Right now I’m exploring designs for a new product idea. R&D work like this depends on having good mental and emotional energy. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t.
When you’re energetic and motivated, great things happen spontaneously, in unpredictable bursts of inspiration.
But when you’re tired, distracted, or in the weeds on something, it’s usually better to stop working. Just admit (temporary) defeat and give yourself a chance to regroup. Do something else that’s less taxing, or call it quits and start again later.
I always find this difficult to do, because the working world tells us that full-time employees should put in 8+ consecutive hours no matter what. So what if you’re frustrated, burned out, or not making much progress? Too bad, gotta punch the clock! Back to the grind! Grind it out!
The problem is, grinding it out is counterproductive for creative work, because creativity doesn’t happen on a linear time scale. Forcing it usually makes things worse. If you drain your human gas tank all the way to empty, you’ll get even more burned out. And then your bad mood and low energy spills over to another workday, prolonging the creative drought.
Don’t do that! Walk away instead, and leave it for your future, better self to look at with fresh eyes.
Then start thinking about productivity in terms of quality time instead of clock time. You might end up making the same progress with only 20 energetic hours that you would have made in 60 tired hours.
Once you get in the habit of that, you can optimize your schedule around your own energy and enthusiasm. I’m usually at my creative peak in the mid-morning and lose steam after lunch, so I shuffle my work accordingly. I do exploratory freeform stuff in the morning, and I save routine tasks (like implementing something I already know how to do) for the afternoon. I also have a rather short attention span, so I take tiny breaks a lot.
Your schedule might be the opposite. But whatever it is, give yourself the freedom to go with the flow, or shut off the flow altogether. Some days suck and you have to cut your losses. Other times you just need to walk away for 20 minutes to get a flash of inspiration.
The key is to be self-aware and completely flexible about time. Dump the clock. You’ll be much happier and more effective, and your work will still get done in the end.
There’s an endless list of books about how the greatest become the greatest — deliberate practice. They don’t just show up time after time. They also set short measurable goals and keep stretching them.
Time your runs. Swim a bit faster. Get yourself over that pull up bar just one more time.
That’s great for performance sports. The goals are easily measurable.
But I’m not looking to be, for example, a fast editor. I’d like to be a better, more creative, editor. I want to build bigger audiences. And get more subscribers this week.
So how do you deliberately practice in the creative field where success is often external, unpredictable, and uncontrollable?
Here’s four ways I’ve found over the years to deliberately practice being more creative.
How many times have you redone something? Probably not more than 18. Monet painted at least 18 haystacks that we’re aware of. He destroyed a bunch too.
Work on the same thing over and over and over and over again. It’s that simple.
I repeat myself constantly. I try and tell the same story over and over. I redesign the same thing over and over. Each time trying to make it better.
At Highrise, I’ve started a new redesign of the whole site at least 3 times. I’ve burned them like Monet, but they’ve all informed me of things I’d like to see and honed my eye for things that work.
Try to imitate other people’s work. Don’t pass it off as yours of course. But envision what it would be like if someone you look up to was working on your current goal.
More than once, I’ve channeled Malcolm Gladwell. How would he write this? What would the style be like? Where would he go to be inspired?
Use imitation as way to practice techniques others have mastered.
Force yourself into modes of experimentation. In other words…
Do weird shit.
A great example I found recently was watching an interview with Casey Neistat. You know how interviews go. You’ve seen a million of them. Except this interview involved hot wings. The wings got hotter and hotter and made Casey more uncomfortable as they went. Now, that’s taking interviews in a really weird direction. But it worked.
How’d they come up with that? I have no idea. But I bet if you took an interview and decided, “you know what, I’m just going to get really weird with it.” You would eventually come up with something compelling.
I’m sitting here now, and I’m thinking, let’s have an interviewee play with my kid’s toys (hell, let’s even make them play with my kid, while I ask them questions?) Great idea? Who knows. Unlikely. But at least it’s an experiment you haven’t seen before. Maybe it’d work. If not, something else will.
