This week’s inspiration is all about breaking the rules. Nike paid filmaker Casey Neistat to make a film about its Fuelband and #makeitcount campaign but instead of shooting a straight advertisement for Nike, Neistat took the money, went on a 10-day around the world adventure and created an advertisement for life.
Strength is a funny thing. It’s built by being tested. If you want to lift heavier weights, you test your muscles until they grow stronger. If you want strong creative ideas, you have to challenge your mind to produce creative insights, thoughts and art. Strong character is demonstrated by being able to do the right thing in sketchy situations. Returning a lost wallet. Being honest when it’s simpler to lie. Being able to go out, have some drinks with your friends and be above extramarital temptation.
These thoughts on strength inspired me to put words on paper. Consider it a manifesto. A “call to arms” to be strong. Because life doesn’t always go the way that you wish it would. But these challenges are tests. They test your mind, your body and your character. And these tests make you stronger.
The “Be Strong” Manifesto
Life is a test. And only the strong succeed.
So be strong. Lift heavy burdens. After all, that’s how we get stronger.
Use your brain. Form strong opinions. Express them.
Use your heart. Have strong values. Don’t compromise them to fit in.
Figure out who you are. Establish a strong identity. Project a strong sense of self.
Be strong for your friends. Be strong for your family. Support the people that you love.
Build a strong network. Surround yourself with strong people. People who push you to be stronger.
Test your strength. Again. And again. And again. You’ll come out stronger.
Welcome the next big challenge. Because now you have the strength. To confront it. To own it. And to wrestle it to the ground.
Be strong. Be successful.
The inspiration for this manifesto came from two things. The first was the fact that I pushed myself to hit a personal goal that I was working towards for a long time. The second was someone who was able to help me reboot from a recent challenge. These words helped me. What’s helped you?
Our brains are hungry for content. Human beings are curious by nature. You can see it small children. Their eyes are constantly wandering and exploring new things. They want to touch, tug and taste everything they come in contact with. They’re thirsty for knowledge about the world around them.
You can see this thirst for information in yourself. Your brain loves to be entertained. It loves to learn. It loves to experience new things. If you’re on a boring commute to work, chances are that you’re mind is itching to absorb information. You’re reading a book or a paper. You’re listening to music or a podcast. Or even if you’re doing none of those things, you’re observing the world around you. Checking out the landscape. People watching. Doing mental math on the timing of the rest of your commute.
You can feed your thirsty mind with the correct diet of content or the wrong diet. The main components of a creative diet involve ignoring comfortable, easy to access information. Don’t waste your time with mainstream media.
Mainstream media caters to the lowest common denominator. It caters to the popular opinion. Mainstream media caters to the mediocre. It’s speaking to the stupid. The stories in mainstream media are not designed to provoke thought. They are designed to provide you with an opinion. They make it easy, so that you don’t have to do the thinking yourself.
When you stop thinking, your creativity dies.
You have to keep your mind nimble by thinking. You have to take in raw information and form opinions. You have to see situations from different angles. That means not relying on one source of information. Don’t just read one newspaper. Don’t just read a handful of blogs that all express the same viewpoint. Get out of your comfort zone. Read something that you disagree with. Watch a show that makes you angry. Listen to a podcast that’s from a completely different area of interest.
One of the best podcasts that I stumbled across was something called the Naked Scientists. (It’s not as dirty as it sounds. Trust me.) Basically, it’s a group of physicians and researchers from Cambridge University who use radio, live lectures, and the Internet to strip science down to its bare essentials, and promote it to the general public. It’s fascinating. The first podcast was about how certain areas of the U.K. have high proportions of the population that are genetically resistant to H.I.V. due to their ancestors surviving the Black Plague. It was something that was totally out my obvious sphere of interest, but was amazing to learn about!
The best inspiration comes from when you expand your knowledge base and are able to connect to the creative problem you’re trying to solve. You’re not going to do that by just reaffirming the beliefs that you already have. So stay away from mainstream content. Dig a little deeper than the easy stuff. Learn about science, art, music, sport, business, innovation and history. Learn about it all. Because knowledge is what fuels your creativity.
