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How to be Creative and Innovative
how to write creative writing and how to write a creative visualization | download free pdf
MASTERING CREATIVITY, 1st Edition
This guide is free and you are welcome to share it with others.
From James Clear:
For most of my life, I didn't consider myself to be particularly creative. I didn't
play a musical instrument (or even know how to read music). I wasn't skilled at
drawing or painting, or really anything that involved the words “arts” or
It wasn't until I moved to Scotland and decided to buy a camera to “take some
pictures while I'm over there” that I discovered that creativity was something
that could be developed. Over the next year, I took more than 100,000 photos.
Fast forward to today and I pursue creative tasks all of the time. Every Monday
and Thursday, I publish a new article on JamesClear.com and display creativity
as a writer. Occasionally, I'll add some hand-drawn images to those articles.
And, of course, I'm still bouncing around the world taking photos and trying to
tell compelling stories as a photographer.
I'm not sure what your creative goals are, but I am sure that you can make
progress towards them. I wrote Mastering Creativity to share the lessons I've
learned and to express one simple truth about creativity: you have brilliance
inside of you, but only if you can find the guts and grit to pull it out of yourself.
Let's get to it...3
10 THINGS THIS GUIDE WILL TEACH YOU
1. How to overcome the mental blocks that prevent creativity.
2. How to be creative, even if it's not natural for you.
3. How to make time for creative work if you're busy.
4. How the world's greatest artists approach the task of creating.
5. How to make creating a consistent habit.
6. Why smart people should create things.
7. One simple trick that makes it easier to be creative.
8. How to stay motivated over the long run.
9. Why it is important to generate a lot of work to find your creativity.
10. And most importantly, how to make these ideas a habit in real life.4
Table of Contents
How to Find Your Hidden Creative Genius 5
How Creative Geniuses Come Up With Great Ideas 6
How to Uncover Your Creative Talent by Using the “Equal 9
The Myth of Creative Inspiration 12
The Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs 16
The Weird Strategy Dr. Seuss Used to Create His Greatest 21
How to Be Motivated to Create Consistently 26
Smart People Should Create Things 31
The Next Step: Where to Go From Here 34
How to Find Your Hidden Creative Genius
There is a interesting story about how Pablo Picasso, the famous Spanish artist,
developed the ability to produce remarkable work in just minutes.
As the story goes, Picasso was walking though the market one day when a
woman spotted him. She stopped the artist, pulled out a piece of paper and
said, “Mr. Picasso, I am a fan of your work. Please, could you do a little drawing
Picasso smiled and quickly drew a small, but beautiful piece of art on the paper.
Then, he handed the paper back to her saying, “That will be one million
“But Mr. Picasso,” the woman said. “It only took you thirty seconds to draw this
“My good woman,” Picasso said, “It took me thirty years to draw that
masterpiece in thirty seconds.” 1
Picasso isn’t the only brilliant creative who worked for decades to master his
craft. His journey is typical of many creative geniuses. Even people of
considerable talent rarely produce incredible work before decades of practice.
Let’s talk about why that is, and even more important, how you can reveal your
own creative genius.6
How Creative Geniuses Come Up With Great
In 2002, Markus Zusak sat down to write a book.
He began by mapping out the beginning and the end of the story. Then, he
started listing out chapter headings, pages of them. Some made it into the final
story, many were cut.
When Zusak began to write out the story itself, he tried narrating it from the
perspective of Death. It didn’t come out the way he wanted.
He re-wrote the book, this time through the main character’s eyes. Again,
something was off.
He tried writing it from an outsider’s perspective. Still no good.
He tried present tense. He tried past tense. Nothing. The text didn’t flow.
He revised. He changed. He edited. By his own estimation, Zusak rewrote the
first part of the book 150 to 200 times. In the end, he went back to his original
choice and wrote it from the perspective of Death. This time—the 200th time—
it felt right. When all was said and done it had taken Zusak three years to write
his novel. He called it The Book Thief.
In an interview after his book was finally released, Zusak said, “In three years, I
must have failed over a thousand times, but each failure brought me closer to 7
what I needed to write, and for that, I’m grateful.” 2
The book exploded in popularity. It stayed on the New York Times best-seller
list for over 230 weeks. It sold 8 million copies. It was translated into 40
languages. A few years later, Hollywood came calling and turned The Book
Thief into a major motion picture.