James Altucher, writer, podcaster, and just interesting human, is constantly encouraging people to come up with 10 ideas. Then 10 more. Then 10 more.
It’s just lifting a weight. Training the idea muscle like an athlete would train their legs.
The best deliberate practice I know is adding some arbitrary constraint.
Publish a video every single day for a year. Write 5 articles a week for 3 months. You normally write 1000 words? Force yourself to only write 500.
I often publish vlogs anywhere from 4 minutes to 10 minutes. With 2018, I’m now giving myself the constraint of publishing only 3 minute vlogs. I have no idea how long I’ll keep this up, but the constraint forces me to get better at editing, and finding places where the story repeats itself or gets boring.
It really doesn’t matter what you pick. Just pick something that makes you uncomfortable, like picking up some heavy weight. Then do it a bunch.
I think a lot of us read these books about deliberate practice, and see all these examples of athletes, and we miss the lesson. There are parallels we can use to improve our creative selves, if we just dig a little deeper.
Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good. ― Malcolm Gladwell
Have you seen the latest Jake Paul Christmas music videos?
You probably know of Jake Paul. He’s the ridiculously popular YouTuber with 12 million subscribers. Not to mention the Twitter and Instagram fans and his previous run with the Disney Channel.
He got his start on Vine with funny videos and stunts. And though that genre of video is still very much what he’s known for, he also sprinkles in his help for others — the wishes he makes come true for his young fans or getting people out of their homes during the Houston floods.
Of course, it has to be noted that he’s controversial and polarizing. His neighbors were considering filing a class action suit because of the trouble he caused which included giant bonfires of his furniture burning in his empty pool.
This December, Jake released an entire holiday album with his original take on the 12 days of Christmas or Litmas.
But I’ll get back to that…
A week ago, another YouTuber blew up in attention. If you didn’t catch it in one of the many dozens of business magazines which covered this, you might have even seen it mentioned on SNL’s weekend update.
Ryan, like many of us on YouTube, started out with very little traction. Until he created a video of playing with 100+ toys he took out of a giant homemade egg shaped box. That video now has almost 1 billion views.
With the success of that and more videos, he has over 10 million subscribers, even above top YouTubers like Casey Neistat and iJustine.
Now, what lesson can you possibly draw from Ryan the 6 year old toy reviewer and Jake the “neighborhood hoodlum”?
I think if you pay very close attention to their content, you’ll see a trend.
It’s all aspirational.
Ryan’s whole channel is content for kids who’d love to be in the same position to open up 100 presents.
And though you might cringe watching Jake’s humor, who wouldn’t want to live in a mansion with a bunch of their friends enjoying life. Who wouldn’t want a dose of that carefree attitude he has. Who wouldn’t want the close relationship he’s had with his brother over the years (the current, and possibly fake, feud notwithstanding). All, while we watch escaping from some of the drudgery of our own lives.
Take that lens and find some of the other successful content on YouTube. You’ll see so much of it linked — the unboxing videos, the product reviews, the tips on doing your makeup and hair — “Here is something or some skill I have that you aspire to. Let me show you what it’s like. Let me show you how to get it yourself.”
a hope or ambition of achieving something
Of course there’s a darkside to this. They’re are plenty of people flashing their lifestyles and fancy cars for little benefit to the viewer just to rack up views and ad dollars. Jake Paul can sometimes be found guilty of this. Shoot, I know I can be guilty of this, showing people how much fun I had today and cherry picking the good stuff.
But I spend quite a bit of effort making sure the work I produce on my YouTube channel isn’t just some thin veneer or shill for a product. It isn’t some brag fest of how awesome my life is. I try to open up about the real challenges I go through everyday raising a toddler and growing a business.
Then I try to show the things that have helped me get past those obstacles. The patience, technology, or decisions. And it just so happens there’s a new problem everyday. You should have seen last night’s toddler fit. Maybe I’ll include it in a vlog episode soon 🙂
I think if you lead from a place of creating more aspirational content, helping others obtain or achieve something, you’ll see that content reach much further than the work that focuses on outrage, opinions, or humour alone.
