The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. Some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
Authority Magazine launched a series call “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of being featured about my new project, Prolific Personal Creativity Management.
Thanks to Karina Michel Feld for the interview, reprinted with permission from her site.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Iwas born on Valentine’s Day, 1980, in St. Louis. That explains my entire personality, as a romantic, crier at most movies, and a songwriter. I think I won the family lottery. I had a childhood of unlimited creative support. Whatever art I was making, my family was happy to be there. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. I grew up around artists, entrepreneurs, teachers, and creative people, so there was a relentless affirmation, instant encouragement, endless participation and a radical acceptance.
Here’s a story that perfectly summarizes my childhood. My third-grade teacher had a love/hate relationship with me. On most days, instead of paying attention to her lessons in math, science, and history, I was busy writing stories and composing songs and drawing mazes and creating comic strips, and designing logos for nonexistent rock bands that I was going to start one day.
I’ll never forget the parent-teacher conference we had one semester. Instead of tattling to my parents about my poor performance in math and science, my teacher just handed them a box. Inside was an anthology of everything I’d created in the past few months. Piles and piles of work that wasn’t assigned to me, that nobody asked me to do, that didn’t have any grades on it, and that didn’t even count toward my overall mark in the class. It was just a bunch of stuff I created and dumped on my teacher’s desk so I could go back to work on something else.
All my parents could do was laugh. Because they knew, even at the age of eight, there was no stopping that train. The impulse to originate was strong with this one, as the Jedis say, and it was best to just stand back and enjoy the ride. Which my family did and still does to this day.
This is a piece of advice to all the students and teachers out there: The inner commitment to expressing yourself can’t be learned. It’s not something people are conscious of. It’s just there. And your job is to say yes to it. Then get the heck out of the way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is a question that my mentor asked about fifteen years ago. It changed my life and I think about it almost every day.
“Now that I have this, what else does this make possible?”
This quotation is about the most powerful force in the universe, leverage. Leverage is a concept that, once you’ve been exposed to it for the first time, the concept automatically becomes part of your thinking in the future. It expands your repertoire of mindful awareness, allowing you to notice opportunities to increase your return on experience everywhere you go.
This single question has opened me up to numerous professional opportunities that otherwise would never have occurred, giving me massive fulfillment. Here’s a case study during the pandemic.
During early quarantine, I was fortunate enough to be gainfully employed, fairly healthy, and pretty happy. As were my wife and friends and family. And initially, part of me felt guilty just for being alive, existing in this state of abundance. Part of me felt guilty for taking care of my own needs while others resented me for it. But I kept coming back to that question. Now that I have this, what else does this make possible?
That question motivated me to build an entirely new business that was incubated and launched during quarantine. I leveraged my assets and surplus position to help contribute to the world in a new way. 2020 was hard for many reasons, but also an amazing year, and I have this question to thank for it.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan.
Nolan is a philosopher disguised as a filmmaker. The origin story of Dunkirk is awesome. He had an idea for a war film back in the early nineties. He wrote an innovative screenplay told from three perspectives, land, sea, and air; and also from three different time sequences, one week, one day and one hour. The film would incorporate the snowball effect, allowing all three perspectives and sequences to converge in the final moment of the film.
Sadly, the filmmaker knew this project would demand a large-scale production to be put on screen. And so, he decided to postpone making the movie until he had acquired sufficient experience directing large scale action films. Twenty years later, once he had built an impressive career of making numerous blockbuster movies, he finally decided to execute on his war film idea. Dunkirk eventually became the highest grossing world war film of all time earning over one half billion dollars and receiving four academy awards.
Nolan stayed in the game for twenty years, and it paid off in every possible way. Hollywood executives were probably laughing to themselves, we knew it all along.
Dunkirk is a lesson for all entrepreneurs: When you’re in the business of innovating, that is, creating value by producing novel solutions to meaningful problems, you also have to fight numerous forms of resistance to your ideas. People ignoring you, markets rejecting you, competitors undermining you, colleagues imploring you, customers attacking you, the industry accusing you of being heretical, and so on. But the most valuable tool in the innovator’s kit is patience. The question is if you’re willing to wait long enough until the rest of the world catches up to you.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I started a record label when I was eighteen in 1998. Back when we had CD burners if you can believe it. Not because I knew anything about the music business, not because I had adolescent dreams of becoming a rock star, and not because I was a savvy young entrepreneur working to exploit an emerging category trend. But because I had songs inside of me that I wanted to share. I just hired myself and got to work. I signed myself and nobody else. Did all the roles from composition to production to manufacturing to distribution to promotion. It was the most fun I ever had and my first taste of making something of my own.
