Creativity requires trust

Building a creative team requires building a trusting team.

Being creative is an act of courage-- it means doing something that is unexpected, or hasn't been done before. It can be an uncomfortable space to be in.

Often, to arrive at those creative ideas, you need to go through a lot of really bad ideas. The bad ideas are there to help you build up to what really works -- it's like how I write. I write so many articles and blog posts that are either unfinished, or finished but unshared. The important thing is that I'm writing them. Without putting in the time and effort to show up every day and write, it would be near impossible to eventually write something worth sharing. 

All those words that sit unread help me build up to the posts that I do share. It's easier to do this as a single individual, because I have no one judging me for my "bad" work. Those words I type exist only for me to see -- so I don't need to feel worried that someone will laugh at me for writing something bad.

In a team, that's obviously different. If you want people to share their creative thoughts, it means building an environment where people feel free to suggest all the silly and ridiculous ideas. Those things are offered to the group and sometimes spark more ideas, and those ideas build on each other, and so on-- until the team arrives at the perfect solution.

With a trusting team, people don't need to be afraid. They can share openly. If people don't have trust between themselves, then all those ideas stay locked up in their minds, and there's no spark for others to work off of. 

If you're in a position of leading a team coming up with a creative problem to solve, build that trust in the team. Be fully open yourself and suggest ridiculous things. Try problem solving something fictional first, and get everyone having fun and laughing about it. Then move into the real problem, and keep that fun and positive energy going. I really think that creativity should be a fun and iterative process. It's all about exploring and inviting the unusual and seeing what works and what doesn't. 

Build that trust with your team. Let people be ridiculous, because sometimes it's those ridiculous ideas that lead to the best ones. Creativity isn't a chore-- it's something to be celebrated, and it's a process of iterating and trying. Make sure to build an environment of "yes, and" instead of "no". Hearing no doesn't help you explore a new thought, even if that thought at first doesn't sound remotely possible. It just kills the thought process, and resets you back to zero.

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Creativity is an act of practice, passion and courage.

Creativity is an act of practice, passion and courage.

The word comes from the latin root 'creo', which means unsurprisingly "to create, make". To be creative is literally to create and make things. Often we're making things that we feel have never been done before--that's why we view certain professions as being strictly creative. Artists, writers, film makers, photographers, etc-- these people are viewed creatively because they are in the business of making things, and making new and interesting things that are shared with the world.

I often think of these people as so gifted that one day they just had a lightning bolt of an idea hit them, and they created a masterpiece and sold a million copies of it. The truth is that their work is often the result of hundreds of hours, days, and months of them practicing and trying other things. That lightning bolt moment may have been there, but it's only the result of all the dots being placed on the sheet, or all the puzzle pieces being laid out in front of them. The lightning bolt is simply the catalyst to start to connect it all, and to see the picture being made.

Creativity is practice. It's the act of showing up every day and putting aside time to create and try new things. I love writing, and I often wish I could just sit down and write once and have it be ready to publish. Sometimes that's true, but more often than not, I write something and never look at it again. Or I'll write it and edit it a hundred times before it's ready to publish. The key thing though is that I'm setting the time each day to sit down and work at it. If I'm not struggling to create, then those more creative ideas won't ever arrive. The truth is that the action of creation is tough-- and it should be. It's what it makes it so rewarding, and it's what separates the people who dedicate their lives to working at thinking and being creative versus those who only wish it.

If you want to be more creative, regardless of your line of work or profession, then set the time aside each day to work at it. If creativity to you means thinking up a better accounting system, or if it means writing a novel, or if it means decorating your room in an exciting way... whatever it may be, practice it. Practice doing something new and trying it out and doing random things until one day it all clicks and you've created something new.

Creativity is passion. It's more than just doing something for the sake of it. It's often that we want to be creative in fields because we care about them. We have an interest in it. We have a strong sense of why and a strong sense of purpose. I write not because someone is telling me to write, but because I really love to write. I love to share my ideas, and these words with others. I love to express myself and hopefully inspire others. This passion is what drives me to write, and it's what pushes me to want to be more creative and more thoughtful with my writing. Think about what your passions are, or think about what they might be, and just work at them. If you aren't sure, try a bunch of random things until something speaks to you. That's what finding your passion is all about -- it isn't usually presented to you on a nice plate, but it's something you have to dig around for and find.