What skill or quality do you have that people aspire to have? I don’t care if you feel like the most unsuccessful person in the world, there’s something you can do or recently learned, that someone else wishes they could get too. Even if you just learned to get the most basic Ruby on Rails application running, someone out there wishes to learn. Even if you just learned how valuable white space is in a design, someone out there can’t wait to get even that far. Even if you’re a three year old, you just learned something the two year olds who come after you wish they knew.
Go help people who aspire to be better versions of themselves and they’ll help you get better too.
Merry Christ(Lit)mas and Happy Holidays everyone. I hope you have the chance to spend the time with family and friends. If there’s anything I can ever be helpful with, please don’t hesitate to ask. Email me anytime (email@example.com). Or Twitter.
Today I woke up to the headline that Khloé Kardashian brought her own lighting gear and crew to her driver’s license photo.
How silly. How vain. Khloé wanted her new ID photo to be better than what comes “out of the box”. The author of the article advised readers that if you pull a move like this “expect people to make fun of you.”
But, I think that’s actually the biggest secret to the Kardashian family’s success…
In 1968, Bibb Latané and John Darley, professors of Psychology at Columbia and New York University respectively, performed an experiment. They would put a test subject in a room and have that subject answer a questionnaire. But then they created an emergency. The room would start to fill with smoke from a vent. No alarms. No one else in the room. Just a growing uncomfortable amount of smoke.
75% of the test subjects reported the smoke. It’s a little surprising it’s not even closer to 100% isn’t it?
Then Latané and Darley changed the experiment conditions and added two other people to the room who were “in on the gag” and were instructed to not react to the smoke.
This time only 10% of the new test subjects reported the smoke!
But here’s where it really got strange. You might argue that we all know how important social proof is. You forced these other people to not react. Of course there’s going to be pressure on the test subject to stay still.
So they modified the experiment a third time, 3 new test subjects in the room, and now all three were naive of what really was happening in the experiment as they answered their surveys.
Of the 24 people in this part of the experiment, only 1 person reported smoke coming in the room within the first 4 minutes. After the experiment was concluded, still only 3 people total said anything at all.
This is crazy.
Being exposed to public view may constrain an individual’s actions as he attempts to avoid possible ridicule and embarrassment.
The fire alarm tells us that it’s socially okay to react to the fire. It promises us with certainty that we won’t be embarrassed if we now proceed to exit in an orderly fashion.
“That we won’t be embarrassed.”
Keeping up with the Kardashians, or KUWTK, has been on for 14 seasons. And they just signed a $150 million deal to keep it going at least another 5. It’s been a mega successful show and it’s catapulted the careers of everyone involved. Even one of the youngest of the Kardashian clan, Kylie, started a makeup company. She made $44 million last year. The company is expected to be worth $1 billion in the next 5 years. She’ll be 25.
One of the things that’s most interesting to me about the show is that it doesn’t do what you might most expect — making the lives of the Kardashians look brilliant.
If you watch, you’ll see arguments. Jealousy. Dumb mistakes. Neurosis. Trouble with weight.
I’ve been in Y Combinator twice. I’ve been running my own businesses for over 12 years. So I’ve been around quite a few people who didn’t get the inflection point they wanted after trying to start the next ‘billion dollar company’, so packed it up, and quit the game. Does it really have to be like that?
In 1992, a young kid got lucky. He was in the right bar at the right time and met a casting director who launched his acting career. It turned into quite a decent career.
But there was a problem.
He was quickly typecast. Every single movie he was in had the same formula of having our actor showcase his charm and good looks. The paycheck was great, but it wasn’t any fun.
Then… he disappeared.
For two years, after what first looked like the peak of this actor’s career, he wasn’t in anything. The scripts dried up. People stopped sending him things. They got the message he was sick of the formulaic role that had been making him and the studios a lot of money. And studios like to make a lot of money.
