Severe, self-imposed limitations drive prolific creativity.

“Creativity is an alternative to death.”
– Jaron Lanier, creator of virtual reality

These are my notes on Creativity. A work in progress.


“Record labels told me to put the guitar down. Luckily, I was stubborn enough to ignore them.” —Mary Spender

Stop Talking About Your Creative Goals11:03 minutes excerpt – Mary Spender, guitarist, singer-songwriter.

Give yourself permission to be creative | Ethan Hawke | 9:16 minutes

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]trategic intuition, a second type of intuition, is more intentional. For example, you decide to stop thinking about a particularly vexing problem at work and—while on a long run, in the shower, or after meditating—a solution avails itself.

Strategic intuition is not expert intuition. That is self-deception.

“The first, and hardest, step to wisdom: avert the standard assumption that people know what they want.”

~ Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb advocates what he calls a “black swan robust” society, meaning a society that can withstand difficult-to-predict events. He proposes antifragility in systems, that is, an ability to benefit and grow from a certain class of random events, errors, and volatility, as well as “convex tinkering” as a method of scientific discovery, by which he means that decentralized experimentation outperforms directed research.

This philosophy is as old as biblical Joseph in Egypt: prepare for a dismal future and you’ll be a hero.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable is a 2007 book by author and former options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The book focuses on the extreme impact of rare and unpredictable outlier events—and the human tendency to find simplistic explanations for these events, retrospectively. Taleb calls this the Black Swan theory.

There is a core principle I embrace: the industrial discipline of value analysis. It’s done miracles for me with super hard problems.

Value analysis consists of 5 elements: combination, simplification, elimination, standardization, and substitution. All components in a system are evaluated with this criteria to optimize profits. Not perfection. Optimization is getting 80 percent of the results — not 100 percent. This is also referred to as good-enough engineering. Perfection has too high of a price tag in time and energy.

You do this stuff without even thinking about it. It’s in your DNA. You breathe value analysis in every moment subconsciously. You’re constantly valuing and assessing every things relevant worth. For you, it’s always “on.”

It’s a built-in discipline for me.

Pareto’s law postulates that 80 percent of the video is unnecessary fluff — wasteful. Only 20 percent of what you’ve boiled down so far is of real worth to the buyer. Parts can be eliminated immediately. Parts can be combined. It can be simplified by being a two-part episode. Screencasts can be sped up double-time with normal audio voice over. Some parts can be standardized in duration. Parts can be substituted with still images instead of motion. Lots of alternatives can be explored

We love to deliver “user delight” but always design is compromise. Always there is some trade-off. What can we let go of to make it workable or even better?

Trust your gifts. Relax into the rhythm.

Mosiah 7:13
For I am assured that if ye had known me ye would not have suffered that I should have worn these bands.”

Steve Teare: Guest speaker at WSU. Eccentric thousandaire. Teaching senior level “501 Entrepreneurial Management” special topic “Failure” at Washington State University. Steve is a world-renowned expert on failure. Photo credit: Cotton Sears, amateur phone photographer.
NOTE: 16 of the 46 class member were animal-test predators – almost 35 percent.


Finally, Steve says: “When I was 18, I wrote in my journal: ‘I’ll be glad when I’m old. Then I will be called eccentric – instead of rebellious.'”

Steve says:
“Entrepreneurial Management is an oxymoron. You can’t manage entrepreneurs. They’re combat fighters. Bureaucrats are managers. Management tasks bore real entrepreneurs to tears. Who are real entrepreneurs? Well, they aren’t risk takers like everyone believes. They know they have limited resources and only one shot at the brass ring. No room for error. In Fortune 500 boardrooms, they may laugh about a $50,000 mistake over cigars. But to an entrepreneur the game is over. And entrepreneurs usually have something to prove like ‘My old man was dead wrong about me. I can be somebody.'” A chip on their shoulder is a big motivation.

Star Paul Scheer says, “There’s been so much negativity in all my conversations with people about “the changes” that are going to happen in Hollywood. But as someone who has been routinely forced to work under intense time and budget constraints on project after project, I can tell you that restriction is the mother of creativity.

Cargo cult science is a form of pseudoscience in which an imagined hypothesis is offered after the fact for some observed phenomenon. Further occurrences of the phenomenon are deemed to be proof of the hypothesis. It can be paraphrased as, “It has been observed to work in the past, while other methods have been observed not to work.” In contrast with the scientific method, there is no vigorous effort to disprove the hypothesis. The term cargo cult science was first used by physicist Richard Feynman during his 1974 commencement address at the California Institute of Technology.

