. It inspires you to
expand to your full capacity. It allows you to live larger than you
labels. And that initiates an internal revolution.

The word revolution, after all, comes from the term revolvere,
which literally means to roll back. And so, this moment, where you do
something you didn’t realize you could do, triggers the rolling back of old
skin. The shedding of an outdated way of speaking about your identity. And that
inspires you to employ new language to describe who you are.

You update the story you tell about yourself.

There’s a great scene in the movie Life of Pi,
in which Patel finds himself shipwrecked, out of supplies and forced to break
his lifelong habit of vegetarianism in order to survive. Worse yet, he has to
do so while fighting for his food with a four hundred pound tiger.

But in his moment of triumph, Patel wrestles his dinner away
from the beast and sates his appetite. Then, with a mouth full of fish he
admits, “Hunger can change everything you ever thought you knew about

It’s that same moment.

You discover pieces of yourself that, until to this point,
went undernurtured. And all it took was that one experience, that one word of
encouragement, or that one flash of inspiration, to make you forget the story
you told yourself, unlock a latent ability and do something you never thought
you could.

And the great human irony is, you’re often the last one to recognize
your own value. You’re simply too close to yourself. You don’t have the eyes to
see your highest abilities. And you need people in your life to be mirrors and
witnesses and encouragers. The ones who make sure your potential doesn’t go to

a friend of mine spontaneously and nonchalantly demonstrated a skill
he’d been practicing his whole life, but didn’t realize it was a
superpower. Psychologists would call this hisunconscious competence, since he had so much practice with that
skill that it became second nature and could be performed easily.

So I
started asking him about it: 

what did you just do? Where did you learn that? Is that something you do all
the time? Can you teach me how to do that? 

chuckled a bit, but only because he was just being himself. Doing what he
does. And he had no idea how valuable that really was. Turns out, he just
needed somebody to see him for those gifts. To help him
update the story
he told about himself.

The point is, people can talk themselves in and out of any identity.

But to find our highest selves, it’s better to let our
actions have the final word.

Selling through Storytelling: 5 Brands Whose Narratives Win Over Buyers

This article originally appeared on RainToday.

Storytelling isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

And in the professional services industry, telling a good story is the strategy that gets buyers to pay attention and want to work with you.

The question is what makes a good story?

A good story is one that buyers enjoy believing.

In this article we’ll explore five examples of brands, companies, and service organizations that sell through story. Each mini case study contains a “moral,” aka, practical advice, for how to improve the quality of the stories your firm tells.

1. Tell a Story that Mitigates Fear

Covestor is the world’s largest online platform for investment management. It’s a world of great investors that allows you to automatically mirror their strategies, trade for trade, all from the comfort and safety of your own account. But that’s still scary. When money moves, we take notice.

Covestor understands that fear, so its site tells a story to mitigate that. Users can try the service using one hundred thousand virtual dollars, simulated functionality, account mirroring, and performance tracking for free. No obligation and no payment details required.

Most important, it’s a compelling case for why investing doesn’t have to be scary. And it’s a reminder to people that they’re all good investors; they just don’t know it.

The moral of the story: Fear is a significant factor in most people’s lives. It’s the story they tell themselves. If your organization wants to matter to those buyers, you need a tool that tells a story to make customers feel less afraid. You need some platform, some interaction, or some mechanism that gets their jitters out and gives them something to help them face the world.

2. Tell a Story about a Revolution

Holstee isn’t just another design studio. In fact, they never intended for their manifesto to go viral, but it became an iconic example 
of office art and inspired millions of people around the world to claim a mindful and purposeful existence. The owners of the company just wanted to sit down and create a cool, visual reminder of what they live for, what they want from life, and why they go into work every day.

If you’re not familiar, here’s their famous message:

“This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love. Stop over analyzing, life is simple. All emotions are beautiful. When you eat, appreciate every last bite. Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people, we are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is, and share your inspiring dream with them. Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once, seize them. Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them so go out and start creating. Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion.”

Because of this document and subsequent viral video, this heartfelt statement that connected and infected so many of us, their brand became more followable, their organization became more joinable, their philosophy became more spreadable, and best yet, their bottom line became more profitable.

The moral of the story: If you want to start a movement, you have to write a manifesto. Create a short, concise, inspiring declaration written in your brand’s trademark language that gives your values a voice, becomes a powerful social object, and paints a compelling, detailed picture of the desired future you want people to help you create. Once you share that story publicly, everything changes.

3. Tell a Story about the Mundane

Paddi Lund, a renowned dentist from down under, has completely redefined the patient experience. In his office, you won’t find a reception desk. But you will see cappuccino machines, fresh baked buns for clients, 30 varieties of tea served in fine china, and an overall vibe of happiness unmatched by any dentist on the planet.

His team members never leave, and his customers clamor to buy his services. Why? Because he turned going to the dentist––an activity people typically dread and avoid––into a remarkable service experience worth talking about.

The moral of the story: Every business has experiences that most people have always hated. Some transaction, some activity, some part of the process that customers usually view as a hassle. This is a golden opportunity to tell a new story. How can you turn a painful process into a pleasurable practice? Can you give people an excuse for spending more time doing something mundane?

4. Tell a Story about Atmosphere

For the past 30 years, Trader Joe’s has mastered the art of creating an atmosphere worth coming to, a second home where customers happen to shop and an entire universe people can become a part of.

With its friendly and helpful staff, organic and locally sourced food options, engaging cooking demonstrations and drink tastings, and energetic cashiers who wear flowered shirts and ring bells when customers bring their own shopping bags, Trader Joe’s has become a place that feeds the heart and soul of everyone who comes in contact with it. That’s the story their brand tells. Is it any surprise that they have the highest sales per square foot of any grocer in the country?

The moral of the story: Stores, offices, and physical locations can become temples to belief systems. Your brand can tell that story. That your place of business is also a place to enter into a fantasy world, experience products that inspire fervor, humbly walk in reverie, soak up the ambience, kibbutz with people who share your worldview, take refuge from everyday life, seek shelter from the winds of the world, and feel something closer to love than simple convenience.

5. Tell a Story about Generosity

Postmark Cafe is always busy. It isn’t because the location is ideal, the Wi-Fi is free, the coffee is organic, the food is tasty, the staff is friendly, the music is cool, and the art is inspiring. It’s because they donate 100% of their tips to charity.

Every month, they select an organization that does meaningful work in the world, whether it’s donating livestock to poor countries or building wells in drought-prone areas of Africa. They write a summary of that group’s mission on the chalkboard to inform customers exactly where the money is going. And at the end of the month, they post the total amount donated on the wall and keep it on the wall until the next month.

The moral of the story: Postmark lets their customers have a say in the causes they select, which gives them ownership of the process. They’re telling a story that demonstrates accountability, transparency, and class. Their story tells customers their donations actually come from people’s pockets each month, not just from the president writing a check at the end of the year and forgetting about it until tax season.

Those are five very different brands and five very different stories. But they all have one thing in common.

They’re telling stories buyers enjoy believing.

What story is your firm telling?

Sign up for daily updates


Daily updates straight to your inbox.

Copyright ©2020 HELLO, my name is Blog!