The More People

Well, let me tell you a story about someone with More. More what you ask? More of almost everything but energy mostly, followed by imagination, followed by a willingness to try new things, and the audacity to believe he might be able to accomplish them. Of course, this was largely contextual for he was born into the fast-moving life lane of New York City and born to parents, one of whom had these exact same More traits and who lived her life according to the same intense More proclivities and the desires they inspired. 

Leaping ahead almost seventy years, this same child now a  man at least in some ways, with More, found the More was unabated and no, he never did quite calm down and become like everyone else, even though he was a little better at seeming to reside within the bell curve. Or perhaps this was an illusion created by the fact that almost everyone he spent time with for those almost seventy years was to some degree just like him. You see this individual with More discovered even you one was, one in a thousand there were another 8 million people on the planet who were also one in a thousand, and that there were also a seemingly infinite number of ways to be one in a thousand or an outlier. This seemed because there were an infinite number of possible bell curves to occupy, to indicate that perhaps everyone was an outlier.

And this provided some solace and some opportunity because exceptionalism can also breed exclusion.  At least exclusion from the bell curve. 

Do you recognize aspects of yourself in this narrative? Do yo too not seem to fit into the “norms” society had to have invented statistics to describe? After all the is what More means – not the average or mean indicated by bell curve dwellers. If you even picked up this book or began reading this blog posting or whatever form you have encountered this story in, then I suspect this state of More may afflict you as well, and I chose the word afflict, because More is both a blessing and a curve, or in eastern parlance an opportunity and a danger. 

This is a story mostly about, and mostly for, creative outliers who are well aware of this state of More and the troubles the can arise from it occasionally causing the More people to wish they had Less in order to better fit in. 

The Hybrid Life

Time to admit and celebrate that we live in a new world. No, we are not going back to the pre-pandemic world and no we are not entirely embracing a virtual digital-only world either. Economics prevents the first, and psychology and biology prevent the second.  

It is a matter of return on investment. For most of us, Trade Shows are going the way of magazines and CD players.  It is simply far less expensive and requires far less effort to telecommute than to hop on a plane and fly across the country to stay in a hotel in order to have a meeting with someone for the first time. We are used to prequalifying in-person meetings with phone calls and now we can prequalify them with zoom or the equivalent. Reading currently breaking information about topics you care about is a lot easier online than buying or subscribing to magazines and newspapers and having even several streaming music subscriptions is far less costly and far easier to manage than buying CDs and records. The business model for the digital version is simply extremely compelling, so no virtual is not going away unless human society truly unravels by some sort of apocalypse.

On the other other hand I like meetings people in person, and I like reading magazines and I like CDs and records. Also psychologically people do need people to socialize with as we are social animals, and then there is the issue of procreation. Biology vs. Economy? Obviously we need both. So neither are going away.

We are all to some degree or another, living hybrid lives where some things we do are online and others are in person. We had better get used to it and be ready for a world with many new business models which take into account the hybrid nature of things.

This impacts creative outliers more than most, for a disproportionate number are either self-employed or part of smaller organizations. None of you are surprised that for most, creativity does not flourish in gigantic organizations. Of course, there are always exceptions.  

Hybrid life impact upon creatives will be largely positive because the overhead associated with creating and launching new initiatives is lower than it has been in generations. It is increasingly easier to start a company or a band or anything else than it has been in years.

It is time to create new business models. It has always been harder to make a living in the arts, than in say engineering, medicine or law and this is in part due to the prevailing business models in these arenas. It is a lot harder to get a gig at Carnegie Hall than at a restaurant, but can cost a lot less and in some ways be a lot easier to launch a virtual concert series. 

Better than either is providing a choice to customer-audiences. If they live nearby and can manage and afford the logistics fine, open the doors. And if they are on the other side of town or the world, then okay accommodate them too. 

Invent hybrid ways to earn a living, to collaborate, to socialize and in short invent your own hybrid life. This is a fantastic opportunity, not something to resist and run away from as we know – resistance is futile!

Time Bucket Convergence Constraints

As creative outliers tend to be dealing with fairly unbounded sets of idea much of the time, the issue of convergence comes up often. How do we focus our idea flow on something concrete and small enough to actually complete? Much of the world may have a hard time imagining having too many ideas and too many options. But creative outliers know first hand that this can be the curse that accompanies the blessing of simply having MORE. 

Bay Manning a brilliant Silicon Valley San Francisco Bay Area philosopher I know does not like to refer to people as gifted. He says it just creates problems down the line so he calls people who are gifted as those who simply have MORE. More ideas, more options, more opportunities and of course more problems because to be exceptional is also to be excluded (from the Bell Curve). The world is mostly designed to accommodate people within the Bell Curve.

In any case there is an extremely simple way to apply a force of convergence to ones creative process. Apply constraints. Only play in one key, one draw in black and white, only take pictures with last years phone.  Of course there are also infinite constraints one could imagine which sends us down yet another infinite gifted MORE habit hole. 

This calls for an even simpler constraint and calling forth the one that is generally applied to all of us usually expressed as I need this by ____________.  Basically hardly anyone wants to pay people to do what they do not know how to do. They like to pay you for something that you already know how to do. I had the good fortune to manage to avoid this for fifteen years by being in research at Bose and at Apple where I was actually paid to do things I did not yet know how to do. At least some of the time. Eventually people do like to see results. 

Basically the entire hardware tech world until fairly recently in part due to the global pandemic, used trade shows as the time to introduce new products. We all knew that there were particular times when we had to demonstrate something that work or at least mostly worked. The software folks moved away from this earlier when they realized they could have successful product introductions online especially if they were tech giants who already had decent market share. 