The Simple Secret to Having Good Luck
We often think that blockbuster successes are luck. Maybe it’s easier to explain
success that way—as a chance happening, a fortunate outlier. No doubt, there is
always some element of luck involved in every success story.
But Markus Zusak is proof that if you revise your work 200 times—if you find
200 ways to reinvent yourself, to get better at your craft—then luck seems to
have a way of finding you.
How do creative geniuses come ups with great ideas? They work and edit and
rewrite and retry and pull out their genius through sheer force of will and
perseverance. They earn the chance to be lucky because they keep showing up.
In her Dartmouth Commencement Address, Shonda Rimes shares a strategy
that echoes Zusak’s approach…
Dreams do not come true just because you dream
them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s
hard work that creates change…
Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. 8
Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of
being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have
no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t
matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to
keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing
something, seizing the next opportunity, staying
open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit
your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life.
Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just …
So you think, “I wish I could travel.” Great. Sell your crappy car, buy a ticket to
Bangkok, and go. Right now. I’m serious. You want to be a writer? A writer is
someone who writes every day, so start writing.
How Creativity Works
We all have some type of creative genius inside of us. The only way to release it
is to work on it.
No single act will uncover more creative powers than forcing yourself to create
consistently. For Markus Zusak that meant writing and re-writing 200 times.
For you, it might mean singing a song over and over until it sounds right. Or
programming a piece of software until all the bugs are out, taking portraits of
your friends until the lighting is perfect, or caring for the customers you serve
until you know them better than they know themselves. You can make any job a
work of art if you put the right energy into it.
How do creative geniuses come up with great ideas? They work hard at it.9
How to Uncover Your Creative Talent by
Using the “Equal Odds Rule”
Paul Erdos was a strange man. He lived out of two suitcases, never learned how
to cook his own meals, worked up to 19 hours per day, took amphetamines
daily and washed them down with caffeine, and gave away nearly all of the
money that he earned. 3
Erdos was also the most prolific mathematician of the 20th century. He wrote
or co-authored over 1,500 mathematical articles during his career and
partnered with over 500 different collaborators. As you would expect, his
contributions to mathematics were significant.
Erdos solved a variety of difficult problems. He worked out a proof for the
prime number theorem. He led the development of Ramsey theory. He
discovered the proof for a difficult mathematical riddle known as Bertrand’s
postulate. Long story short, Erdos was good. He worked his tail off and
advanced the field of mathematics because of it.
And yet, do you know what became of the vast majority of his 1,500 articles and
Nothing. They are long gone. Forgotten. Tucked away in the archives of an old
research journal or filed into a box at the bottom of some math lover’s closet.
And that is why the story of Paul Erdos is perhaps the best example of what is
known as the Equal Odds Rule.10
Let’s talk about what this rule means and how it can help you uncover your
The Equal Odds Rule
In 1977, a Harvard-trained psychologist named Keith Simonton, developed a
theory that he called the Equal Odds Rule.
“The Equal Odds Rule says that the average publication of any particular
scientist does not have any statistically different chance of having more of an
impact than any other scientist’s average publication.” 4 In other words, any
given scientist is equally likely to create a game-changing piece of work as they
are to create something average that is quickly forgotten.
Translated to the world at-large: You can’t predict your own success. Scientists,
artists, inventors, writers, entrepreneurs, and workers of all types are equally
likely to produce a useless project as they are to produce an important one.
If you believe the Equal Odds Rule, then the natural conclusion is that you’re
playing a numbers game. Because you can’t predict your success, the best
strategy is to produce as much work as possible, which will provide more
opportunities to hit the bullseye and create something meaningful. 5
I’ve seen the Equal Odds Rule at play in my own work each month. I write new
articles every Monday and Thursday. I know that if I write a new article every
Monday and Thursday, then that will be about 8 or 9 articles per month on
average. And if I write 8 or 9 articles per month, then 2 or 3 of them will be
Which 2 or 3 will be winners? I have no idea.
After sticking to this schedule for almost two years, it has become very clear to
me that I am a rather terrible judge of my own work. All I can do is try my best
each time, commit to doing a volume of work, and trust if I stick with the
process then something useful will find it’s way from my hands to the keyboard.