That entrepreneurial spirit carried over. I had the idea one night in college to start wearing a nametag 24–7. This was just a quirky little experiment to meet girls and make friends. Then it went viral on campus at Miami University, and I ultimately wrote a book about it. Then my book went viral in 2002 before social media even existed, which kickstarted my career as an author and public speaker. I still wear a nametag 24–7, and still write books!
This brings us to the next chapter in my career story. After more than a decade of identifying solely as an entrepreneur, I started taking full-time jobs at agencies and startups that let me continue to expand my professional journey by day while holding onto my unique brand by night. My wife and I moved to NYC in 2011, right into my thirties. And instead of referring to myself as an entrepreneur, I started using the term dual citizen. Which meant someone who was his own patron. Somebody who worked a regular nine to five job, but also bankrolled his own projects in his spare time. My younger self never could have predicted this change, but becoming a dual citizen turned out to be deeply fulfilling in a way that belonging to a pirate nation never could be.
For the last several years I’ve run my record label and publishing company alongside a job as Head of Content at an amazing tech startup called Metric Collective.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
I had to find a way to quell my guilty feelings of not doing enough to help society. And so, I invested my time, energy, and resources during quarantine building Prolific, the world’s first Personal Creativity Management software. This new product would share my wisdom, scale my impact and help potentially millions of individuals and companies around the world better manage their creative process. Ultimately elevating the collective innovative powers of the human race.
Now, that vision might sound like grandiosity, delusion, and hyperbole to you. But during times of global suffering, isn’t building something to make the world a better place a more useful way to respond to guilt, than flagellating ourselves to atone for it? It certainly helped me thrive during the pandemic.
My advice to creators is, if you’re blessed with the luxury of happiness right now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it. No need to put up a defense against the light just because millions are still in the dark. Just know guilt is a very normal emotion, and that it has useful properties that can be leveraged for good. Ask that crucial question I mentioned earlier: Now that I have this, what else does this make possible?
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
In 2020, I felt like a character in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. The monomyth famously ends when the hero returns with the elixir. It’s their triumphant homecoming. Apotheosis. The ultimate boon. The character got what they went on the journey to get, even if they didn’t realize what that was at the outset. Their transformative experience changed what it was like to be them, deeply and fundamentally, and now the prize for completing their ordeal, whether a physical artifact, insight, or philosophy, is given back to the ordinary world.
This elixir principle was a central reason why I launched Prolific. Having now spent over twenty years making things for a living, it was time to codify my unique process so others could benefit from my experience. Prolific is my elixir. It’s the act of generosity that completes the labor and keeps the gift in motion. And make no mistake, it’s not completely benevolent. It’s still a business.
But building an enterprise around the idea of contribution gives me a sense of fulfillment unlike anything else I’ve ever done. It deepens my sense of purpose and meaning. Knowing that my past experiences are now bringing fresh hope to the world, that sure makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning.
For those incubating their ideas, even if there are a global pandemic and a corrupt president, and a host of other awful things going on in the world, drinking and sharing that elixir goes a long way. Figure out how you can give back, and you can’t lose.
How are things going with this new initiative?
We launched the beta version to our 100 Founding Members in October, and it’s been quite the ride so far. Every human emotion you can feel, I’ve felt. Scared, exhilarated, devastated, manic, gleeful, overwhelmed, angry, you name it.
Most people were thrilled about Prolific, although to be honest, there was plenty of critical feedback. I’m frankly kind of embarrassed about our v1. But that’s a good thing.
The most common piece of critical feedback from beta users was that the platform was overwhelming. There was way too much content for any one person to consume. Naturally, it didn’t feel that way to me. Because in my little myopic mental universe, it was awesome. Certainly not perfect, as no beta version of any digital product is, but not so overwhelming that it was unusable.
Many users disagreed. And again, my feelings of anger, rejection, and insecurity bubbled up to the surface. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of that criticism, it’s frustrating. Very difficult to separate what’s yours and what’s theirs. It’s the classic codependent boundary struggle. And it surfaces philosophical questions about being a professional creator.
Is it possible to create too much art? Would it be smarter for audiences if we condensed our material? What if we only chose to publish the top twenty percent of our work? Would our career be better if we didn’t release so many ideas into the world?