There are certain days when you rediscover your heroes. For me, today was one of those days. It started at about 3:00 AM this morning when my mom texted me that the island that my dad was visiting in the Philippines was hit by an earthquake with a 6.8 magnitude. Naturally, I freaked out. I was shit scared, until my mind cleared up and I reread the message. My dad was in the epicenter of the earthquake, but was safe.
Alright, cool. I was sleepy, so I went back to bed. I woke up a couple of hours later thinking about it. My dad was on a medical mission there, helping people with their eyesight in a remote area of the Philippines. But due to the disaster, he’s now working with the trauma unit at the local hospital. And they’re working out in the parking lot outside of the hospital because the structure of actual hospital building is no longer safe. And then I came to a realization. Holy shit! My dad is a hero.
It’s one of those strange phenomenon that has come full cycle. You see, because when you’re a young boy, your hero is almost always your dad. He is all knowing and powerful. He can fix shit. He can chop wood and make fires. He can drive cars. He knows all the answers to your homework. And then there comes a time when you start to realize that your dad maybe isn’t the hero you thought he was. Maybe he isn’t awesome at everything. I remember that time very distinctly in my mind. I was around 10 years old and my parents had just gotten me a skateboard. My dad was trying to show me how to use it, at which point he tried to skate down a little hill in our driveway. He bailed, messed up his hand and swore profusely. And that was the point that I realized maybe he wasn’t the hero I thought he was.
But now he is again. And he has been for a while. He’s no longer the hero that you expect to solve all your problems for you. But he is the type of hero to guide and support you in what you’re doing. He is the type of hero that inspires. Sometimes he does it by kind acts. Sometimes he does it by listening. Sometimes he does it by saving lives. Sometimes he does it by calling you out on your bullshit. But he’s a hero. He makes a difference. He inspires. And he makes the people around him better.
When I in high school, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, my dad and I had a long conversation. We talked about doctors being heroes. They saved lives! Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that? But, my father brought up the fact that doctors can only save one life at a time. There’s a limit to the scale of what they can accomplish with their hands. However, creativity has the potential to save millions of lives. By challenging the system or solving a difficult problem, creative thinkers can change the world. They can improve the quality of life. They can make technology easily accessible to all. They can pull down repressive governments regimes. They can rally and inspire billions.
To think that we are unable to be heroic is foolish. It doesn’t take exceptional skill, intelligence or passion. All it takes is consideration, thoughtfulness and action. We all have the potential to be heroic. The key is to perform actions that inspire others.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to skateboard, but never had the gusto and dedication to go through with it. When you’re older, it’s pretty embarrassing to try and learn a new sport. Especially if that sport prides itself on being cool. It’s like someone trying to learn how to be cool at the age of 30. It’s just uncomfortable.
And then in a conversation with my friend Gabe (who is over 30 – don’t tell him I said that) and I found out that he was learning to skate. I thought that it was really cool. He didn’t have the same predilections as me. He didn’t give a fuck if people saw him trying to learn. He didn’t care if he looked like an ageing hipster. He didn’t care if he fell. All he cares about is learning and getting better. He’s a teenage boy living in a 30 year old’s body.
Skateboarding is the perfect paradigm for creativity. It’s self taught. It’s monkey see, monkey do. You learn from seeing someone do something and then trying it yourself. Throwing your own swagger and style at it. You learn from your mistakes. You practice. You improve your skill. And the better you get, the more and more everything you see starts looking like a skate park.
The same thing happens with creativity and art. The more that you use your creative muscles, the more that you start seeing creative opportunities all around you. And you want to capture them. Paint them. Write about them. Bring them to the world. And just like skateboarding, you can start developing your creativity at any age.
But the thing that I like best about skate culture is the do-it-yourself mentality that comes from teaching yourself the sport. They don’t wait for a director to find the best skaters and make a video about them. They film it themselves. And edit it. And design the cover art. And post it online. There’s a blue collar mentality of doing what’s necessary to get it done. So, part of you is a skater. But part of you is also a producer. A designer. A director. A salesperson. Maybe even a seamstress.
What drives this do-it-yourself frame of mind? Easy. Skateboarding is fun. It’s relaxing. It’s scary. It’s thrilling. And when you’re having fun, you don’t mind doing the extra stuff. It’s rewarding. The first time that you’re able to see yourself pulling a trick on film, you feel like a bad ass. All of that extra work learning how to use a camera, figuring out iMovie, learning about lighting is worth it. It’s all about creating a product that you’re proud of and showing it tot he world.