It didn’t help that his final project before his disappearance had a 28% Rotten Tomatoes score. Ebert mentioned: “The potential is here for a comedy that could have been hilarious.” This isn’t the film you want to start your walkabout after.
If they’re like this, we’re in deep shit. That’s why you book your next job before the movie comes out.
But, finally after a few years of obscurity, the director who started his career had a project. It was different. He’d get to be different. The problem: it didn’t pay well. The budget was 1/7th the budget of his dud movie he left with in 2009.
What does he do?
“Go big or go home” didn’t become part of our lexicon until the 1990’s
Since then, that expression permeates far too many projects and people’s careers. I don’t know if it’s because of some misplaced “artistic integrity” or psychological desire to complete sets of things that makes us want Everything from our project or nothing at all. But it’s a terrible thing that afflicts too many good ideas. Ideas that, for whatever reason, are small. They have small budgets. They aren’t billion dollar unicorn businesses. They don’t have exponential hopes. So people abandon these great ideas because the biggest payoff isn’t possible.
Our actor takes some of these oddball low budget movies. He does a string of them from 2011–2013. And to offset, he gets some commercial work. The commercials are a little weird. He’s made fun of. When someone asked him about the flak he gets about the commercials:
Fuck that. Because I’m going to. And I like ’em. And they pay well. And they allow me to go and do these other little movies for a lot less.
Not everything we do needs a Go Big or Go Home mindset. There are ways to incorporate the smaller ideas. Your business is profitable but doesn’t make the exorbitant sum you were expecting? Don’t shut it down. Start another business. Do some consulting. Treat it as a side hustle.
If Charli had an attitude like too many of the Go Big or Go Home folks she’d have so much less of these projects, and she’d be miserable. Instead, she’s not a billionaire, but she’s in a place most people would love to be. If only they could drop the Go Big or Go Home mindset.
Like our actor friend.
In 2014, he finds himself onstage saying “Alright alright alright”, a line from his very first movie, and thanking a host of people for the award he won for his role in the low budget success of Dallas Buyers Club. It was Matthew McConaughey’s first Oscar.
My daughter is taking swimming lessons. She’s three. It hasn’t been going well. Tears. Fear about putting her face in the water. Dread about going to the next class. I found myself telling her the age old wisdom of “Do Your Best”, but I’m curious if that isn’t very good advice at all…
The Simpsons is one of the most successful sitcoms and animated shows in history running 29 seasons so far. Each episode takes eight-to-nine months to create! That means many teams and people need to be involved to get an entire season manufactured.
But this isn’t a story about The Simpsons. It’s about South Park.
The most surprising thing to me about South Park is that a single episode takes 6 days. Sometimes even less. Of course the animation isn’t as sophisticated as The Simpsons. And I’m sure some would argue the writing isn’t either. But South Park has been going on 21 seasons with 2 more already under contract and includes its own successful spin-off games, merchandise and movie.
I always feel like, “wow, I wish I had another day with this show.” That’s the reason that there’s so many episodes of South Park we’re able to get done, is ’cause there just is a deadline, and you can’t keep going, ’cause there would be so many shows that I’m like, “no, no, it’s not ready yet. Not ready yet.” And I would have spent four weeks on one show. All you do is start second-guessing yourself and rewriting stuff, and it gets over-thought, and it would have been 5% better.
Sure, this is a lesson about how important deadlines are. They force you to keep shipping. You aren’t given a chance to overthink anything.
But I think it’s a bigger lesson in getting stuck in a rut because we fear we could do better. Trey Parker and Matt Stone know these South Park episodes can be better. It isn’t their best. But will it make a material difference if they do more to it? No, probably not.
The pilot episode wasn’t even as sophisticated as you see today. They were made with paper cutouts and stop motion animation. I’m sure in Trey and Matt’s heads, they were better than this. But they published just to get something into the world and avoid getting stuck in obscurity.
It’s how this YouTube channel of mine has gone (youtube.com/nathankontny). I’m up to about 2500 subscribers watching me talk about business, marketing, design, and just getting through life on a daily basis. But I hesitated way too long to get even the first episode in the tank. I knew I could do a much better job than filming on my phone with crappy lighting, so I spent an inordinate amount of time researching lighting solutions, camera gear, storyboarding.