Ultimately, I’ve made some positive changes to the software so it’s now less overwhelming, and I’m grateful for that feedback. But wow is it painful when people rip your baby apart. Guess I’ll have to get used to it now.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had a galaxy of incredible mentors since age 16. My first mentor is a man who is still one of my closest friends. Bill Jenkins is a legendary pastor and educator who taught in St. Louis. I’ll never forget what he told me at the dawn of my career as an author.
“Scott, you haven’t written enough to know what kind of writer you are yet.”
His criticism lit a fire under my twenty-year-old-butt. It fueled me to dramatically increase my daily output of writing from that day forth. Doing so ultimately helped me figure out exactly what kind of writer I was that much sooner. Which still took several more years of hard work, but after enough of my words were in print and enough people had read them, my creative identity started to crystalize. I no longer felt like a tree falling in the forest that nobody heard.
Here’s my recommendation to other writers: Find the baseline level of marketplace engagement that will give you the necessary feedback on your creative work to take it to the next level. There’s no magic number. It’s still a soft return that’s difficult to quantify. But each one of us has to keep working toward this thing that is not yet a reality. We have to get our units up early and often. The more we do, the more we will understand what doing means for us. We start small and let the path illuminate itself. Exponentially increase your level of early-stage engagement with your work, and amazing things will happen.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
The beta launch of my SaaS platform included me personally emailing every single person I knew. It took hours and hours, every day, for weeks. The campaign, if you can even call it that, began with my family, close friends, and colleagues. Then it moved out in concentric circles to include old clients, acquaintances, readers who sent me hate mail, and other connections from all of my personal and professional networks.
And what surprised me most about my campaign was, since it was a marketing tactic, it was also profoundly intimate. Because each letter gave me a chance to tell someone in my life, hey, just wanted to say that I miss you, I love you, and I made this for you. Thanks for supporting me over the years. Wouldn’t be here without you.
Do you know how good it feels to write something like that a hundred times a day?
This is why humans make things. It has to be. Creation is the conduit to connection. Entrepreneurs should ask themselves this question: What new creation would give me the perfect excuse to reach out to every single person in my life?
It’s one hell of a motivator. Because if I know that finishing my new project will become a license to personally connect with dozens or hundreds or even thousands of people I care about, then there’s no doubt the work will get done. Painting myself into that social corner will compel me to do work that I’m proud of. It’s proof that what we make matters less than why we make it. All it takes is one whatever to become the conduit to a connection.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Make sure your software developers don’t hate you. One of the cardinal rules of working at a tech startup is putting a premium on your developer’s time. Their labor in particular is precious, expensive, in high demand, and usually has a disproportionate impact on the company’s growth. If you’re not sensitive to their bandwidth and constantly dump random requests on their plate, they can easily get distracted and discouraged. Worse yet, they can get detoured into shipping code that doesn’t go anywhere. Which makes them hate you. Before you start a new project, ask yourself the following question: If we do this, how much will our developers hate us? Now, if that sounds a bit overdramatic, then you’ve probably never worked with a really good developer before. Because they do not mess around.
2. Get good at parallel processing. There’s almost always a task that needs attention during the interim. Whether it’s a few minutes, a few days, or even a few weeks, leverage your downtime for something creative, productive, and meaningful. Years ago when the three founders of my startup asked me to help them write and publish their first book, there were constant delays, setbacks, and bottlenecks during our nine-month adventure together. As executive leaders, their attention was scarce and scattered. It was hard enough getting all three of them in the same room for twenty minutes, much less on the same page for an entire book project. This meant we had no choice but to do parallel processing. While one founder was composing this chapter, the other founder was editing a different chapter, while the other guy was being interviewed for another. Meanwhile, my creative team was tweaking the cover and layout, while I was writing the press release. Cat herding would have been an understatement.
3. Time is your friend, not a scarce resource. Most professionals drag their bones into work every day already in an antagonistic, us versus them relationship with time. One of my coworkers was a chronic kick the can down the road personality. She would consistently cancel and postpone our meetings. Three or four weeks in a row. Every time we were due for a check-in on our latest project, her excuse was that she just needed to get a better handle on things and get some projects off of her plate so she could prevent projects from backsliding and sneaking up on her. But everyone has a lot on their plate. We’re all being pulled in many directions. But since nature abhors a vacuum and all work expands to fill the time allotted to complete it, let’s not lean on the tired excuse that there’s not enough time. Einstein proved time was relative, in that it expands or contracts based on our mindset. Let’s start acting like it.