The Willingness to Create Garbage
Paul Erdos knew something that all great creators eventually discover: Creative
genius only reveals itself after you’ve shown up enough times to get the average
ideas out of the way. Time after time, problem after problem, Erdos kept
working on his craft. 1,500 papers later, it turns out he had some pretty good
If you want to extract your creative genius and make a difference, then
embracing idea behind the Equal Odds Rule is a useful strategy. Sometimes
you’ll create something good. Sometimes you’ll create something useless. But
no matter what, you should always be creating.
If you want to make a masterpiece, you have to be willing to create a little
garbage along the way.12
The Myth of Creative Inspiration
Franz Kafka is considered one of the most creative and influential writers of the
20th century, but he actually spent most of his time working as a lawyer for the
Workers Accident Insurance Institute. How did Kafka produce such fantastic
creative works while holding down his day job?
By sticking to a strict schedule.
He would go to his job from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM, eat lunch and then take a
long nap until 7:30 PM, exercise and eat dinner with his family in the evening,
and then begin writing at 11 PM for a few hours each night before going to bed
and doing it all over again.
Kafka is hardly unique in his commitment to a schedule. As Mason Currey
notes in his popular book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, many of the world’s
great artists follow a consistent schedule.
Maya Angelou rented a local hotel room and went there to write. She arrived
at 6:30 AM, wrote until 2 PM, and then went home to do some editing. She
never slept at the hotel.
Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon writes five nights per week from
10 PM to 3 AM.
Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 AM, writes for five hours, and then goes for13
The work of top creatives isn’t dependent upon motivation or inspiration, but
rather it follows a consistent pattern and routine. It’s the mastering of daily
habits that leads to creative success, not some mythical spark of genius.
William James, the famous psychologist, is noted for saying that habits and
schedules are important because they “free our minds to advance to really
interesting fields of action.”
An article in The Guardian agreed by saying, “If you waste resources trying to
decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.”
And there are plenty of research studies on willpower and motivation to back
up that statement.
In other words, if you’re serious about creating something compelling, you
need to stop waiting for motivation and inspiration to strike you and simply set
a schedule for doing work on a consistent basis. Of course, that’s easy to say,
but much harder to do in practice.
Here’s one way of thinking about schedules that may help...14
Permission to Create Junk
Weightlifting offers a good metaphor for scheduling creative work.
I can’t predict whether or not I’ll set a PR (personal record) before I go to the
gym. In fact, there will be many days when I’ll have a below average workout.
Eventually, I figured out that those below average days were just part of the
process. The only way to actually lift bigger weights was to continually show up
every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — regardless of whether any individual
workout was good or bad.
Creative work is no different than training in the gym. You can’t selectively
choose your best moments and only work on the days when you have great
ideas. The only way to unveil the great ideas inside of you is to go through a
volume of work, put in your repetitions, and show up over and over again.
Obviously, doing something below average is never the goal. But you have to
give yourself permission to grind through the occasional days of below average
work because it’s the price you have to pay to get to excellent work.
If you’re anything like me, you hate creating something that isn’t excellent. It’s
easy to start judging your work and convince yourself to not share something,
not publish something, and not ship something because “this isn’t good enough
But the alternative is even worse: if you don’t have a schedule forcing you to
deliver, then it’s really easy to avoid doing the work at all. The only way to be
consistent enough to make a masterpiece is to give yourself permission to
create junk along the way.15
The Schedule is the System
During a conversation about writing, my friend Sarah Peck looked at me and
said, “A lot of people never get around to writing because they are always
wondering when they are going to write next.”
You could say the same thing about working out, starting a business, creating
art, and building most habits. The schedule is the system that makes your goals
a reality. If you don’t set a schedule for yourself, then your only option is to rely
If your workout doesn’t have a time when it usually occurs, then each day you’ll
wake up thinking, “I hope I feel motivated to exercise today.”
If your business doesn’t have a system for marketing, then you’ll show up at
work crossing your fingers that you’ll find a way to get the word out (in addition
to everything else you have to do).
If you don’t have a time block to write every week, then you’ll find yourself
saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to do it.”
Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for
The Difference Between Professionals and
Last summer, I was speaking with a man named Todd Henry. Todd is a
successful author and does a great job of putting out valuable work on a
I, on the other hand, do a remarkable job of putting out questionable work on
an inconsistent basis. I started to explain this to Todd…
“Todd, what do you think about writing only when you feel motivated? I feel
like I always do my best work when I get a spark of creativity or inspiration, but
that only happens every now and then. I’m pretty much only writing when I feel
like it, which means I’m inconsistent. But if I write all the time, then I’m not
creating my best work.”
“That’s cool,” Todd replied. “I only write when I’m motivated too. I just
happened to be motivated every day at 8am.”
The Difference Between Professionals and Amateurs
It doesn’t matter what you are trying to become better at, if you only do the
work when you’re motivated, then you’ll never be consistent enough to become
The ability to show up everyday, stick to the schedule, and do the work —
especially when you don’t feel like it — is so valuable that it is literally all you
need to become better 99% of the time.
I’ve seen this in my own experiences…
When I don’t miss workouts, I get in the best shape of my life. When I write
every week, I become a better writer. When I travel and take my camera out
every day, I take better photos.
It’s simple and powerful. But why is it so difficult?
The Pain of Being A Pro
Approaching your goals — whatever they are — with the attitude of a
professional isn’t easy. In fact, being a pro is painful.
The simple fact of the matter is that most of the time we are inconsistent. We
have goals that we would like to achieve and dreams that we would like to
fulfill, but we only work towards them occasionally; when we feel inspired or
motivated or when life allows us to do so. It’s just easier that way.
I can guarantee that if you set a schedule for any task and start sticking to it,
there will be days when you feel like quitting. When you start a business, there
will be days when you don’t feel like showing up. When you’re at the gym, there
will be sets that you don’t feel like finishing. When it’s time to write, there will
be reports that you don’t feel like typing. But stepping up when it’s annoying or
painful or draining to do so, that’s what makes you a pro.18
Professionals stick to the schedule, amateurs let life get in the way.
Professionals know what is important to them and work towards it with
purpose, amateurs get pulled off course by the urgencies of life.
You’ll Never Regret Starting Important Work
Some people might think I’m promoting the benefits of being a workaholic.
“Professionals work harder than everyone else and that’s why they’re great.”
Actually, that’s not it at all.
Being a pro is about having the discipline to commit to what is important to you
instead of merely saying something is important to you. It’s about starting
when you feel like stopping, not because you want to work more, but because
your goal is important enough to you that you don’t simply work on it when it’s
convenient. Becoming a pro is about making your priorities a reality.
There have been a lot of sets that I haven’t felt like finishing, but I’ve never
regretted doing the workout. There have been a lot of articles I haven’t felt like
writing, but I’ve never regretted publishing on schedule. There have been a lot
of days I’ve felt like relaxing, but I’ve never regretted showing up and working
on something that is important to me.
Becoming a pro doesn’t mean you’re a workaholic. It means that you’re good at
making time for what matters to you — especially when you don’t feel like it —
instead of playing the role of the victim and letting life happen to you.19
How to Become a Pro
Going about your work like a pro isn’t easy, but it’s also not as complicated or
difficult as you might think. There are three steps.
1. Decide what you want to be good at.
Purpose is everything. If you know what you want, then getting it is much
easier. This sounds simple, but in my experience even people who are smart,
creative, and talented rarely know exactly what they are working for and why.
2. Set a schedule for your actions.
Once you know what you want, set a schedule for actually doing it.
Note: Don’t make the same mistake I have made, which is setting a schedule
based on results. Don’t map out how much weight you want to lose each week
or how much money you want to make. “Lose 5 pounds” is not an action you
can perform. “Do three sets of squats” is an action you can perform.
You want to set a schedule based on actions you can do, not results that you
3. Stick to your schedule for one week.
Stop thinking about how hard it will be to follow a schedule for a month or a
year. Just follow it for this week. For the next 7 days, don’t let distractions get
in the way.
Setting a schedule doesn’t make you a professional, following it does. Don’t be a
writer, be writing. Don’t be a lifter, be lifting. For one week, do the things you
want to do without letting life get in the way. Next week, start again.