And sometimes we forget that about being creative – especially if it’s part of our job. But you’ve got to take the time to find the fun again. To be a bad ass. To get inspired. To be excited about your work.
I’ve already posted 5 things that you can do more of to help you stay happy and creative in 2012. A layover in the airport thanks to a certain service challenged airline allowed me to recognize that there are also things that we can STOP doing in order to better equip ourselves for an awesome new year filled with great work and creativity.
1. Stop aiming for perfection.
There is such a thing as good enough. It’s better to get your work in market than to waste precious resources trying to make it perfect. There’s a standard lifecycle of adoption for new products, services and ideas. The early adopters don’t need a product to be perfect. They just want it to be new, cool and to address a need. Stop using perfection as an excuse to get your work to market.
2. Stop waiting for opportunities.
Chase them. If you see something that you want, be bold and go after it. Don’t stands there in a coffee shop waiting for the girl that you like to do something that creates the perfect opportunity for conversation. Just go up and talk to her. Same thing with projects at work. If you hear about a pitch that you want to work on, go talk to someone to get yourself on that project. Does it take balls? Yes. Will it be worth it? Absolutely.
3. Stop driving everywhere.
Walk. Bike. Take transit. Leave the car at home. Get some fresh air. Interact with people. We spend so much of our lives in cars, cut off from the rest of society. Stop confining yourself to a little metal box on your commute. Stop having to worry about traffic. Stop getting stressed about parrallel parking on a busy street with everyone watching (my own personal fear). Stop driving everywhere and allow the journey to be time for yourself.
4. Stop hoarding ideas.
You see this sometimes in creative industries. Some people are afraid of competition and so they hoard their ideas. They hide them from the rest of the group and show them only to their boss. These people are under the impression that you have a limited number of good ideas, so they guard them for their exclusive use. But the truth is that creativity is like a muscle. The more that you use it, the better it becomes. Give your ideas away for free. Let people build on them. Listen to a different perspective that you wouldn’t have considered. Your brain can only hold so much. You need to make room for all of this year’s new ideas.
5. Stop making excuses.
Accept reality. Understand the challenges. The limits. What you can and cannot change. And then deal with it. Stop making excuses. Stop putting it off. If you want to do great work, do great work. Don’t complain about the budget, the brief or the client. Work your magic with the cards that you’re dealt.
To be creative, you need to get your work out there in the real world. That’s what makes you a creative person. That’s what separates the artists from the people who simply own a Mac with Photoshop. As Steve Jobs said, real artists ship. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to get out there. Let’s make 2012 the year that you ship your best work yet.
I’m a firm believer in the fact that every year coming up is going to be better than the one that just passed. As I reflect on the relationships, the opportunities, the failures, the people and events that made 2011, I feel fortunate to experience what I have.
If you haven’t had the greatest year, it’s easy to get bummed out. Stay positive and work had to make the next day, week, month and year better. Here are a couple of things that you can do in 2012 to keep you happy and get those creative juices flowing:
1. Read more.
Put down the TV remote and open a book. Read. Read the classics. Read books that inspire you. Read books on entrepreneurship. Read about history. Read about interior design. Read about interesting people. Just read more.
2. Sweat more.
About a year ago, I was feeling pretty shitty about life. I was in a new city with a new job and it was tougher that I thought it would be to adjust to a new social setting. And I got saw less than 30 minutes of sunlight a day, which is depressing unto itself. And then I joined a gym and started going every day. Running, biking, lifting, playing basketball. It feels awesome to sweat.
3. Smile more.
Smile. Smile a lot. Even if you’re not happy. Two things will happen. (1) The act of smiling will make you happy. Fake smiles lead to real smiles. Trust me. It’s science. (2) People will reflect happiness back at you. When you smile on your commute, at the mall, in the hallways, people smile back. And that definitely makes you feel good. Plus, the world could use more smiles.