I finally regained my sanity and just filmed on a camera phone in my bedroom. The result looks like absolute garbage. I knew it should have been better. But what difference would it have made. Ship it. It’ll get better with time. And it has. Today’s videos are drastically different than my freshman efforts.
I see this all playing out with my daughter. She has this idea of being a great swimmer. She sees her best friend swimming already and then beats herself up that she can’t do it, to the point where she didn’t even want to get in the pool anymore because she couldn’t match her friend.
But we kept encouraging. Just get in the pool. It’s ok if you don’t do what your friend does. Just dip your face in, even if it’s just one second. Of course she quickly got a lot better. She’s burying her face in now for 12 seconds and constantly excited to practice and return to swimming class.
But it didn’t start with her best or what she thought should be “her best”. It started with getting comfortable doing her worst.
When Trey completes the latest episode in the South Park documentary, he let’s us know his thoughts on its quality, which happens to be the same feeling he has every single week as they publish their work:
I feel like it’s the worst episode we’ve ever done.
My dad loves talk radio. I remember as a kid driving around with him and the car tuned to WGN an AM station based here in Chicago. One of the personalities the station hosted was Paul Harvey. Paul Harvey had a popular segment called “The Rest of the Story”.
I wasn’t in love with talk radio, but I enjoyed Paul. He always told some odd bits of someone’s story and concluded with the name of a fairly well known person he had just described.
An audience finds a proposition ‘interesting’ not because it tells them some truth they thought they already knew, but instead because it tells them some truth they thought they already knew was wrong.
We love movies when the bad guy doesn’t hurt someone when we expect it. We devour books where the good guy unexpectedly turns out to be evil. We crave surprise.
And so a big part of my writing style is simply trying to surprise people.
On and on I’m looking for morsels of Paul Harvey/Murray Davis-like surprise. Is there something I can poke at that people currently assume? Or is there even something I can hold back through the course of the story that might surprise people at the end?
“Meanwhile, back at the ranch”
I remember a Chemistry class I had in college. There was this Teaching Assistant (TA) who collected Beanie Babies and decided to sell his entire collection for a pretty good sum. He did it because he wanted to use his money to buy his girlfriend an engagement ring. This has nothing to do with anything, I just remember that being something cool the TA did.
The TA was also the one to show me one of the first “viral videos” ever to hit the internet. It was a cartoon filmed with cutouts using stop motion animation of 4 kids swearing like crazy and Santa spinning Jesus over his head before throwing him across a field of snow.
That was the second ever short episode of South Park that Trey Parker and Matt Stone created in 1995. Today, South Park is one of the most successful cartoons in history.
I picked up a book once about writing. I can’t remember the name of it or the author of this chapter but it was all about an important technique the author used in their writing: weaving. Weave stories together. And that stuck with me.
I started seeing it everywhere. You see it in authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Sinek, The Heath Brothers, South Park.
Wait, one of those isn’t like the other.
South Park’s season 21 premier weaves stories about Amazon’s Alexa replacing people’s jobs and a fake TV show called White People Renovating Houses. Back and forth the show moves from this group of people arguing about Alexa taking over the world and the remodeling show. Until they converge.
Some call this storytelling technique “Meanwhile, back at the ranch”, nodding to the days of the early silent cowboy films that needed to use subtitles to signal to people they were now literally going back to the ranch for the next thread of story.
But you see it constantly in the shows and movies you love. One thread starts, and before it reaches a peak, the story moves you to another thread keeping you in suspense.
One of my favorite vloggers right now is How to Dad. He’s got a bunch of funny videos showing exactly what his channel’s name describes: weird shit he goes through raising his kids.
He’s been showing more videos recently of his daily life and you can see the things he’s “borrowing” from other vloggers. The selfie-sticks, the drone shots, the timelapses, the musical score. Except the musical score is now often him singing, playing the flute, or banging on his kids toys in his shower and recording the result. It’s a musical score unlike anything you’ve probably seen on a YouTube vlog.
