The Creative Person’s Guidebook
Ideas, observations, and quotes. Concepts that can help artists in their lives and careers:
Fresh, but familiar. Audiences want something familiar, but dressed up in a fresh way. Walt Disney did it with stories in the public domain, Hollywood does it with book adaptations and sequels, the composers of the old world wrote their symphonies inspired by poems and real-world sculptures.
Aggregate to innovate. An interesting method of innovation can come from taking two (or more) seemingly unrelated things and combining them. Even the most basic knowledge in the fundamentals of different fields will allow epiphanies. George Lucas did it with Star Wars (classic Western genre + The Hidden Fortress, among other things); Steve Jobs did it with Apple (minimalism, calligraphy, and tech); and pop music does it all the time. It’s pop culture’s engine for progress.
“Do a lot of work… it’s only by going through a large volume of work that you’re actually gonna catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.” — Ira Glass on Storytelling.
Regularly evaluate your situation. Regularly evaluating your situation will help you innovate, get you out of trouble, and allow you to not get left behind. (And reevaluate whenever your situation starts to feel too comfortable.)
Change is good. The only thing that’s permanent is change. Change takes courage, strategy, action, and patience, but accepting this idea is what’s going to keep our art, lives, and careers fresh.
Be intentional and make decisions. Decisions will be made in your life whether you’re making them or not. Life’s gonna happen, so it’s better to be intentional with your choices so things happen for you rather than to you.
Google it. If you have a question about something—if you want to learn anything at all—ask Google before you ask anyone else (e.g. a subject matter professional, your boss, your colleague, etc.). Learn as much as you can by doing the work yourself, and don’t rely on others to do the work of explaining something to you when an answer is just a quick search away.
Make it easy for them. Do the work before you’re asked to do it, propose a potential solution to a problem they don’t even know they have, present the proof that you’re the person for the job. Make it as easy as possible for them to trust you, hire you, and say “yes” to you.
People are the most important thing. The best long-term business decisions we can make will always be "people first" decisions rather than "money/recognition first" decisions.
Help as many people as you can. Helping others will naturally yield great results for our own careers and reputations. Maybe not immediately, and maybe not from the people that we’re directly helping. But at some point - call it good karma, the universe, God, or the inherent human need to reciprocate good deeds - good things tend to come back around to those that do good things.
Follow your gut. Don’t mistake fear for intuition.
You can’t help others if you’re incapable of helping yourself. If you work on yourself and get to a place that feels good first, helping others will be a lot easier, more efficient, and more effective. This is a simplified example: If you’re at 100% energy/health/knowledge/time/confidence, giving away 20% of yourself can be invigorating, and it could really help the person you’re giving it to. If you’re at 60%, giving 20% of yourself can be draining, and you won’t be as helpful as you’d like to be. The lower the percentage, the more the quality of the results will suffer.
Share your knowledge freely. At best, people will think you’re smart and generous; at worst, you’re helping people (yeah, including your competition) make industry-wise advancements towards a better community/product/service (which you can, in turn, also benefit from). The more we know, the more we grow.
What we do as artists and creators can move society in positive (or negative) ways. The US government used and worked with Jackson Pollock's abstract expressionist art as a weapon against Soviet artistic mindset—"socialist realism." And we really can't deny the influence of The Beatles' "all you need is love" movement during the Vietnam War. We can also look at what Star Wars did for kids who watched it while growing up. So much technology has come from those young minds that grew up as dreamers and lovers of sci-fi.
A service or product is only as valuable as the market says it is. The amount of care, effort, or love we put into something can make something valuable, but it won’t be an indicator for that thing’s overall market value.
“Don’t shit on bad movies.” Not connecting with something is fine, being critical is fine… but always talk about a creative work as if you’re in the same room as the creators. Paul Thomas Anderson makes some great points on this.
Assume that nothing is private, everything you say is searchable, and it’s all permanent. If you’re going to say or do something, think through what it could mean for the current you, the future you, the people that know you, the people that don’t know you, and the people that you want to be associated with in the future. Lastly, if you don’t want it to follow you for the rest of your life, don’t say or do it (especially on the internet).
Follow criticisms up with solutions. If you’re going to criticize, the most helpful follow-up is to offer ideas for improvement.
Don’t give unsolicited advice. Ask if they’re looking for feedback before dishing it out. Asking them if it’s okay will also open them up to what you’re about to say.
