Why Your Desire to Be Creative Actually Conflicts with Your Craft

As you know, our show is dedicated to helping more people trust their intuition. But when it comes to creating something, we’ve been struggling with one question lately: Why do so many people struggle to start? 

In today’s episode, we hypothesize that those who follow their intuition all have one trait in common: the bias to act. 

Too often, creative people idolize the IDEA of being creative. But our jobs aren’t to “be creative.” Our jobs are to CREATE. In other words, we need a bias to act.

But that’s much easier said than done. Until you hear our stories today…

Today, we go outside the echo chamber with executive coach Heather Legge. Although she coaches some of the most powerful women in business, she uses a subtle trick pulled from — of all things — golf, in order to build creative momentum for her clients.

Then, in our feature story, we hear from a side project master: Alec Brownstein, creative director at Dollar Shave Club. His experiments have shaken the internet, getting passed around the big agency world on Madison Ave, inside Google globally, and all around the world.

Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts

(Channel links + transcription below)

 

LINKS TO KNOW:

Heather Legge’s site: www.envisionsuccessinc.com/

Heather Legge’s Twitter: twitter.com/esiresults

Alec Brownstein’s site: alecbrownstein.com/project.php?cat=3

Alec Brownstein’s Twitter: twitter.com/jusfonzin

The Google Job Experiment explainer video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FRwCs99DWg

Jay’s Twitter: twitter.com/jayacunzo

Jay’s Snapchat: snapchat.com/add/jayacunzo

SUPPORT FOR THIS EPISODE:

RightSideShirts.org – empowering kids to be more creative and helping art programs in need.


FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Jay Acunzo:

[00:01:00]

As craft-driven creators, an emotional, powerful feeling tends to fill us whenever we heard the word “creativity.” We hear it or we see it, and we perk up and pay attention when someone talks about it. We dream of total creative freedom, and we crave those moments of total creative flow, when we’re in it, and we’re just feeling it, and we’re making something that we can obsess over and geek out about. We also surround ourselves with things that we believe will make us more creative, from the big stuff like finding the right clients or companies or working environments, to the smaller stuff, like the books we read, the notebooks we keep, even the clothes we wear. We love creativity. We yearn for creative life. Ah! This is the huge problem we all face. All the daydreams and the products and the quirky office spaces and coffee shops in the world can’t give us what we actually want as much as one simple thing: Doing the work.
[00:02:00] On the show today, the bias to act, why our love of ideas sometimes gets in our way, and how craft-driven creators turn intuition into action over and over and over and over and over and over and over … Thank you to Rightside Shirts for supporting our episode today. A quick story from the history of Jay’s fashion. In sixth grade, I was short and scrawny and couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to tuck in a shirt to make it look cool, so I tried to really cram it in there and then pull it out a little bit so it billowed over my belt. Really, what I was doing was making myself look like I was wearing a blouse. Eat your heart out, ladies. Then in my teen years, I typically rock one of two less than fashionable options. Abercrombie & Fitch, a brand that I had started wearing a couple of years after it was cool, or sports jerseys, which nobody over the age of ten should actually consider acceptable daily clothing, but since then, I’ve got it all figured out.
[00:03:00] Keep it simple, and go for a nicely fitting, incredibly comfortable graphic tee. Unfortunately you can buy these shirts from like seventeen million places, but the only place that donates their proceeds to local schools to keep their art programs up and running is Rightside. Don’t be like young Jay. Skip my mistakes and jump right to wearing nicely designed comfortable shirts and maybe get them from Rightside. Go to rightsideshirts.org. You’re listening to Unthinkable, stories about what happens to you if you make that leap between what logic says to do and what intuition says is possible. In our last big episode two weeks ago, we heard stories about finding the whitespace to stand out from all the noise. If you missed any of that, go back and listen to Zig When Others Zag, and be sure to check out last week’s Slingshot episode as well. Now, one thing you can conclude by zigging when others zag is that finding the whitespace and standing out often comes down to who is willing to put themselves out there and ship their work more, rather than just sit there and think about it and talk about it.
[00:04:00]