4. Write more stuff down.
We all have ideas, but they tend to come to us at the most inopportune times. Like on the toilet. Or when you’re sleeping. Or when you’re watching a movie. But then we forget them. Inspiration is fleeting and can come at any moment. Get into the habit of writing stuff down. Whether it’s a “to do” list, a random collection of inspirational articles to read, business ideas … it doesn’t matter. Write it down. It’ll make your life less stressful.
5. Dance more.
Dancing is fucking awesome. The world needs more dancing. Dance in the morning. Dance into the night. Dance by yourself. Dance with a partner. Dance with your friends. Do a fist pump (I won’t judge). Do the white man shuffle. Do the Carlton. Be suave. Be stupid. Be sexy. Just have fun and dance. I’ll be honest. I’ve had a couple of one-man dance parties in 2011 and they definitely got me to a happy place.
Remember, if you’re reading this, you’re on a computer that’s connected to the internet. You have a roof over your head. You can afford to connect with people. You also have the gift of creativity. Don’t be afraid to use that gift to make stuff. Let’s make 2012 an awesome year!
Thanks to all of the people who make the free shit. To the artists that write, draw, compose, publish or just plain make great stuff. Thanks to those who do amazing work and then release it on the internet for free.
Free art is an interesting concept. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, to many people, it could mean the opposite But free makes things accessible. It’s a low barrier that allows for people to have an introduction to you and what you do. If it’s good, we pay attention. If it’s not, we won’t remember you in five minutes.
But thank you. Thank you for putting yourself out there. For trying to create something.
And artists like to create art that’s free as well. In the words of Bill Cunningham, “If you never take money, they can’t tell you what to do. That’s the key to the whole thing.” By shipping art for free, you retain control. You can experiment. You can try new styles, new rhymes, new hooks. You can walk the grey line of stealing stuff that would normally get sued for if you were making money off of it.
Like the mixtape scene in hip hop. Artists – big or small – drop free albums for their fans to download. If you’re small, you have the potential to blow up. Kid Cudi and Mike Posner both broke out into the mainstream through the success of their mixtapes. If you’re already big, like Eminem or Ludacris, it gives you a creative outlet to try new material. To continue to create art. To keep your shit sharp.
You don’t stay creative by keeping all of your good ideas inside. You get creative by letting them all out. By releasing all of them into the world, so that you have to come up with more. You develop your creativity by producing.
Jujitsu and Karate are two different fighting styles. Although both methods originated from the same area in Japan, they represent two distinct ways of approaching a problem. One is a direct attack and one is flexible.
Karate is about landing one big blow to end the fight. You combine the correct timing, technique and strength to disable your opponent from continuing in combat through one hit. At the higher level, you demonstrate this through breaking boards. Cracking bricks. Feats of strength.
Jujitsu looks to use your enemy’s momentum against them. To go with the flow. It’s more about grappling and throws than overtly offensive maneuvers. You let your opponent in close and then use their strength to accomplish your goals.
In pitching ideas, some people try to use karate. Teams will work hard and try to bully their ideas into being bought. They assume that their expertise in the field or the brilliance of their ideas are enough to get them sold. They view stubbornness as a weapon. They think that if they just push, push, push, the idea will be bought. That’s not the case.
You have to approach the sell like jujitsu. You need to work with the your client’s momentum to get the right ideas sold. Get in close. Use their motivations, their energy, their opinions to get your ideas made. You need to adapt. Stay flexible, listen and deliver. Don’t waste your energy trying to change things that you are not able to affect.
The might of a river flows around a rock. It doesn’t try to punch through it.
One man’s string is another man’s fang floss. Or perhaps put a more correctly, another monster’s fang floss. It’s simple but intelligent. All it took was a different perspective and a quick repackaging to breath new life into a boring product.
Your desk, your office, your home, and your computer … they are all filled with products that can inspire creativity and reinvention. All you need to exploit them is a different perspective. And then all of a sudden:
- You can fry an egg with a piece of paper and a binder clip
- Your note taking program can start organizing your whole life
- Your scripts from your beer client get sold in as a concept for a new bodywash.
Lifehacker has made it’s bread and butter on thinking of innovative solutions to problems using ordinary tools.
The next time that you’re stumped with a problem, look at what you have in front of you. Cultivate your inner Maguyver. What tools do you have at your disposal that can solve your problems? A different perspective can open a whole new realm of creative solutions.