This post will launch a new series we’re calling “The Creative Process.” Don’t worry, Writing Wednesday fans, it will not replace WW. We’re going to run “Creative Process” in a different space on the new site as soon as we get it up. The plan is to ask all kinds of interesting people “how they work.” What is their process? How do they get ideas–and what do they do with them once they’ve got ’em? We’ll be grilling writers and artists, military people, entrepreneurs, maybe even an Afghan tribal chief or two.
#1 out of the box is Seth Godin. We’re even jumping a day early to coincide with the launch of Seth’s terrific new book, Linchpin. (Full disclosure: I’m doing a joint book signing with Seth Feb. 8 at the Borders on Columbus Circle in New York City.) Linchpin comes out today. It will kick you in the butt–in the best way. It certainly kicked me.
Who is Seth Godin? He’s an author and marketing whiz (the guru of “permission marketing”) and cutting-edge thinker. If you haven’t read Tribes or The Dip or Purple Cow, please do. I’m reading All Marketers Are Liars right now and finding something I can use on almost every page. As writers and artists, we may make the decision NOT to brand ourselves or market ourselves or get into any of that razzmatazz (I wrestle with these choices myself), but we owe it to ourselves and our work, I think, to at least know what this stuff is all about.
Marketing, Seth says, is the most powerful force in the world for making change. He doesn’t mean just products; his insights are critical for understanding politics (see Sarah Palin), warfare (see al-Qaeda) and where all your money went (see Goldman Sachs.) I hope someday to do a really long, in-depth interview with Seth because I think he’s onto something that the rest of us better educate ourselves in, not just as competitors in the marketplace but as citizens of the U.S. and the world. For now though, here’s our mini-interview with Seth Godin on the Creative Process:
SP: When it comes to generating ideas, what’s your process? Solitary? Collaborative? Is it fun, is it grueling? How, exactly, do you work?
SG: I’ve come to realize that I’m unusual. For me, it happens all the time. It spills out of me. Most of the ideas are horrible, useless and distracting. When I have a specific problem to solve, I use a more focused process. I’ll often buy a new notebook, different from the ones I’ve used before. Special pens. Then I’ll try to be somewhere with distractions (yes, with distractions) so that out of the corner of my ‘eye’ I can invent.
I’ve found that the next level up is the focused meeting. I’ll bring together energetic, smart people and outline the problem. The act of talking about it, showing off, demonstrating the options… it generates even more energy, which I return and they return and there’s a whiteboard and what-ifs and excited voices and the next thing you know, the problem retreats, head held in shame, defeated.
SP: Do you experience Resistance (meaning self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc.?) In what form does Resistance present itself?
SG: Until you wrote about it in The War of Art, I didn’t know what to call it. For me, the resistance disguises itself as important, even urgent work that could and should be put aside. The resistance most often looks like checking my email. Email is the perfect distraction for me, because it’s fresh, new and bite-sized. When I turn off email, even for an hour, my productivity triples.
Oh, sorry, I’m back. I just stopped writing this to… check my email.
SP: How do you overcome Resistance? Do you have a specific technique or metaphor that you employ to fortify, encourage or inspire yourself?
SG: People who know me talk about my self-discipline. I haven’t had dairy in ten years, no particular reason, I just stopped. The same thing kicked in for me once I figured out what the resistance was doing to me. If the work is important enough, I stare down the resistance and destroy it. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m only skilled at that in short bursts. The longer haul stuff, the multi-month efforts, the idea of building a company with 100 or 1000 people… those things fall aside and the resistance triumphs.
SP: Once you have an idea, what’s your process for taking it to a finished form? How do you decide whether an idea is worth pursuing? Is there a series of steps that take you from “germ” to “finished product?”
SG: There are a lot of germs in my world. Too many, certainly. I usually have thirty to fifty projects in the very early stages.
When I was a book packager, there was a database of 500.
As someone who has had ADD his whole life, I saw my business struggle for years. The problem with flitting around too much is that you never get through the Dip, you start a lot and don’t finish much. I realized that if I intended to make a living at this, I needed the discipline to ship, to push it out the door, to close sales, make things happen and be professional about it.
So the deal is that I can noodle with stuff all I want… until it hits a certain level of construction or commitment. And then I have to choose–kill it or ship it. And once I choose, it is an irrevocable choice. So those meetings are dramatic, even when I’m the only one in them.
SP: What do you do when you hit plateaus? How do you keep advancing? Is there one example of plateauing that you can share–and how you grew through it?
SG: I hit plateaus all the time. I’ve been really fortunate, had things work out and there’s a real temptation to protect your gains, cut your potential losses and coast.
Fortunately for me, the voice of the resistance is almost always drowned out by the voice of the other guy… not sure he has a name yet. That’s the guy in search of intellectual thrills, ego rides and most of all, the joy of watching people grow. I’ve been hooked on that for forty (!) years and I don’t see it going away any time soon.
SP: Bonus question: Seth, a lot of your work is inspiring people to lead, to follow their emotional hearts, to be heretics and to make their unique presence felt as artists and innovators. In your view, where does the artist/innovator/entrepreneur fit into society? What is her role in the greater scheme of things?
SG: We’re the heretics, the agents of change and the court jesters. Without us, it turns into 1984 or Windows 7. Not good.
As our society gets more complex and our people get more complacent, the role of the jester is more vital than ever before. Please stop sitting around. We need you to make a ruckus.