He’s taken pieces of things that have inspired him along the way and added his own bits of creativity to make it truly unique.
Yes, I’ve been inspired by a great many people. And consciously and subconsciously I stand on their shoulders. But I make sure I’m only trying to take a piece of influence. I like his story structure. I like her use of surprise. I like how he uses narration in his videos. And I take all these pieces of things and merge them into a new whole adding my own unique bits.
For example, probably unlike many of my favorite authors, I spend an inordinate amount of time paying attention to People Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Variety. One, I try like How to Dad, to add my own ingredients. And two, because I think there’s some great lessons from those channels people haven’t explored past their surface.
Stop doing the same thing every single time
If I came home on a weekend from college, I would go back to school late on a Sunday night because my mom and I couldn’t miss watching X-files together after dinner on Sunday.
X-files was a fantastic show. Its peak season in my opinion was Season 5. That’s where they really stretched themselves creatively. They broke the usual formula of an episode and told stories through different main character perspectives, with different film making techniques, etc.
That’s how all my favorite shows have worked. Sure they often have a go-to style, but they aren’t afraid to change it up constantly.
I can’t stand formulaic output over and over, and so I’m always looking for new styles and mediums to use.
Do what you’re not passionate about
And finally, my writing style is a product of me being interested in everything. I don’t know if it’s something I’ve been born with, or something I learned from my parents. I played every single sport growing up from Figure Skating to Football. I enjoy Justin Bieber and Phish. In college I took classes in Thermodynamics, Philosophy, Advanced Calculus, and Acupressure.
I love variety.
And that’s a big reason I can’t stand things like conferences in my industry. We’re all doing the same thing, and now we’re meeting to all talk about the same thing we’re all doing? Yuck 🙂
My favorite conference/trade show I attended recently was a show in Food Technology. I didn’t have a direct use for any of the crazy robots and food packaging technology. But it was interesting seeing the trends in food product design and dissecting how they could be applied to other industries.
Everyone is so obsessed with doing what they’re passionate about. Spend more time on things you start with zero interest in. Become interested in just being interested.
So was there a source for my writing style or was it self discovered? Both. It was a lot of influence from people I enjoy and admire and also an attempt at being uniquely me.
Put those two things together in everything you do and it’ll take you far in writing, work, and life.
But when areas that attracted graffiti were locked down by police, graffiti artists just matriculated to other areas. Even worse, the cover up was incredibly expensive. And it didn’t work. New graffiti would show up overnight.
Then some folks in the Reykjavik government realized an unspoken rule about graffiti culture: respect. You don’t cover up art that is better than yours.
And so parts of Reykjavik embraced graffiti. Some became curators, letting the best of it remain. And some homes and storefronts, even the government itself, commissioned graffiti artists to create beautiful works of art.
Now, walls became more impervious to lower quality graffiti. Some destinations are even tourist attractions where visitors spread the word about its graffiti in their reviews.
There’s still plenty of back and forth conflict with graffiti art, police, property owners, and the government in Reykjavik. But replacing all of it clearly wasn’t the answer. By embracing the art form they’ve been able to incorporate it into their lives for the good of the whole community.
I used to get aggravated working with a magazine editor who wanted my writing in Microsoft Word. Afterall, I created the writing software Draft to overcome things that bothered me about using Word to write. But that’s silly. I’m never going to replace Word. Just like email and Excel, it’s free and ubiquitous. I can email someone a Word doc, and without yet another account and password somewhere, they’re editing it. Instead, I’ve just learned to embrace it. I can easily write in Draft, and export the result to Word to send it on.
Or I look at educating my 3 year old daughter who has taken a deep interest in playing pretend with her dolls. Instead of trying to replace that time to do something more educational, I’ve embraced that playtime and now we’ll pretend to be teachers giving her dolls lessons about reading and math. Some of the dolls have even taken an interest in neuroscience. 🙂
Or I look at how this applies to the things I create.
