Creative People Seek Routines

Creative People Seek Routines

You know the stereotype of the creative genius who it spontaneous, keeps odd hours, disappears for a time. Let us blast that stereotype. This weekend I leave for Germany and another trip through the labyrinth of Hannover Messe. Typically at trade fairs, we are exposed to the fruits of a year’s labor developing new products. These will be touted with words such as creative, ground-breaking, unique, Few, in reality, will be that extreme. Many will be useful. Maybe a few will push a boundary. Maybe a couple will break new ground. I will be in search for the creative.

Curious about creativity, I read through Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown Sunday morning. By the way, the pursuit of less (simplicity) is itself a fruitful discipline.

He quotes Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit), “Routine…In fact the brain starts working less and less. The brain can almost shut down… And this is a real advantage, because it means you have all this mental activity you can devote to something else.”

Ah, routine. I glanced at the clock as I depressed the plunger on the French Press this morning. 5:51 am. That is plus or minus five minutes from every day as I prepare the morning’s coffee for Bev and me (except today it’s all mine–she’s traveling). Then I sit down with a light breakfast and gather my thoughts for a couple of posts.

Back to McKeown. He cites Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his classic Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, said, “Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise. They wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important. Of course, such idiosyncrasies are not endearing to those they have to deal with… But personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.”

Maybe try:

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Rise, drink water, move a little
  • Meditate, read something spiritually oriented, pray
  • Light breakfast with some protein
  • Exercise
  • Get ready for the day

Go with the flow! Decide many things ahead of time so that more energy is available for real work–Deep Work as Cal Newport describes it.

Creativity and Curiosity

Creativity and Curiosity

Just give them a pencil and paper and let them write whatever comes to mind with no thought of spelling, grammar, or coherence. We don’t want to squelch a child’s creativity.

I’ve heard this “advice” until I am sick of it.

Study any artist. Especially the great (and creative) ones. They all learned, usually through a teacher and mentor, the basics of color, proportion, composition, and anatomy. The creativity came with using the basics in new ways–seeing things others had not. Picasso was great as a “realistic” painter, but then he decided to try to find the essence of the object or person he was painting. He pushed the boundaries with cubism.

You could pick up a guitar and start strumming and picking. Or–you could learn sounds and notes. Tune the guitar. Learn some basic chords. You only need to learn D-C-G and you can play hundreds of rock and folk songs. Just experiment different rhythms within the pattern. Maybe try an added note–go ahead, throw in a C-9 to the progression. If you only learned C-A minor-F-G, you could play around with the progression and play another hundred early rock songs. You’re only truly creative when you can build on the foundation of what works.

Writing is communication. Humans have known just about since the dawn of communication about logic. When you are expressing something, it must proceed logically. Spelling helps us convey the correct word (and it helps if you turn off autocorrect on your iPad, for example). Grammar helps us express a clear idea. Try the book “Eats Shoots and Leaves” or is it “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves”.* Do you get the different meanings? Logic helps us lead our reader to understanding.

We do the same thing in automation or software. We know the essentials of if-then-else logic or arrays or programming APIs. We build on them to construct systems.

No, it’s not “creativity” that we need to worry about in that way.

The real crime is when we kill a child’s (or an adult’s) curiosity.

I love this little poem from Rudyard Kipling:

I have six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. There names are What, and Where and When; and Why and How and Who.

*There is a story about a Panda who walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich and eats it. He then pulls out a gun and shoots the bartender. He left. Lying on the bar was a field guide to Pandas where an editor had inserted a fatal comma.

Habits of Entrepreneurs

Habits of Entrepreneurs

I guess I’m on an entrepreneurial kick this week. Maybe I’m getting psyched for next week’s ARC Forum in Orlando where I will be interviewing many new companies inhabiting the cybersecurity space.

I’m not much on “infographics” and I downloaded this one without noting its source. Note that nowhere on it does this graphic cite its source. However, I read many books, blog posts, and listen to podcasts on the subject of daily habits. This one reflects most of what I’ve learned.

However number one–create a routine–actually needs an entire infographic devoted just to it. Maybe that will be my next attempt at looking at the personal and people side of this business.

I’ve been involved in several start ups. These all make sense. Although these look pretty drawn out. Usually life happens that screws the thing up. But returning to the pattern is key.

Isn’t It Time We Considered Making Moral Decisions

Isn’t It Time We Considered Making Moral Decisions

Sometimes we must step back from a narrow view of technology and consider how (or if) we make moral decisions.

I saw this in a blog called Big Think. It’s a good starting place for thinking.

A few weeks ago we talked to Dr. Fred Guy, Director of the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics and associate professor at the University of Baltimore, who told us about his goal to create a Philosophy Camp for adults and why such an initiative is important.

Adults tend to become lazy with their thinking, backing into moral and ethical wrongdoing without noticing fully what they’re doing. As he says:

“Adults are so busy and focused on so much other than ethical issues that we don’t often stop to think coherently about what our moral principles really are.  Or what we think of our own moral character. We just assume we’re good people and let it go at that.”