The Power of the Schedule
Ira Glass is the host of the popular radio show This American Life, which is
broadcast to 1.7 million listeners each week. This is the advice Glass gives to
anyone looking to interesting, creative work: “The most important thing you
can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline
so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. It
is only by going through a volume of work that … the work you’re making will
be as good as your ambitions.” 6
If you want to do your best creative work, then don’t leave it up to choice. Don’t
wake up in the morning and think, “I hope I feel inspired to create something
today.” You need to take the decision-making out of it. Set a schedule for your
work. Genius arrives when you show up enough times to get the average ideas
out of the way.21
The Weird Strategy Dr. Seuss Used to Create
His Greatest Work
In 1960, two men made a bet.
There was only 50 on the line, but millions of people would feel the impact of
this little wager.
The first man, Bennett Cerf, was the founder of the publishing firm, Random
House. The second man was named Theo Geisel, but you probably know him as
Dr. Seuss. Cerf proposed the bet and challenged that Dr. Seuss would not be
able to write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.
Dr. Seuss took the bet and won. The result was a little book called Green Eggs
and Ham. Since publication, Green Eggs and Ham has sold more than 200
million copies, making it the most popular of Seuss’s works and one of the best-
selling children’s books in history.
At first glance, you might think this was a lucky fluke. A talented author plays a
fun game with 50 words and ends up producing a hit. But there is actually more
to this story and the lessons in it can help us become more creative and stick to
better habits over the long-run.
Here’s what we can learn from Dr. Seuss…22
The Power of Constraints
What Dr. Seuss discovered through this little bet was the power of setting
Setting limits for yourself — whether that involves the time you have to work
out, the money you have to start a business, or the number of words you can
use in a book — often delivers better results than “keeping your options open.”
In fact, Dr. Seuss found that setting some limits to work within was so useful
that he employed this strategy for other books as well. For example, The Cat in
the Hat was written using only a first-grade vocabulary list.
In my experience, I’ve seen that constraints can also provide benefits in health,
business, and life in general. I’ve noticed two reasons why this occurs.
1. Constraints inspire your creativity.
If you’re five foot five inches tall and you’re playing basketball, you figure out
more creative ways to score than the six foot five inch guy.
If you have a one-year-old child that takes up almost every minute of your day,
you figure out more creative ways to get some exercise.
If you’re a photographer and you show up to a shoot with just one lens, then
you figure out more creative ways to capture the beauty of your subject than
you would with all of your gear available.
Limitations drive you to figure out solutions. Your constraints inspire your 23
2. Constraints force you to get something done.
Time constraints have forced me to produce some of my best work. This is
especially true with my writing. Every Monday and Thursday, I write a new
article — even if it’s inconvenient.
This constraint has led me to produce some of my most popular work in
unlikely places. When I was sitting in the passenger seat on a road trip through
West Virginia, I wrote an article. When I was visiting family for the 4th of July,
I wrote an article. When I spent all day flying in and out of airports, I wrote an
Without my schedule (the constraint), I would have pushed those articles to a
different day. Or never got around to them at all. Constraints force you to get
something done and don’t allow you to procrastinate. This is why I believe that
professionals set a schedule for their production while amateurs wait until they
What constraints are you setting for yourself? What type of schedule do you
have for your goals?
Related note: Sticking to your schedule doesn’t have to be grand or impressive.
Just commit to a process you can sustain. And if you have to, reduce the scope.24
Constraints are Not the Enemy
So often we spend time complaining about the things that are withheld from us.
“I don’t have enough time to work out.”
“I don’t have enough money to start a business.”
“I can’t eat this food on my diet.”
But constraints are not the enemy. Every artist has a limited set of tools to work
with. Every athlete has a limited set of skills to train with. Every entrepreneur
has a limited amount of resources to build with. Once you know your
constraints, you can start figuring out how to work with them.
The Size of Your Canvas
Dr. Seuss was given 50 words. That was the size of his canvas. His job was to
see what kind of picture he could paint with those words.
You and I are given similar constraints in our lives.
You only have 30 minutes to fit a workout into your day? So be it. That’s the
size of your canvas. Your job is to see if you can make those 30 minutes a work
You can only spare 15 minutes each day to write? That’s the size of your canvas.
Your job is to make each paragraph a work of art.25
You only have 100 to start your business? Great. That’s the size of your
canvas. Your job is to make each sales call a work of art.