Creativity is courage. It's really hard to take what you've worked on and share it with the world. I still struggle with that today. No matter if it's writing a blog post, or sharing an Instagram caption or photo, or even making a playlist for a friend, I often feel afraid of what people might think. We have these ridiculous voices in our heads that often tell us we should feel afraid of what others will think, and that we shouldn't share our work because it isn't good enough. We let that voice keep us from exploring the world and testing new things and as a result it keeps us from growing. So what if others don't like it? If anything, that's pretty awesome -- you've created something that has sparked an emotional response in someone. That's no easy feat. It's something to be proud of.

Don't let that voice talk you out of your art, or your passion, or your creativity. Be courageous and take the leap, and share your ideas and work with the world. I'm sure you'll find it's far less scary than you think, and the world will really appreciate it. You never know where the path will lead you, but if you don't walk along it, you'll never go anywhere.

 

Focus is like a muscle.

For one day only, try to do just one thing at a time.

When you're on a phone call, only be on that phone call. Don't let yourself use a computer, or let yourself scroll around on your phone while talking to other person. Just be on that call. Sit and give it your full attention.

When you're going out for a walk, try to walk without any music or headphones in. Experience the walk as best you can. Pay attention to your steps, and to the sounds and sights and smells around you, if any.

When you're working in a program on your computer, try to use it full screen. Try to start and finish it before moving onto anything else.

Try to only keep one tab open in your browser at a time. Read an article start to finish before moving to the next one.

If you're watching a television show or movie, pay attention to only that screen. Try not to add in a second screen like your iPad or iPhone. Just watch the show.

If you're talking to someone in person, just talk to that person. Give them your full attention. Don't hold your phone in your hand, or check your watch, or do anything to draw attention away from them. Listen to them as if they hold all the secrets of the universe and you're learning from them. 

In other words, really try your best to do just one thing at a time. Give anything you do your full attention. It probably won't be easy -- it's not easy for me to do, and I try to do this every day.

But it's amazing what a difference it makes. To work on that focus. 

Focus is like a muscle. It's really hard to use. It's hard to stay focused, especially in a world that has so many rewarding distractions like notifications, likes, hearts, comments, breaking news, multitasking apps, etc.

If you work on your focus though, you'll begin to find deeper meaning in what you're doing. You'll notice things you would have missed entirely. You'll feel calmer, your brain won't have to work as hard to constantly move between different things and try to keep up. You'll find that you retain more.

As you grow your focus skill, you'll find it's easier to get things done. It's easier to start something and finish it. It's easier to make progress

Try your best to be present in each moment, and stay focused in those moments, and see how it feels.

The fear that prevents us from focusing

Courage.

I recently took a trip to Thailand for 3 weeks, and decided to backpack the trip. I bought one of those 70L bags, and started packing. I thought everything that went into it was important. I kept imagining these random scenarios and telling myself: "Yea I could see when I'd use this". Or "This is super important, can you imagine if X happened and I didn't have this??"

Several days into arriving, I immediately regretted all of these choices. Of everything I packed, there was really only about 75% of it that I truly needed. The extra 25% was killer -- that bag goes on your back, sometimes all day, and literally weighs you down. Shedding even just a few pounds would have made a huge difference.

That's what we do to ourselves all the time with our projects, and our work, and our lives in general. We tell ourselves these stories that everything is important. We are really fearful of getting rid of certain things, afraid of what might happen if some strange scenario comes up. We walk around with lots of weight on our minds. It slows us down, it keeps us tired, and it prevents progress.

If we had the courage to say no to projects we don't care about, and if we had the courage to prune and edit our task lists, and our commitments down to what we truly cared about, then we'd be more nimble. We'd be lighter. We'd move with ease through the craziness of life, not worrying so much about all those little things. We'd go farther, and we'd make more progress than ever before. 

When you think about your personal heroes, are they people who are doing a million little things or are they people who are all in on one or two major things? At least for me, it's obvious: The people I admire most are those that give themselves fully to their craft, to their passion, and to their purpose. They don't let distractions come in and take away from what they're meant to do. They don't say yes to projects just to please others. They don't compromise what truly matters to them just because they're afraid of saying no.

The best way to start to focus is to start with honesty. Get rid of the fear that tells you to keep everything on your plate. Get rid of the fear that says people will be mad at you or hate you for saying no, or for taking yourself off something you aren't interested in. They might be mad at first, but as you begin to make meaningful progress on the things you do care about, you will start to shine. You and your work begin to meld together and it's obvious to anyone that sees you that you're going places.