Use positive language, forgo negative language. As an example, when discussing changes or fixes to a piece of work, instead of saying “fix,” use “improve" (e.g. “this could improve by…” or “I need to make some improvements on…”, etc.). It may seem insignificant, but everything we say matters - it all has an effect on us, and the people around us. Lean towards positive language as often as possible.
Always be truthful.
“A properly run company can spawn innovation far more than any single creative individual.” — Excerpt from the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.
Excitement is contagious. Genuine excitement and passion can influence, inspire, and motivate. (The right) people will want to be around you.
Negativity is contagious. Similar to excitement and passion, pervasive negative vibes, cynicism, or pessimism can bring the whole place down. It’s a disease.
“Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism—it’s my least favorite quality, and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” — Conan O’Brien
Work your way backwards to accomplish large goals. If you have a seemingly insurmountable goal, work your way backwards and break it down into more manageable steps. Having that sort of clarity will help you focus on the relatively bite-sized tasks—to be worked on every day—to reach that huge goal.
If you ever get annoyed when clients ask you to rework something you’ve delivered, ask yourself why you feel this way, especially if the task is in a field that you’re passionate about. Most times, this annoyance comes from having to do extra work… but isn’t this the kind of work you chose to do? Why are we annoyed by a request to do more of what we love doing? Taking that further, why shouldn’t we embrace the opportunity to make something good, better?
“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” — (Somewhat attributed to) Blaise Pascal. Reading burns calories—be considerate to your readers by helping them preserve energy.
It’s a long game, so it’s worth playing it that way. There are no shortcuts or silver bullets. Do the work—whatever it may be—and prioritize long-term thinking, especially when dealing with long-term consequences.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” — Walt Whitman
Take calculated risks. If you’re not a little scared, you’re probably not doing anything new.
"It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” — Charlie Munger, vice chairman at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway
Go beyond what audiences expect of you, but especially go beyond what you expect of yourself. Going beyond ourselves is our most guaranteed and lasting competitive edge.
Remember names and spell them right. If you don't remember someone's name, asking them is a better solution than not knowing it at all.
“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton
Nothing is for sure, until it is. Things will get exciting—some things will seem huge and life-altering—but it’s important to manage expectations, because nothing is a sure thing, until it certainly is.
"Always leave a room the way you found it, or better [than you found it]." — Janice Bryant Howroyd, Founder and CEO of The ACT-1 Group, the largest privately held, woman owned workforce solutions company founded in the U.S.
Work with people that are different from you. Create works that have the fingerprint of as many different ideas, cultures, and experiences as you can find. The result will be beyond anything you could have ever imagined.
Be unapologetically you. Once you’ve figured out how to be a good person—that is, you’re kind to yourself and you’re kind to others—don’t be afraid to be yourself. If you get excited about things, don’t hide that emotion. If you have large dreams, unabashedly pursue them. If you have a bizarre sense of creativity, act on that weirdness. You’re nuanced and unique, so utilize that within your creative work and career.
“We are climbing a mountain here, and nobody climbs a mountain to get to the middle. We’re gonna climb this mountain to get to the top.” — Jim Koch, Co-founder of Boston Beer Company, producers of Samuel Adams beer
“I’m only as good as the last plate I make.”— José Andrés, Michelin Star-winning Chef
When something’s good, people will find it. But you have to position it to be found.
Interesting things happen when we're cornered. Deadlines force us into overdrive and peak performance, financial limitations make us efficient and creative, a lack of tools forces simplicity—an aspect of mastery.
“All you needed to know is how to work with people. And that's all that business ever is. All the work I do today—any success or failure—rests entirely on my ability to work with the people at hand.” — Barbara Corcoran
Nothing is more important than how you make someone feel. Create things that make them feel intense emotions; make them laugh, cry, joyous, or temporarily angry. Just make them feel.
“If you just don’t interfere with yourself, you’re quite interesting.” — Robin Williams (Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind)
“When you feel tired you should accelerate. That's when you start winning. I've learned that - with developing new technology - when you feel like giving up, it's precisely the point everybody else gives up. So it's at that point that you must put in extra effort. You do that and success is literally just around the corner." — Sir James Dyson
“‘If you aim at the target, you lose all your power. You have to hit through the target to really smash it.’ To get where you want to go, you have to set out to go even further.” — Michael Ovitz (“Who Is Michael Ovitz?,” pg. 346)