Cargo cults are religious practices that have appeared in many traditional tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. They focus on obtaining the material wealth (the “cargo”) of the advanced culture by imitating the actions they believe cause the appearance of cargo: by building landing strips, mock aircraft, mock radios, and the like. Similarly, although cargo cult sciences employ the trappings of the scientific method, like an airplane with no motor, they fail to deliver anything of value.

Artistic or creative expectation Gold plating (overworking)

Point of diminishing returns

Value Analysis: combination, simplification, elimination, substitution, standardization.

Creativity is the inverse of dollars.

en = E(0)
Emphasize everything equals emphasize nothing (zero).

Pareto principle: 80/20 rule.

2nd best idea: pivot.

Creativity vs innovation.

The cost of perfectionism.

Change the problem into a goal.

Qualified leads: timing, application, authority, budget.

Anxiety causes change. Change causes anxiety.

“Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible or a physical object.” Wikipedia

People producing intangible or original ideas – or building new things – are creative professionals. If their creative idea or product sells, they then qualify as innovators. Innovators introduce new methods, ideas, or products. If the products don’t sell doesn’t mean they aren’t creative.

“Everyone is creative. But some must create or die.”

Creativity comes first, then innovation.

Merely producing creative work doesn’t qualify as innovation. It’s a concept *in waiting* – much like jewellery or art. Waiting for what? Audience acceptance. It’s an idea produced out of season – or undiscovered. Not wrong or bad. No one cares enough – yet. That changes as world needs or perception alter.

Who’s an accepting audience? People who get out their wallet and pay for the perceived new idea. Why *perceived*? Sometimes the combination of old ideas or off-the-shelf technology is imagined as new or exciting by the audience – but not necessarily unique to the creator.

When two old ideas or pieces of technology are combined into a new idea or product, we may then say, “Wow! That’s innovative.” But it isn’t raw imagination, rather it’s found or borrowed. That isn’t bad either. But if it doesn’t sell, it’s just news.

Imagining original ideas, like an artistic work or new product is creativity.

Converting imagined ideas to money – specifically profits – is innovation.

Creativity with an ROI is innovation.

So if you don’t make money, you’re not innovative? Not by my definition. Can you innovate without being imaginative? Perhaps by good fortune or accident. But you still must recognize what you found as valuable before you throw it away again.

Innovation requires valuation to a point that people buy it. They may not want it. But they must feel they need it or want it. They must have motivation to buy.

Creativity is a subset or foundation of innovation.

An example: Upcycling.

Upcycling is “reuse.” It converts junk into something of worth. It’s as old as time. “Look. I found this discarded object. Can I change it from a mangle spoon into decorative sculpture?” This is also sometimes referred to as found art. Found art is repurposing something old or free into something new and valued. Imagination is still used.

Building websites from free or open-source components is a form of found art. The found digital elements (objects) might include: free clip art, free photography, open-source themes, plugins and free third-party software or services. These free components may be modified or customized much like an art or photo montage.

Creativity is the inverse of dollars (C=1/$).

The more resources you have the less creativity is need. If you have limited energy, time, or money; then creativity is needed most. For me, setting self-imposed limitations stimulates creativity. For example, a financial budget, a deadline, or no external help (subcontractors or employees). Many have thought me crazy. Why not throw money at the problem and solve it the easy way? Well, for me, there is no challenge or sense of mastery in doing things the easy way. And no new path is discovered. Little or no imagination is required. No sense of clever victory for solving the mental puzzle.

Boomstand to camera adapter for studio downshots.

For example, I once wanted to mass produce an adapter for boomstands and digital cameras. The self-imposed limitations were: It used common-standard threads, all parts were black (no reflections and camera-accessory inference), all parts were off-the-shelf, no machining, no drilling, no custom molds, and no cutting or sawing. It had to use simple hand tools for assembly. Was this possible? Yes. It took creativity and searching to live within these limits. Development went through various iterations and experiments over months. There was no time limit but there could have been one made to make things even tougher.

So was it creative, yes. Was it financially successful (innovative)? To a degree, it made some money and had no losses. But it wasn’t widely accepted. Why wasn’t it accepted? It was accepted by hundreds of people. But most people didn’t even know a problem existed. A solution without a problem isn’t usually innovative. You usually need to replace an existing solution that’s more expensive, harder to use, or some other negative.

People with digital cameras weren’t necessarily thinking about how to improve studio still-life photography. With no direct competitor, it’s hard to describe a product.

Henry Ford’s genius wasn’t in inventing the assembly line, interchangeable parts, or the automobile (he didn’t invent any of them). Instead, his initial advantage came from his vision for the first durable mass-market automobile. He adapted the moving assembly line process for the manufacture of automobiles, which allowed him to manufacture, market and sell the Model T at a significantly lower price than his competition, enabling the creation of a new and rapidly growing market.