Ask yourself honestly: What am I committed to today that my heart isn't really in? What did I say yes to only to please someone else, and not because it's helpful or meaningful to me? What can I get rid of, and it won't be the end of the world? 

When I did this exercise a few months ago, I cut out a lot-- both physical items in my room that served no purpose anymore, and commitments that weren't really adding anything to my life. When I started to strip away these things, I felt a much stronger sense of focus and purpose in the morning. I woke up with a certainty of what I was going to do that day, without any worry of all those other minor things. I didn't have to ask myself: "What do I need to do today?". I just knew. I knew because I only had that one thing I needed to do that day, and I'd get up and do it. It was (and is) a beautiful thing.

Finding your focus means finding your why. I write about it all the time-- finding your why is ultimately finding your purpose. What is it that drives you? What is that you can't separate yourself from? What makes you, you?

It can be a tough question to answer because we have so many distractions and inputs from other places clouding the truth. We think we need to go meditate on a beach for 3 days to figure it out. There is a simpler way to arrive at the answer: Declutter your life. Reduce the distractions. Try to cut things that don't matter, and see how it feels. Keep cutting until you're down to one or two things that inspire you, that get you up in the morning excited to tackle the day. 

 

Focus on what matters. Filter out what doesn't.

 

Focus.

Imagine you have an empty glass, and you need to fill it with water so you can have a drink. You're thirsty, you need water to live, and this glass will help you achieve that goal, right?

Now imagine you have a few options to fill that glass of water to keep you healthy:

1. In option one, you can fill it from a filtered pitcher of water. It pours nicely and neatly, you can control it, and you get a clean glass of water.
2. In option two, you can fill it from a sink. It's arguably less clean, but still drinkable, and it comes out quickly so you need to cut it off fast so you don't spill.
3. In option three, you can fill it from a broken fire hydrant that is spewing out water at full speed. You struggle to approach it because of how fast the water is coming, and even when you place your cup in front of it, the water just spits back out because of how fast it's coming in. You end up with just a few drops of water that stick to the edges of your glass, and you remain thirsty.

I think we live in scenario #3 every single day with the amount of information we take in. I know my days typically look like this: I wake up, grab my phone, and start reading and checking on personal email, Twitter, Facebook, app installs, blog stats, app stats, ranks across the globe, work email, messages in various apps, Instagram, the news... Often I spend so much time in this loop I restart it once more to see if anything's changed. And this is even before I've moved an inch out of bed.

Finally I get up (about 20-30 minutes later), take the dog out, shower, & get ready for the day. As I eat breakfast, I have an iPad or computer in front of me reading even more-- blogs, news, Facebook statuses. Then it's time to walk the dog, so I put on headphones and listen to podcasts giving me even more information.

I come back home and now it's time to work, so I put on headphones again and listen to music while I try to work. It's hard because every few minutes I feel compelled to check my email or app stats, or IM someone on Google Talk, or check the news.

By the end of the day, I feel so fried and I'm not sure what work I've done--if anything. I was busy all day long but certainly not productive. Not meaningfully productive, that's for sure. I had absolutely no focus because my attention was being overwhelmed with data. Just like with that fire hydrant, I was getting way too much and as a result, I was thirsty and starving for something REAL.

When I had this 'aha' moment, everything changed. I made myself way more aware of this terrible habit, and started to make changes. I now have a rule: No screens for at least 30 minutes after waking up, and no screens for an hour before sleeping. I also have a rule of not having any screen time while I eat, allowing me to more mindfully eat (and thus eat healthier).

I cut down on blog reading time dramatically to just 30 minutes a day. I use that time as leisure time: Time to catch up on news I care about, but I not so much that I obsess over it. I don't need to check those sites every fifteen minutes. Just once a day, if at all.

When I sit down to work, I focus on my work. I try to go full screen with apps so I don't get drawn into clicking somewhere else. I generally don't have any IM apps open so I don't get distracting notifications flying in on my screen. I turn off my mail notifications and I silence my phone or put it in DND mode. When it's time to write, I go a step further and write in a separate room without any distractions. Even if this a walk-in closet, it's better to create a distraction-free zone for those times you need extreme focus.

When I made these changes, my life started to feel fuller. Happier. Healthier. More balanced. More focused.

I switched to scenario #1, where I filtered all the data. I figured out what was actually important to me, and what fulfilled me. I realized so much information I was receiving every day was useless and I could live much better without it. I'm still informed, I'm still reading what I like to read, but I'm doing it in a much more controlled manner.