Guy urges us to revisit and refine our moral code with the help of some good philosophical thinking.

He offers a series of questions that we can use to examine the case we are faced with. He calls it the ABCD Guide to Ethical Decision-Making and it goes like this:

 A:  Awareness: Are we aware of the ethical issue we’re a part of?

• Do we know all the facts? 

• Is this an ethical problem or a legal one? Or both?

• Can it be resolved simply by calling upon the law or referring to an organizational policy?

• Am I aware of the people involved in this case and who may be affected by my decision and action?

B.  Beliefs:  What are my moral beliefs? What do I stand for?  Most of us know if we give it some serious thought.  What we decide and do in a given ethical situation depends on our moral beliefs, principles, values and virtues — or lack thereof. We may ask:

• What kind of person am I?  Would I want this done to me or to those I love?

• Would it be responsible of me if I thought everyone should act this way in my situation?

• Am I setting a good example or a bad example?

• Can I continue to respect myself given the probable outcomes of my action? 

C.  Consequences:  Use moral imagination to think about consequences for ourselves and others, not only now but into the future as well. It’s the ripple effect. Our actions may indirectly affect others we don’t know.

• Who may be affected by my decision?

• How may my decisions/actions affect other and myself?

 D.   Decision:  Given the facts of the case, our own personal ethics, and the consequences that our decision and action will have on others, what is the best thing to do in this case?  

• Would I mind my action being broadcast on the six o’clock news?

• Could I justify my actions to my family and close friends?

• What advice would I give to a close friend who had the same decision to make as I do? 

Just taking the time to pause and go over these questions when we are making an important decision, can take us out of the default moral mode we live in and, hopefully, out of the trap of just assuming we’re good people, without truly delivering on that assumption.

Personal Productivity For The New Year #10StepsBook

Michael Sliwinski, developer and CEO of the productivity app I use called Nozbe, has written a new book—10 Steps To Ultimate Productivity.

He has been crowdsourcing the editing—obtaining ideas from a large cross-section of users. It’s been an interesting process, although I’ve travelled some during the process and have only contributed ideas to a few chapters.

We have arrived at the end of the process. The book should be available before too long. He looks at some final tips here.

I’ve used some sort of checklist for 35 years or longer. Then I read Getting Things Done by David Allen and became a convert to his process. Then I began looking for digital apps. The first couple I found were too cumbersome. The app must be easy to set up, yet flexible. Data entry must be easy. Screens and reports must be clear and simple.

I wrote about this one day, and Sliwinski wrote back. Nozbe was in its first year and like a good CEO/entrepreneur should, he was out beating the bushes for customers. I became one.

The goal of any system is actually “getting things done.” You can make a list, copy it from week to week, and never check it off. Trust me I’ve done that. For years.

One technique is breaking tasks down to smaller chunks. The other thing is to concentrate for a period of time and then take a break for a few minutes. Walk around. Fix a cup of tea. Then tackle the task again. The Pomodoro Technique suggests working 25 minutes and taking 5 minute breaks. You can actually set up a task with calendar in Nozbe to alert you for working and breaks.

Since I work from home, I also set a routine for doing certain writing when I get up, eat a light breakfast, go to the gym, then go to the coffee house for a couple of hours of concentrated writing. I like routines, partly because I can decide what to do and can also decide to make a change. I also don’t have to think about mundane things. I go to the coffee house, I scan sources and write my article, blog, or whatever.

Sliwinski says in the book, “The maximum productivity that I’ve mentioned in every chapter isn’t some deadly grind but a lifestyle. An approach that assumes rational planning, well organized, effective action and systematic development. The result is a harmonious sense of control and fulfillment, as well as time that we can spend with our loved ones or realizing our passions.”

Don’t make your system a burden, but allow it to free you for productive work.

10 Steps To Ultimate Productivity #10StepsBook

10 Steps To Ultimate Productivity #10StepsBook

As many of you know, I use an app called Nozbe as part of my Getting Things Done practice for personal productivity.

Several years ago I wrote about GTD and soon heard from a guy called Michael Sliwinski. He was from Poland and had written an app oriented toward David Allen’s GTD methodology. He told me about Nozbe. I was using something else but not thrilled with it. After a few months I tried Nozbe seriously and got hooked.

Michael is in the process of writing a book to complement use of his app and introduce people to productivity. I’ve read a draft of the forward of the book. In it he mentions myths of people who use productivity systems.

One myth concerns the type of people who use a system. He calls them “dweebs”. You know, those unimaginative, dull, plodding sort of people.

Truth be told, creative people are usually quite organized in their lives. They have a morning routine (usually write or draw first then exercise; executives work out first as a general rule) and like organization and regularity.

I’m a writer. I find that having a productivity system allows me to focus on one thing at a time and get it done. There are things that interfere, but I can always start my day off on the right foot.


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