 

Because our jobs are actually not to be creative. Our jobs are to create. Because we have access to literally everything on the planet, thanks to the internet, we can’t just do stuff anymore. We have to find the best way to do stuff, and so we meet, and we debate, and we research, and we debate about our research, and we meet about our research, and we research about our meetings, and we debate about our meetings, and suddenly we’ve wasted tons of time. The entire time, we’ve done nothing. While the rest of the world agonizes over finding the best practice, figuring out the technology, consulting with experts, compiling a forty-slide strategy deck, you know what we should do? Start. We should create. While everyone is left to meet and debate and research for days and days and days, we simply dive in. It’s unthinkable. Even though our jobs are to create, too often we don’t. We don’t ship anything. Instead of doing stuff, we get stuck thinking about doing stuff, because we love this idea of being creative. In fact, in another episode, the muse is an excuse.
 [00:05:00] Legendary photographer Chase Jarvis helped us see that waiting around for inspiration to strike or trying to get things right in theory is fundamentally misunderstanding how creativity works. If it’s all about doing, not thinking about doing, then how do you get yourself going?
Heather Legge: To them, I am a little bit of a voice of authority, because they’ve hired me, usually, to kick their ass.
Jay Acunzo: This is executive coach Heather Legge, and she spends most of her time helping her clients turn intuition into action. She also sees too many people who waste precious time and energy on inaction.
Heather Legge:

 

[00:06:00]
A visual that comes to mind, I use this analogy a lot with my clients, is a rocket launching. I’ll be like, “You’re burning fuel on the launchpad. It’s time to launch,” so many of us are constantly burning fuel on the launchpad. Like, “What a waste. Get it together.”
Jay Acunzo: She gets it. It’s not always easy to get started on something.
Heather Legge: I admit pretty freely these days that I’m a recovering perfectionist, so there’s definitely an element for me always of, if it’s going to be half-ass, I’d rather just not even start it.
Jay Acunzo: It’s frustrating. Because we want perfection, this often causes us to overprepare.
Heather Legge: Stop trying to let it take so long, because there’s no good reason. That’s when the mental, the Slimer, as I jokingly call him, yes, the green Slimer guy from Ghostbusters I’m referring to. Slimer gets in there in your brain and starts to do overanalyzing and kind of gets you mired in crap that you don’t need to be going down.
Jay Acunzo:

 

[00:07:00]
Part of Heather’s job is to help her clients avoid getting stuck, but to get rid of that Slimer, she doesn’t advise against all prep time whatsoever. Instead, she says it’s about finding small moments of preparation that are focused on launching repeatable actions.
Heather Legge: It’s getting your game face on. Your pro golfers have this pre-shot routine that they go through. You’ll see them, they’ll do the same waggle, all this stuff, so each of us can have our own pre-shot routine, so I’ll work with my clients on this too.
Jay Acunzo: Professional golfers realize that their success comes from consistent, repeatable swings. Not going for a hole in one every single time. Prior to their swings, they each have their own little waggle to get in the zone, so find your waggle.
Heather Legge: What’s stopping you from moving forwards? Go for rough draft in as short a time as you can possibly get, knowing that really, in twenty minutes, if you’ve done that kind of work before, you can probably get a pretty good rough draft that could fly, and you’ll be amazed at the quality of work you can generate in a shorter amount of time.
Jay Acunzo: Stop overresearching, stop overthinking, and start using your intuition to act.
[00:08:00]

Heather Legge:

Listening to our gut, really listening and going with it. I think we tend to ignore that piece of ourselves. There’s some, I mean, it’s not voices in the head, but there’s some sort of, I don’t know, prompting that we get, and it’s different for everybody, and learning to listen to that and heed it more and more and more just gives you better and better and better results.
Jay Acunzo: Okay, so I get it. We can get into the groove with a short pre-work routine, and we should focus on small, repeatable actions rather than getting stuck because we’re thinking about that hole in one swing every time. The more we do this, the better each swing gets too, so it increases the odds that we actually get that hole in one, but what happens if you build a career entirely around taking swing after swing, action after action? What does it take to create not just a single project, but a big, meaningful, growing body of work?
[00:09:00]

Alec Brownstein:

 

Hello, my name is Alec Brownstein. I’m originally from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I’m currently the Creative Director of Dollar Shave Club in Venice, California.

Jay Acunzo: Dollar Shave Club, as many people know, is a service that offers razors and other grooming products and ships them to customers once a month. Just like his company, Alec ships constantly. It’s almost like he can’t control it.
Alec Brownstein:

 

[00:10:00]
For me, my creative energy will come out one way or another, and if I don’t have somewhere constructive to put it, I get very frustrated, and unfortunately I’ll start becoming destructive. Side projects, for me, have always been an outlet for me to channel my creative energy and sort of like my restlessness, and also to be fully in control of something. Too often, when you’re working on a project for someone else, or you’re contracted to do something for someone, you have to deliver what they want, even if you don’t think it’s the right thing, but when you do a side project, and you’re sort of in control of it from start to finish, because there are no deadlines and there are no requirements, it’s really an opportunity to do what you think is best, and sort of exercise every creative muscle.
Jay Acunzo: He knows that not everyone feels this way, that plenty of creatively driven people still get stuck when it’s time to act, but he won’t have any of it.
Alec Brownstein:

 

[00:11:00]
People sometimes come to me, and I’m like, “That is a great idea. You should make that.” Then it’s always like, “Well, but I don’t know, and what about this, and what about that,” and I’m just like, “Who cares? Just make it. It’s great. Go. Make it.” Then the next time I see them, I’ll say, “Did you make it yet? Have you made it? Why haven’t you made it? It’s great.” There’s always going to be sort of … There’s always going to be kind of like a reason why not to make something, and you can look for those, or you can just look for the one reason to make something and just go do it.
Jay Acunzo: This sounds nice in theory, but Alec has also put this into practice over the years again and again and again and again.
Alec Brownstein: I co-authored two books. I created a site called leaveitontheprinter.com.
Jay Acunzo: This let you add a friend’s name to an official-looking letter, maybe from a doctor, about an embarrassing condition, or a welcome note from a nudist colony, which you could then print and put on the office printer.
Alec Brownstein: What it would seem like is, your friend had accidentally forgotten to pick up his welcome email to the nudist camp.
Jay Acunzo: Other projects included Tweet Forger, which let you generate real-looking tweets from celebrities, and Mitt-Flops, which were flip-flops that he launched during the ’08 presidential election. Each shoe featured opposing viewpoints on the same issue as stated out loud by Mitt Romney.
Alec Brownstein: Depending upon the political winds, you could stand on the correct foot.
[00:12:00]

Jay Acunzo:

At this point in our conversation, Alec literally had to pull up his personal site just to remind himself of the other projects that he created.
Alec Brownstein: Let’s see, another … probably pull up my site.
Jay Acunzo:

 