But in doing so, Henry Ford froze the design of the Model T. Freezing the design of the Model T catalyzed the speed of this positive feedback loop, allowing him to better refine the moving assembly line process, which in turn allowed him to cut costs further, lower prices even further, and drive the growth of Ford Motor Company from 10,000 cars manufactured in 1908 to 472,350 cars in 1915 to 933,720 cars in 1920.

Eventually, this freeze was detrimental when he got competition.

How Good Is Good Enough?

Long hours improve neither productivity nor creativity. Myths about overwork persist because they justify the extreme wealth created for a small group of elite techies.

In 17th-century England, work was lauded as a cure for vice … , but the unrewarding truth just drove workers to drink more.

Millennial workers [will] eventually revolt against the culture of overwork.

A method of determining how good is good enough?

The Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a strategy of experimentation. A minimum viable product is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development. Seeing what people actually do with respect to a product is much more reliable than asking people what they would do. The primary benefit of an MVP is you can gain understanding about your customers’ interest in your product without fully developing the product. The sooner you can find out whether your product will appeal to customers, the less effort and expense you spend on a product that will not succeed in the market. This helps them avoid working on a product that no one wants.

Prayer as a creativity tool

Project Burnout

precarious, meaningless work and a mountain of student loan debt.

Iterative design and compromise MVP

Peterson on creativity

Productive Creativity = innovation

Magic tricks are most impressive performed before untainted novice audiences. You hear a gasp afterward. During the second viewing, the trick doesn’t feel so impressively magical. It’s not a novel or original experience anymore. Not as amazing. Maybe even annoyingly disappointing or spoiled by expectation. Repeat the trick enough times and the audience’s mood is desperately bored. Or worse, figures out how the illusion is done. The magic completely evaporates. Then they feel cheated or duped.

Speed improvements are magic tricks. When a site is malfeasant and produces horrible results – like 30-second page loads – the headroom for improvement is phenomenal. There’s a big opportunity to achieve unrealized potential. Even bringing the load time down to 3 seconds feels giddy. The magic win is big.

But 2 seconds load time is the goal. Not 3 seconds.

Superior quality will require pain. If web hospitality were easy, every website would have a flawless user experience. There would be no opportunity for differentiation.

To reduce 3-second speed further – by 1 more second – now requires Herculean effort. The smaller improvement is more torturous than the more impressive instant 10-fold magnitude improvement.

As the improvement margin narrows, the investment required goes up exponentially. The last squeezings to make additional perfectionistic reduction requires Olympic effort. For a speed project, 90 percent of all effort (time, energy, and money) goes into the last little cherry-on-top enhancement. Achieving the best outcome sometimes isn’t worth the torture. This is the point of diminishing returns. Paying $500 to reduce site speed from 30 seconds to 3 seconds feels like a bargain. Especially when compared to paying many thousands of dollars to overhaul a site just to chop 3-seconds results to below 2-second page loads.

Design compromise is good-enough engineering.

It’s embracing mediocrity. Being satisfied with less magical effects.

The trick or effect can’t be perfect today. Perhaps maximized (100 percent) in the future. Good-enough engineering (80-percent) is an actual management principle allowing products and website to ship or launch on time and in the budget. It’s optimization by value analysis. Good-enough is where most won’t notice or complain. Someone will. But it won’t ruin anything. Idealistic perfection is suspended to a stronger future date. It means risking alienating a small fraction of the audience to entertain the bigger part.

It enables being prolific. It permits sufficient energy to finish the project.

Embracing mediocrity is similar to accepted business principles of Management by Muddling Through – or Management by Wandering Around. These odd practices or anti-disciplines frequently are more productive and innovative than deliberate teeth-gritting doggedness of unrealistic goals. Those are wishes for miracles. Yes. Miracles do happen. But usually serendipitously near a wandered path – and not obsessive drive for control.

It’s the difference between wasps and flys.

Let’s place a dozen bees and a dozen flys in a large uncorked glass bottle. Now tip it on its side with the bottom facing a bright sunny window. The narrow open-top turned away from the light. The wasps fly with vigor towards the light pounding the glass over and over. The seeming dumb flies slow meanderings bump into side walls randomly. When you return to inspect, every fly discovered the neck and escaped – and all the piled wasp bodies are baking lifeless at the other end – the dead end.

Working with anxious fury doesn’t produce freedom or discovery. It produces burnout. You can’t win if you don’t have energy reserved to cross the finish line. Limping tender across the line is still finishing.

Jacob 4:14-16

14 But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.

15 And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation.

16 But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build.