Now it is appearing that all of this time consuming expensive flying around and staying hotels to rub shoulders with thousands of your closest sort of friends, colleagues and contacts may not be necessary. Of course our shared hybrid future will still have trade shows because they do generate sales and are also fun (kind of – at least for the first ten years of them).

As we creative outliers are increasingly supervising ourselves and in our own spaces convergence can become a real issue. Last night I discovered I had been carrying around a solution in my pocket for ten years.  Sometimes creative outliers can know things that no one else knows, and other times there are things that everyone knows but evidently I don’t. This was pointed out to me fairly early to me by my little sister in trying to explain to others what on earth I was up to.

Back to the simple solution I could have just put forth 500 words ago but hey context is important. 

Did you ever use a stopwatch with a lap timer or just assume these were for people swimming or running laps. I discovered by accidentally swiping the timer in my iPhone that there was a beautiful chronograph lap timer built into every Apple Clock app which of course means counting up all of th phones and tablets I won that I guess I have a dozen lap counter timers. And why should I care you are saying?

Here is the use case I find myself in as a composer who sometimes needs to write, perform and record pieces of music of specified durations. And say there is a part A, a part B and a part C rattling around in your mind that you want to get out. Actually it is more like there are an infinite number of part A’s and maybe twenty part B’s and more of a glimmer of a part C but of course all of this is situation dependent and time varying.

Here is where the stopwatch with the lap button, that I did not know I always had with me or even wanted or needed comes in.  Sing or play your musical idea first starting the stopwatch and then when you get to where the next section begins click the Lap button, and continue until you have mapped out the larger arc of a piece. When you are done you will not only have the total elapsed time but also all of the separate parts all nicely mapped out with different colors and different durations (if desired).

Since for me music is kind of infinite applying the constraint of simply filling a time bucket turns out to be a fantastic easy portable and free tool. All of you may already know this but it was news to me and a terrific constraint to the creative process which I am sure to apply to many other things the music now that I know it is in my pocket.  Since I have not had a boss or external pressures to get things done by specific times for much of my life, and I was not swimming or running laps with my smart phone since it would not be invented yet for decades it simply never occurred to me that a lap counter timer would be of any use at all but guess what it may be more useful than the majority of the tools I have and I have a lot fo tools with over 300 apps in phone and another 300 apps on my computers.

This may be in the category of something everyone else knew and I didn’t but it makes me realize that in some ways having MORE may actually be LESS.

Check out this cool feature of the free clock on your phone. I knew about the alarms and the countdown timer and the world clock and the stopwatch from day one but never noticed the lap timer counter – who knows maybe it was not there before as these phones continue to grow in capability so rapidly that no one person knows all they can do today, never mind in the future.

The Power of Routine

Creative Outliers have a greater tolerance of ambiguity multi-tasking, and, yes, distraction. When you both notice more and feel more empowered to react, there is a greater tendency to go off on tangents.  This is why having a practice can be so helpful. We have all heard of the authors who write a few pages every morning. It has been said that Jack Londen only wrote four pages per day, but this generated well over a thousand published pages.  Writing a few minutes of music every morning also can yield similar results.  No matter how you do it, getting centered every morning can get you to flow sooner and more reliably. 

As creative outliers, you can invent your morning or night practices if you are a night person. What you do and when you do it is not the most crucial part; consistency is.  Consistency eventually becomes habituated and being a creative type, it is likely that you have purpose-designed practices comprised of behaviors to achieve your very own goals. We can program ourselves to automate specific behaviors to achieve specific desired results, including even getting into a flow state.

A practice is not the same thing as just throwing yourself at what you are doing all of the way. A practice is an opportunity for a more balanced, sustainable integrated, productive life.  I knew a National Geographic photojournalist who, when he was not flying around the world shooting, got up early every morning and completed all of the things he needed to do by 11 AM, which gave him the entire rest of the day off. At 82, he is incredibly productive and free as a bird even now. He has led multiple adventure expeditions worldwide and is still contributing to all sorts of projects but amazingly seems to do all of this between 5 and 11 every day.

A practice is a set of constraints that can set you free. To get terrific at anything requires a tremendous amount of work. And this work has to be intentional, deliberate, focused and primarily automatic. Automatic behaviors, also called habits or routines, make the heavy lifting of doing great work a lot lighter because something feels amiss when we are not doing it. When desired behaviors are automated, they dramatically reduce the overhead associated with creative expression, enterprise creation and even research and discovery. 

In addition to the reasons delineated above, there is another underlying principle at work here. Routines can be “Forces of Convergence”.  When creative outliers inevitably and involuntarily have piles and piles of new ideas right in front of them at every single moment, it can be incredibly useful to have a force of convergence applied to prevent, delay or at least manage distractions.

In fact, for some of us, it is imperative, for we can be very good at surfing waves of new ideas and insights.    And our curiosity creates incredible appetites for new interesting, exciting projects, which can be problematic. I was once told by a colleague decades ago, early in my professional life, that I was the company’s best starter and he was the best finisher, but he could never come up with a tiny fraction of the ideas I had.

Knowing we love to fly and explore, it would be crazy and even counter-productive to try and prevent this natural, somewhat involuntary tendency. Still, we could design lives that get a full day’s work completed in the first part of the day, leaving free a ton of time to fly around and explore like my friend, the super-productive photojournalist, did. This is possible because some creative outliers also have abnormal amounts of energy to expend. And these are the ones who can benefit the most from routine.

Cultivating routines to act as appropriate forces of convergence for you will radically increase your productiveness and effectiveness.