Challenge yourself to make changes like this-- even for a day. See how you feel at the end of the day. Maybe instead of 30 minutes after waking up, only go 10 minutes without touching your phone. Pick up a book instead or simply sit and breathe. Do something that keeps you present, rather than takes you away virtually.

We live in an amazing age of information, but as a result, we need to work to filter what comes in, otherwise it's just too much. Make February your Focus month. Start with focusing your attention each day. We'll keep writing about the other ways Focus is important throughout this month. Sign up below to get the latest.

 

 

The only way to go is forward.

Forward.

The mountains are ahead of you, but you are here, right now. How do you get from here, to the top of those mountains? 

By making progress. Even the fewest steps a day takes you far in a year's time. 

We often make excuses. We say things like "when this finishes, I'll have more time". We say that in a couple of weeks things will settle down and we'll have more time then. 

Those excuses are lies. And they cheat us out of progress. 

Want to write a book? Write for fifteen minutes a day. Or five minutes. Or one minute a day.

Want to run a marathon? Start a training program and walk out your door and move.

Want to play the guitar? Take it out of your closet and put it near your couch or bed or desk, where you can grab it and practice it every day, even for 30 seconds at a time.

Want to start a business? Sell your product, even if there's no way to scale it yet, even if you have no idea if it will work, even if there's a million reasons it will fail-- Just try it out and see what happens. 

There is no better time than now to start your next thing. Create the space for it. Create the time for it. I'm certain you can find it. Even if you spent just 1 hour a week working towards your goal, you'd be 52 hours into it by the end of the year. And years go by so. fast.

What mountains are waiting for you? And what are you waiting for?

Make progress every day. Achieve your goals. Live the dream. You totally got this.

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This post was beautifully illustrated by Megan Roy.

 

Making progress is hard work and that's great

I have several friends who all have goals that they've shared with me. I know these goals really well, and it's because they've had them for a while. A long while. Unfortunately, the years have gone by and no progress has been made on them. I can be the exact same way, and honestly I think it's perfectly normal to have goals that just sit on a shelf collecting dust. Why is that? Why is it seemingly so important to have these goals, but not important enough to actually make progress on them and achieve them?

I think two things are at play here: The first is that these goals might not be that important at all. They may not matter in the way that we think they do-- they may just be these ideals we think we should have, but they aren't personally meaningful to us. Without having a really strong sense of why we want to achieve those goals, we'll never be willing to put in the work. Who wants to wake up at 5:45am and run for an hour every day if you don't really care about finishing a marathon? After that first day of the alarm going off, you'll never set it again. It's so much more enjoyable to sleep in, especially at first. (Seriously, mornings and sleep for me are sacred.)

The second is that putting in work toward a goal is not easy. It's work. It's often really hard work, especially if it's something you want to get really good at. I've started a new project this year with this blog, which is to write at least once per week-- with the goal of having 52 posts by the end of the year, each one part of a bigger theme of achieving goals and adding a sense of purpose to work. Now that I'm on week 3, I can tell you it's already not easy. Setting aside the time to write is difficult. Knowing what to write is equally not easy. Writing something that I want to publish at all is probably the hardest part. No part of doing this is easy--and I'm only on my third post of the year!

But this goal really matters to me: I've wanted to write a book for ages, and I realized this is one way to get to that goal. It's to write and write and write. Alongside that writing, it's reading other people's writings and practicing the craft. There's no secret to becoming a good writer--there's just practice. Most skills in life are like muscles. The more you use them, the easier it gets, and the better you do it. I've learned that lesson this past year with my spinning/exercise habit I got into, and I'm applying it all over my life with things like my coding, writing, and my startup life in general.

Whatever goals you have, especially the ones you've had for a while, sit down and ask yourself this question first: Does it really matter? Why does it matter, or can you retire this goal? If you just drop it as a goal, how do you feel? OK with that decision, or like you're filled with regret about it? 

Next, if you really want to have this goal still, ask yourself the next question: what can you do to make progress on it? Seriously, what's one small thing you can do right now to make progress on it, even if it's as small as opening up a document editor, or moving the guitar out of the closet and into your living room? How much time can you set aside each week? Can you commit to one hour per week to kick things off, and see how that feels?

You'd be amazed at what you can accomplish after just a few weeks of working an hour a week-- and how good you'll feel with that progress. It will snowball and before you know it, you'll have a new habit and a new level of skill and you'll feel your goals are truly achievable. It's an amazing place to be.

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