4. There’s no online class or workshop that’s going to make you more creative. Taking a course is just another form of hiding. It’s an avoidance technique. It’s procrastination in disguise. A distraction from doing the real work. You may feel productive, inspired, and proactive while attending lectures, taking furious notes, and learning how all the award winning creators have become successful. But the reality is, nobody else in this world can help you do the one thing that’s going to make you more successful, which is the discipline of creating regularly. I once took an online music course and realized halfway through, “Wow every single minute I’m taking this class, I’m not working. I’m wasting time circling around my work, rather than creating new value in the world with my work.” I quit the class, went home and wrote three new songs that weekend, and never took another course again.
5. Go where nobody is making fun of you. Portland is a weird city. It’s a place that promotes individuality, expressionism, eccentricity, local art, as well as atypical lifestyle choices and leisure activities. Think of it this way. In the middle of the country, the guy who wore a nametag every day was weird. But on the west coast, I was just another one of the freaks. That’s why I relocated there right after college. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t know anybody, and I’d never been there before, but somehow, the vortex of weirdness sucked me into its gravitational pull. And I’ll never forget my first day in town. I looked around and realized, for the first time in my life, nobody was making fun of me here. Whatever I am is okay. That must mean I’m home. That must mean I belong. Finally. What a relief. My advice to people is, when picking a city, a partner, a business, whatever, find a place that will embrace the weirdness you have to offer.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
It can be difficult to see past the downpour of negative news in the world. Especially when our egos tell us to hold onto the protection of cynicism, claiming we are entitled to feel so negative. But if we truly want to give ourselves the opportunity to experience serenity, we must replace negative thoughts with affirmative actions. We must sidestep negative energy rather than empowering it. Here are a few examples to help avoid the news disrupting your sense of serenity that has changed my life for the better:
1. Instead of starting your days with a flurry of rushing and noise, choose to pick your battles and maintain a serene distance from most of life’s commotion. You might impose a rule that you won’t interact with your device until you’ve been awake for at least an hour.
2. Instead of allowing yourself to be drawn into the petty meanness of tabloid gossip, choose to use gratitude as a potent vaccine to inoculate us against negativity. You could start removing yourself from conversations about the news, taking a refreshing walk around the block, and reflecting on your many blessings.
3. Instead of getting sucked into the vortex of controversy and misery of the news cycle, go on a media diet. Designate times during the day when you turn off all notifications so you can discern the music from its squeaky noises. Instead of becoming seduced into other people’s drama, find a way to filter the world’s noise and make the purest signal you can. You might start a practice of mentally wishing difficult people well, as a tactic to help free you from the pull of negative energy.
4. When all else fails, silence all phone notifications. By shutting off your notifications except texts and calls (yes, that means even email, social media, and amber alerts, headlines, etc) you will suppress the competing stimuli, block out distracting news noise. This helps you stay present with what matters most so you aren’t disrupted, distracted, and can focus on what is most important to you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The movement has already started. Personal Creativity Management (PCM) is based on an updated understanding of human nature and the challenges of making things for a living. It’s a contemporary discipline of work that takes into account the whole creative process, including the phases of ideation, organization, and execution.
It’s literally my religion, and it has transformed my life (and others) for over 20 years. Here’s my 12-point Personal Creativity Management Manifesto as a mental checklist to help people create a sustainable creative attitude that powers the work they are engaged in wherever they are:
1. You are never starting from scratch
2. Creativity can be systematic, not just sporadic.
3. Volume and speed trump accuracy and quality.
4. Mindset matters more than environment.
5. Giving yourself permission is half of the work.
6. If you don’t write it down, it never happened.
7. All forms of emotional tension are usable.
8. Whatever is unsexy gives you leverage.
9. You have plenty of time to do everything you want to do.
10. If fulfillment isn’t the answer, then rephrase the question.
11. Energy is the organizing principle that gives you the greatest momentum.
12. Nobody is paying attention anyway, so you may as well enjoy the process
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Jeff Tweedy from Wilco is one of my creative heroes. I listen to his music all the time, and his books are also incredibly inspiring. As a songwriter myself, his music makes me want to write better songs. What I love about Jeff is, he believes that one song is all it takes to make a connection. He wrote about this in his new book that the core of any creative act is an impulse to make manifest our powerful desire to connect with others, with ourselves, with the sacred, with god. We all want to feel less alone, and a song being sung is one of the clearest views we ever have to witness how humans reach out for warmth with our art.
If we had lunch, I hope he’d let me sing a song for him. I’m sure the restaurant wouldn’t mind.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’ve got tons of stuff out there, so just google the word “nametag” and you’ll find me. From there, you can go wherever your heart desires.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!