[00:13:00]
Of all his literally dozens of projects, Alec’s most famous idea was the Google job experiment. In 2010, Alex decided that he wanted to work on the creative team of a top-tier agency in New York. What he did was freaking awesome. Basically, whenever a creative director at his target agencies googled their own names, they saw an ad at the top of the results from Alec asking for a job. He’d simply targeted their names using Google AdWords and a personalized message about hiring him. He tried this with five creative directors, and of the five, he got an interview with four. He got job offers from two, and he went to work for Y&R. Oh, and by the way, this entire project cost Alec a whopping six bucks.
Alec Brownstein: What I do is, I’ll start with some type of weird, absurd idea, and then I just, I’m just so interested in what will happen if I make it a reality.
Jay Acunzo: The Google job experiment not only landed Alec a job, but a moment of internet fame. The story was absolutely everywhere. Mashable wrote about it, NPR picked it up, even people at Google couldn’t stop talking about it. I was actually working at Google on the AdWords team at the time that Alec did this, and there was this internal buzz among our colleagues about how some guy could use our product in such an atypical, creative way, so it’s a project to be proud of. It’s a portfolio-maker. It’s that hole in one swing that we all dream of whenever we spend so much time overthinking something, but Alec just sees it as yet another project, because the point of our careers isn’t to make a project, it’s to make projects.
[00:14:00]

Alec Brownstein:

All of these projects are worthwhile, because they’re sort of building my body of work. While a specific project may not have caught fire, or made a million dollars, or grown into some humongous thing, someone may look at it and say, “Hey, wait a minute, check out this thing this guy did. This, I hadn’t seen this before. This is pretty cool, maybe we should hire him, or maybe we should bring him in to speak, or maybe we should hire him as a consultant, because he’s done this thing,” so I view it as just, sort of, pieces of experience, even if they don’t succeed. I also have found, in my experience, that people respect that, that people don’t necessarily say, “What a loser. He made this project that never got off the ground.” They’ll say, like, “That’s pretty cool that you did this. It didn’t necessarily catch fire, but, like, respect to you for making it.”
[00:15:00]

Jay Acunzo:

What was the most important thinking behind all of Alec’s work that he just revealed?
Alec Brownstein: They’re sort of building my body of work.
Jay Acunzo: His body of work. That’s what being creative is all about: Showing up day after day, taking repeatable swing after repeatable swing, to create a body of work. This helps you get past that paralysis, and just launch already. You have no time to be stuck, you have a body of work to look out for. If something fails, fine, you’ve filed it away in that body of work, and you need to recognize that it’s not you who has failed. Alec knows this. Alec moves on ideas quickly, but he just as easily moves on from those ideas.
Alec Brownstein:

 

[00:16:00]
The project is not who I am, the project is just what I’m doing. If you define yourself and say, like, “Oh, this project will determine whether or not I am a success in life,” then the stakes are too high, and you’re either never going to make it, or you’re never going to let it go. There’s, lots of people have lots of ideas, and then it’s rare that people will follow through and make the ideas. Then, I think it’s oftentimes, people are, like, waiting for permission to make the idea, or they’re waiting for perfection. My attitude is like, it’s the internet. Everything lasts for about five minutes, and then you’re onto the next thing. Just make it. Make it, chuck it out there, and see what happens. Make something bad, and then the next thing you’ll make will be a little bit better.
Jay Acunzo:

 

 

[00:17:00]
That project you have in your head right not is not who you are. It’s simply what you’re doing right now, and you’ll do lots of things if you’re to have a great career. You’ll make some good, and you’ll make some bad. That project is also not your legacy. Your body of work is your legacy. Instead of thinking, “This one project is the key to all meaningful work,” think, “This body of work is the key to my meaning,” and you won’t create that body of work by sitting around thinking about doing something, no way. You’ll only create that body of work by actually, finally doing; so, what are you waiting for? Look, I get it. You probably have this internal guide, this feeling, or even voice, that’s urging you to go make something, but then you somehow get locked in this neverending conversation, or outright battle, with that guide, and the conversation always unfolds the same way.
 