There are a lot of authors who would complain about writing a book with only
50 words. But there was one author who decided to take the tools he had
available and make a work of art instead.
We all have constraints in our lives. The limitations just determine the size of
the canvas you have to work with. What you paint on it is up to you.26
How to Be Motivated to Create Consistently
Twyla Tharp was born in Indiana and was named after the local “Pig Princess”
at the Annual Muncie Fair, who went by Twila.
It wasn’t the prettiest of starts, but Tharp turned it into something beautiful.
She is widely regarded as one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of the
modern era. She has toured across the globe performing her original work. She
is credited with choreographing the first crossover ballet and she has
choreographed dances for the Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York
City Ballet, Boston Ballet, and many others. Her work has appeared on
Broadway, on television, and in films. In 1992, she was awarded a MacArthur
Fellowship, often called the “Genius Grant”, for her creative work.
To put it simply: Twyla Tharp is prolific. The question is, how does she do it?
The Power of Ritual
In her best-selling book, The Creative Habit, Tharp discusses one of the secrets
of her success:
I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at
5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, 27
my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my
Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take
me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First
Avenue, where I workout for two hours. The ritual is not
the stretching and weight training I put my body through
each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The
moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the
It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning
habitualizes it — makes it repeatable, easy to do. It
reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently.
It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less
thing to think about.
Let’s talk about what makes Tharp’s morning ritual so important and how we
can use it to master our own habits.
The Surprising Thing About Motivation
If you have trouble sticking to good habits or fall victim to bad ones, then it can
be easy to assume that you simply need to learn how to get motivated or that
you don’t understand how willpower works.
But here is the surprising thing about motivation: it often comes after starting a
new behavior, not before. Getting started is a form of active inspiration that
naturally produces momentum.
You have probably experienced this phenomenon before. For example, going 28
for a run may seem overwhelming or exhausting just to think about before you
begin, but if you can muster up the energy to start jogging, you’ll often find that
you become more motivated to finish as you go. In other words, it’s easier to
finish the run than it was to start it in the first place.
This is basically Newton’s First Law applied to habit formation: objects in
motion tend to stay in motion. And that means getting started is the hardest
I often find this to be true with my articles. Once I begin writing, it’s much
easier for me to power through and finish. However, if I’m staring at a blank
page, it can seem overwhelming and taxing to take the first step.
And this, my friends, is where Twyla Tharp’s morning ritual comes back into
Rituals Are an On Ramp for Your Behavior
The power of a ritual, or what I like to call a pre-game routine, is that it
provides a mindless way to initiate your behavior. It makes starting your habits
easier and that means following through on a consistent basis is easier.
Habits researchers agree. Benjamin Gardner, a researcher in the Department of
Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London recently
published a paper in the Health Psychology Review that covered how we can
use habits to initiate longer, more complex routines:
A ‘habitual’ bicycle commuter, for example, may
automatically opt to use a bicycle rather than alternative 29
transport (so automatically enacting the first behaviour
in a superordinate ‘bicycle commuting’ sequence, such as
putting on a cycle helmet), but negotiating the journey
may require higher-level cognitive input.
In other words, getting started with a simple ritual like putting on a helmet or
checking the air in the bike tires makes it easier to follow through on the bigger
behavior (making the commute). If you focus on the ritual, the next step follows
Twyla Tharp’s morning routine is a perfect example of this idea in practice.
Naturally, there are going to be days when she doesn’t feel like getting out of
bed and exercising. There are bound to be times when the thought of starting
the day with a two-hour workout seems exhausting.
But her ritual of waking up and calling the taxi takes the emotion, motivation,
and decision-making out of the process. Her brain doesn’t need to waste any
energy deciding what to do next. She doesn’t have a debate with herself about
what the first step should be. She simply follows the same pattern that she
always does. And once the pattern is in motion, the rest of the sequence follows
The key to any good ritual is that it removes the need to make a decision: What
should I do first? When should I do this? How should I do this? Most people
never get moving because they can’t decide how to get started. Having a ritual
takes that burden off your shoulders.30
The Idea in Practice
Here are some other examples of how you can apply ritual and routine to your
habits and behaviors:
• Exercise more consistently: Use the same warm up routine in the gym
• Become more creative: Follow a creative ritual before you start writing
or painting or singing
• Start each day stress free: Create a five-minute morning meditation
• Sleep better: Follow a “power down” routine before bed
Whatever it is, make it your own. Use your ritual as an on-ramp for the bigger
behavior and habits you want to build into your life. When you master the
ability to mindlessly initiate the tasks that are important to you, it’s not
necessary to rely on motivation and willpower to make them happen.