So many software tools today pitch themselves as the email or Excel killer. “They’re too complicated or messy. You need this new thing.”
But I noticed this recently about the CRM industry — as Software Advice found: “Almost three-quarters of our buyers are using manual methods (and an additional 5 percent are using nothing at all) to manage their CRM.”
We’ve been using software based tools for CRM since the 1980s, and still only three quarters of people shopping for one are even currently using one? Excel, email, even good old fashioned paper notebooks are already working. Just like Word, they’re close to free, ubiquitous, and have zero learning curve.
There shouldn’t be surprise then, that some surveys find 60% of CRM implementations fail. They’ve tried to replace what used to work with something else. But people fall back to the simple, easy stuff even if it isn’t perfect. So we try our best here at Highrise to help people keep using email or Excel to manage their leads and follow-ups and make those tools even more useful to people.
Stop with trying to replace and kill everything. It’s a waste of our money, time and effort. Instead find something that might not work the best, but use the opportunity to elevate it to where its awesome.
One of the most common questions I’m asked is: “How do I find my purpose?” The askers seem bored with their current jobs. They feel lost. They want to work on something that has more importance to the world.
On November 18, 2007, Dennis Quaid’s infant twins were given two injections of Heparin — 1,000 times the normal dose. Heparin is a useful, but dangerous, blood thinning agent. The accident was fortunately caught in time, and an antidote was given to the twins saving their lives. But in 2008 a similar accidental use of Heparin occurred where 17 babies were given the wrong dosage. Two of them died.
Medical mistakes like these are still too common. Dennis Quaid made it his mission to raise awareness of the issue. He helped produce a documentary called Chasing Zero. The short film traces the stories of people who’ve been traumatized by human medical error with hopes of inspiring more medical practitioners to work to eliminate human mistakes.
Interestingly, the documentary team found the janitorial staff deeply involved in making changes at Mayo Clinic, a hospital known for going to great measures to reduce human error.
Mayo Clinic had discovered that the remote controls in patients rooms had higher bacterial counts than toilet seats. So the janitorial team, without even being asked, came up with new procedures and checklists to keep rooms cleaner.
When Iris Cowger, a janitor at Mayo Clinic, described her role,
We’re not just cleaning rooms. We’re saving lives.
She cleans walls, floors, toilets, and remote controls. But she has a radically different perspective of what she does. One that motivates her and her team to take innovative measures that further improve the lives of everyone she comes into contact with.
Iris found her purpose.
When we interviewed Highrise customers earlier this year about why they use Highrise, a simple CRM, we found an interesting niche of user.
These were folks doing sales who didn’t consider themselves salespeople. They were writers, designers, software developers, insurance agents, cosmeticians, etc. who just so happen to have to do sales to keep their businesses alive.
One customer described what he does as, “I’m salesperson in my head, but a designer at heart.” The thing that got him excited was designing the products his business sold. But he had to be out there making deals or the business would tank.
All of a sudden I had a new perspective on what we do here. We aren’t just hosting software to manage contacts, emails and follow-up reminders. We’re helping people keep their businesses alive and get back to what they actually love to do.
I know a lot of people are out there seeking new jobs and careers and businesses because they think they still haven’t found their purpose. So they keep looking. And looking. Sometimes making big changes to their careers and lives only to end up feeling like they still haven’t found what they’re looking for.
There’s nothing wrong with career change to get closer to things you have more passion for. But I think far too many people look at what they do myopically. When they open their eyes and see the people they affect with their work, it becomes much more clear how important the thing you do already is.
There are plenty of janitors at hospitals that see their jobs as simply cleaning rooms and floors. They check in. Check out. It’s a paycheck.
Iris saw the higher purpose of her job. She didn’t need a career change. She just needed the right perspective. And that perspective keeps her motivated to show up at work every day and save lives.
The key to finding your purpose is to be more like Iris.
A decade or so ago, a young musician couldn’t get anyone to play his music. He had raw talent, and just recorded his first album, but all the gatekeepers thought he sounded too young. Without Disney or Nickelodeon marketing his stuff, he was a dud.