[00:18:00]
“Did we think through this enough? Did we consider all our options? Did we find the best way, the best practice? What will others think? Maybe we should go get a friend’s feedback first. It’s just a quick email, it’s just a quick tweet out to the world.” That internal voice or guide, that’s your intuition, and without it, you can’t create, but if you don’t act on your intuition, it’s totally useless, it’s a wasted resource. If you’re so panicked about wasting your time, wasting your energy, or wasting a project, that it prevents you from acting, just think: There’s nothing more terrible than wasting your intuition. It may never, ever be the perfect time to act, but it’s always the right time. Do your little golfer’s waggle before you take your swing, and above all else …
Alec Brownstein: Just make it. It’s great. Go, make it.
[00:19:00]

Jay Acunzo:

 

 

[00:20:00]
 

Coming up: One small thing that you can do to kick your butt into action. This episode is supported by Rightside Shirts, which, if you ask me, and you didn’t, is a kind of intimidating site to browse. You’re listening to this show, so I’m assuming you consider yourself a creative person, but when you start to browse Rightside’s products, you suddenly question your own abilities. After all, every one of the designs on their shirts were designed by kids, and you find yourself wondering, “Could I have made that?” Luckily, you see a nice big quote from Zach next to his products, and he reveals his secret for how he did his drawing. He says, “It’s kind of hard to explain, because it’s an abstract image of lighting travelling through space.” He’s in 2nd grade. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just need to go rethink my entire life’s philosophy. If you’re interested in some existential crises, go see how you stack up creatively against these amazing kids, and while you’re there, buy something to support local art programs. Head over to rightsideshirts.com.

[00:21:00] Also, if you like this show and can leave a rating and review on whatever podcast player you use, it would really mean the world to me. I need to give a quick shout out to Amelia, who left a rating calling us the This American Life of business shows. Wow. I guess I need to work on my Ira Glass voice right now. “Stay with us.” Okay, that was terrible. Sorry, Ira. Unthinkable is me, Jay Acunzo, not Ira Glass, although that would be fun, and I’m also helped by my smarter friends, Andrew Davis, Caroline Nuttall, Josh Cole, Chris Higgins, Ryan Brescia, Andrew Swinney, and Elizabeth Davis. Music this week is by the emperor penguin himself, Tyler Littwin, and it’s also from you, because every single time I hear from you, the show gets way better. Lastly, sign up via email at unthinkable.fm to get some exclusive content from this episode that didn’t make the final cut. I typically share this stuff 2 weeks after the launch of an episode, so be sure to sign up today at unthinkable.fm, or check your show notes for the link.
 

 

 

[00:22:00]
Okay, now, your task this week, to give you more of a bias to act. I want you to grab a piece of paper and a pen. Yes, we’re going analog here, and before you begin working on your next project, here’s what I want you to do: Write down two different lines. The first is declaring your preparation, your golfer’s waggle before you swing, so you could write something like, “I am going to,” and then write the action that you plan to try before getting settled into your work. If it were me, for example, I’d write, “First, I’m going to walk down the street to the coffee shop, get a nice latte, and sit at a table.” This helps you condense everything you’re going to do into one transparent line, so you don’t trip down this rabbit hole of overpreparing. That one line is all you get to do. On the second line, I want you to write what you’re going to complete in your work. Not what you’re working on, not what you’re thinking about working on, but what you’re actually going to finish when you sit down and do your work.
 

 

 

[00:23:00]
“Second, I’m going to finish writing the closing section of this Unthinkable episode.” All together, line 1, what’s your waggle, line 2, what are you finishing? In my case, “First, I’m going to walk to the coffee shop, get a nice latte, and sit at a table. Second, I’m going to finish the closing section of this episode.” Anything other than what’s written on that paper is now out of bounds for you, can’t do it. You’ve written yourself a promise, and you have to keep it. Okay, that is your challenge for the next seven days. Try it, let me know how it goes, let me know if it helps you better dive in and act more frequently to build meaningful things. Email me how it’s going, J-A-Y @unthinkable.fm.
All right, that’s our episode. It’s time for you to stop listening, and go start doing. Go. Seriously, like, why are you still listening to this right now? Get out … Stop listening to my voice and go make something, go create. What are you doing? Can you come back next week? Because we’re going to have another episode. I’d really like that. Okay, but now get out of here. Bye.

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