The Seven Habits of Highly Creative People.
Before becoming a freelance writer, I had a small ad agency with two partners. One of my partners, Karl, mentioned a book that he said had a big impact on him.
It was called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Looking at Karl and noting how effective he was, I thought that maybe I should read it, too. After all, I wanted to be as effective as I possibly could in making our new agency a success.
I dug up a copy of that book that my sister had given me years before. My ineffectiveness was already quite evident—I had never even opened it.
I glanced through its pages, delaying the actual reading of the 340-page book (and undoubtedly breaking one of the rules contained therein).
I noticed that the chapter titles gave much of the story. One of them was “Be Proactive.” Another, “Begin with the end in mind.” The third, “Put first things first.”
These all sounded good. But already my mind was wandering. I was losing interest. But why? Was I destined to put the book back on the shelf, dooming myself to an ineffective life?
As I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t the case at all. The fact is, I’m extremely effective as a creative person—but the principles in this book simply weren’t the ones that had made that happen.
So I started thinking about the many creative individuals I had worked with—and others whom I had only read about. And I realized there was a completely different set of principles for people whose lives revolve around being creative.
So let’s talk about the first of the seven habits I discovered.
Habit #1: Quantity, not just quality.
Have you ever gotten stuck right as you began writing a blog article, unable to find the absolute perfect thing to say at the start?
You probably figured, “If the beginning’s mediocre, it’ll all be downhill from there.” But in your quest for perfection, you were immobilized.
Here’s how highly creative people handle that: They don’t just look for that one perfect idea. They develop a large quantity of ideas. Some good, some bad, some awful.
Then they sort through those ideas for the very best ones.
In Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, Sullivan, Luke Sullivan, a writer at the great ad agency Fallon in their heyday, shows 20 or 30 headlines for an ad he was working on.
Some of them are good, some of them are okay, a few are really terrific. But what struck me was this:
He was one of the best copywriters in the world, yet he had to write dozens of headlines in order to get to a single good one.
But it’s not just ad guys. Great artists are the same way. Sketch after sketch, canvas after canvas. Not all of them are masterpieces. But the very fact that they create so much work increases the odds that a masterpiece will be among them.
It makes perfect sense. Because by turning out a lot of ideas, you are getting engaged in the process, rather then freezing at the very start of it.
You’re letting your mind relax, because you’re not expecting greatness from every thought it spits out. You are practicing your craft (and we’ll talk more about that in another post). And practice, more than anything else, makes perfect.
So don’t try to come up with one great idea. Come up with a bunch of ideas. Then look for the great ones among them.
How can you us the habit of developing ideas in greater quantity? Is this something that you do now?