What does he do?
I bet you know the names of a few famous impressionist painters. Monet. Manet. Degas. What makes them famous though? Are they really the best? Do you know a bad impressionist painter?
What about Gustave Caillebotte?
Caillebotte was an interesting impressionist. I don’t think anyone would say he’s bad, but he sure isn’t as popular as Monet.
Caillebotte also has a quirky story. Upon his death he requested his art collection be hung in the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris. His art collection was about 70 paintings he had collected from his friends, also impressionists.
They weren’t popular. They were actually the worst paintings of his friends. “Worst” being the ones his friends couldn’t get anyone else to buy. And at the time, people didn’t even like impressionism. Many hated it.
So Caillebotte’s request in his will for the government to take his friends paintings and hang them in a museum was insane. How can someone force a museum to hang a bunch of paintings that no one liked or is even familiar with just because it’s a dead person’s request? It resulted in fierce criticism from the art world and public scrutiny.
But Renoir finally convinced the museum to hang half of the collection 3 years after Caillebotte’s death. When the collection opened to the public, the museum was packed. Everyone wanted to see these paintings because they had generated so much scandal.
Today, impressionism is mostly known for the work of the 7 greatest impressionist painters: Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley.
The 7 friends in Caillebotte’s collection.
Sure Caillebotte had an eye for talent, and a belief impressionism would be admired at some point in the future.
But what really happened is that the inadvertent exposure that Caillebotte brought to his friends also made people like them more.
In Cutting’s experiments he had people compare famous paintings to more obscure works. Cutting proved the obvious — people prefered paintings from painters who are famous 6 out of 10 times.
But when Cutting came up with an experiment to expose people to those obscure paintings 4 times more frequently than the famous paintings, people’s preferences switched. Now people preferred the more obscure paintings 8 out of 10 times.
We don’t judge things just based on quality. Exposure changes our mind. The more we see, hear, or read something, the more we like it.
That young musician had promise. But he needed to break through somehow. His manager came up with a plan. They were going to get in a van and travel around the country visiting every radio station he could. The kid is charming and has some talent, so it wasn’t as hard to schedule single visits to play an acoustic track from his record live on air.
And this kid performed that track a lot. Eventually the exposure of playing the same song over and over again propelled “One Time” to the top of the charts and this musician is now a household name. This musician’s manager said:
There’s not a DJ that can say they haven’t met Justin Bieber.
There’s a lot to unpack from Justin’s rise to the sensation he is today. Not the least of which was the grit of a 14 year old kid who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Or the unwavering optimism he had of putting himself out there on YouTube uploading crappy videos of himself performing.
But one of the most interesting aspects of Justin’s story is that to get through his obstacle, he went out and generated exposure to his work even if it wasn’t the exposure that he originally intended. He thought he could cut a record and get a ton of people listening to it. Instead he had to take the little wins and build from there.
Most of us aren’t going to be the next Justin Beiber, but it’s still a lesson for us to go figure out how to get more exposure even if it isn’t the big splash we imagine we’re capable of.
Want to be a headline speaker, go do talks at all the tiny chambers of commerce in front of 8 people for awhile. Want to get a byline in a famous publication, do hundreds of guest blog posts for whoever will pick you up.
It’s a big reason I’ve generated the audience I have. I’m out there doing podcasts, daily vlog episodes, interviews, and writing articles in a ton of different places.
Sometimes the opportunity is small. I’ll be the person’s first interview they’ve ever done. Doesn’t matter. Sometimes the message feels repetitive. I’ll be asked about the same question I’ve answered a million times. Doesn’t matter.
I remind myself how often someone like a Justin Bieber played to just a handful of people at first or played the same single song over and over again without losing faith or enthusiasm. Or how Monet, no matter how talented he was, still needed the exposure, even if accidentally, a friend generated.
Because in this day and age, even people with good products, talented musicians or painters, we all need to be out there generating as much exposure as possible to break through the noise.