Where can you use a ritual or routine to help you create more consistently?31
Smart People Should Create Things
It was 1974 and Art Fry was spending his weekend singing for the local church
choir. On this particular Sunday, Fry was dealing with a relatively boring
problem: he couldn’t keep his bookmarks in place.
In order to find hymns quickly, Fry would stick little pieces of paper between
the pages like bookmarks. The only problem was that every time he stood up,
the pieces of paper would slide down deep between the pages or fall out of the
book completely. Annoyed by the constant placing and replacing of his
bookmarks, Fry started daydreaming about a better solution.
“It was during the sermon,” Fry said, “that I first thought, ‘What I really need is
a little bookmark that will stick to the paper but will not tear the paper when I
remove it.’” 7
With this idea in mind, Fry went back to work the next week and began
developing a solution to his bookmark problem. As luck would have it, Fry
happened to be working at the perfect company. He was an employee at 3M
and one of his co-workers, Spencer Silver, was an adhesives specialist.
Over the next few months, Fry and Silver developed a piece of paper that would
stick to a page, but could be easily removed and reapplied over and over.
Eventually, this little project became one of the best-selling office supplies of
all-time: the Post-It Note.32
Today, 3M sells Post-It Notes in over 100 countries worldwide. You can find
them at libraries and schools, in offices and boardrooms, and scattered around
nearly every workspace in between.
What can we learn from the story of Art Fry? And is there something we can
take away from this to make our lives and the world better?
Create Something Small
Art Fry wasn’t trying to create a best-selling office supply product. In the
beginning, Fry was simply trying to design a better bookmark for his choir
hymnal. He was just trying to create something small.
For a long time, I thought that if I wasn’t working on something incredible,
then it wasn’t of much value. But gradually I discovered the truth: the most
important thing isn’t to create something world-changing, but simply to create.
You don’t have to build something famous to build something meaningful.
And this brings us to the most important lesson we can learn from Art Fry and
his Post-It Notes: when the world presents you with something interesting or
frustrating or curious, choose to do something about it. Choose to be a creator.
In other words, the world needs smart people to build things. We need
employees who invent things, entrepreneurs who create things, and freelancers
who design things. We need secretaries who make jewelry as a side project and
stay-at-home dads who write amazing novels. We need more leaders, not more
followers. We need more creators, not more consumers.
And perhaps the most important thing to realize is that we not only need to 33
create for each other, but for ourselves as well. Creating something is the
perfect way to avoid wasting the precious moments that we have been given. To
contribute, to create, to chip in to the world around you and to add your line to
the world’s story — that is a life well lived.
What will you create today?34
The Next Step: Where to Go From Here
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1. I couldn’t find the original source for this Picasso story and I’m not sure
if it’s true. The point remains just as strong and compelling either way,
but if you know the original source please share.
2. “Markus Zusak talks about the writing of The Book Thief” by Macmillan
3. Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, pgs. 178-179.
4. This quote came from an Amazon review by John Keezell of Simonton’s
book, Creativity in Science.
5. Recent research has revealed that the Equal Odds Rule doesn’t quite tell
the whole story. For example, research shows that deliberate practice
matters and that you can improve your skills as time goes on. And as
your skills improve, so do your odds of success. In other words, the odds
of producing something good start to shift in your favor as your skills
improve. Of course, you need to embrace the idea behind The Equal
Odds Rule anyway: the only way to improve your skills through
deliberate practice is to go through a volume of work. At the end of the
day the Equal Odds Rule isn’t perfect, but the result is the same: practice
6. “Ira Glass, This American Life” interview by Gothamist.36
7. Daydream Achiever by Jonah Lehrer
Thanks to Sebastian Marshall for originally telling me about the Equal Odds
Rule, to Srini Rao for originally writing about the willingness to create garbage,
and to Andrew Yang for inspiring the title of one of the sections in this guide
with his book, Smart People Should Build Things.