The Stallion Theory: How aimless creativity ruins your life

Here is the content converted into a checklist format:

  • Understand Jerry Seinfeld’s metaphor of creativity as a stallion.
    • Recognize that the stallion represents your creative potential.
    • Learn to harness and ride this stallion to use your creativity productively.
    • Acknowledge the dual potential for creativity and self-destruction.
  • Reflect on personal creative practices.
    • Note any discrepancies between thinking about creative activities and actually doing them.
    • Identify any cycles of procrastination or inaction in your creative process.
  • Adopt Seinfeld’s method for harnessing creativity.
    • Use writing or another consistent practice to manage and direct creative energy.
    • Store and organize creative outputs systematically.
  • Explore the concept of structure in creativity.
    • Challenge the myth that creativity and structure are incompatible.
    • Understand how creativity can thrive within structured frameworks.
  • Develop a personal framework for creativity.
    • Define your “Destination” (ultimate creative goal).
    • Identify your “Vehicle” (medium of creative expression).
    • Determine your “Petrol” (what keeps you motivated and in flow).
    • Clarify your “Keys” (what initiates your creative process).
  • Address creative angst and the importance of constraints.
    • Recognize how unlimited freedom can lead to creative paralysis.
    • Embrace constraints as a means to stimulate creativity and action.
  • Implement deadlines and systemization in your creative process.
    • Recognize the motivational power of deadlines.
    • Systematize your creative activities to ensure consistent progress.
  • Learn from contrasting examples in the creative industry.
    • Contrast the development processes of Duke Nukem and Goat Simulator.
    • Understand the value of completing projects over perfecting them.
  • Craft a tight brief for your creative projects.
    • Utilize the concept of a tight brief to define clear objectives and constraints.
    • Break down your creative process into context, instruction, and constraints.
  • Apply the framework to initiate and sustain creative work.
    • Set specific, actionable goals within your framework.
    • Regularly evaluate and adapt your approach to maintain momentum and effectiveness.
  • Commit to ongoing creative development.
    • Acknowledge that mastering creativity is a lifelong endeavor.
    • Continuously explore new tools and methods to engage with your creative stallion.

SOURCE MATERIAL: One of my favorite metaphors of creativity comes from Jerry Seinfeld. He has this idea that creativity is like having a stallion in your head. And that stallion can be used for good if you learn how to harness it and write it properly, but can also run around and just mesh it up, man. And you either learn to write this thing or it’s gonna kill you. The whiter the stallion is in your head, the greater your potential is. The greater potential for creativity, but also the greater potential for self -destruction. Oh no! Huge thanks to Cam for sponsoring this, more on them later. There’s a pretty big reason why I’m making this video. I’m an illustrator, an author, and a filmmaker, but lately I’ve been doing none of those things. Instead, I’ve been thinking about doing those things. And as I said in an old video, thinking about stuff is not doing stuff. Call it procrastination, deferral perfectionism, whatever. It’s a cycle of inaction. But thankfully it’s a cycle that I’ve recently stopped. As for how? Well that’s what this whole thing is. The stallion theory. Our aimless creativity destroys your life. And hopefully what we can do about it. The way Seinfeld harnesses his stallion is by writing down jokes on yellow legal padpaper. His next move? I saved it in this accordion folder. Every single thing. There’s this one documentary that really gives you a sense of the scale of this practice. How something small and simple, done consistently over time, changes everything. What I love is how this challenges that myth about creativity. That somehow structure should be kept separate from it. But the reality is these two forces aren’t at odds with each other. In fact, creativity responds incredibly well to structure. But what does that actually mean? What kind of structure does creativity respond to? Chapter one. Destination vehicle, petrol keys. In this video, what I want to do is build one of these structures. And typically I see these things as written frameworks that take this big, blobby, amorphous, ambiguous feeling of creativity and get it somewhere where we can see it. Where there are specifics where it’s outside our head and not so weird. This is one that I made for myself, so I don’t know, hope you like it. Destination vehicle, petrol. keys. Picture a car, got it. The destination is something that you would like out of life. Something bigger than yourself, a place you’re going. The vehicle is the tangible median that you express yourself in, bad art, music, books, games, whatever. Petrol is anything that gets you and keeps you in a flow state. It’s what keeps the whole thing moving. And the keys, and it’s important to separate these three things, is the thing that gets you off the couch. The ignition, it doesn’t have to get you into the flow state and it definitely doesn’t have to serve whatever the big goal is, it just has to kick you into gear. A fun example, and I actually have this, is, that’s a bit wet. Why is it wet? Is this book, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, or Dr. Zoys if you want to get pedantic. So let’s say Dr. Seuss’ destination was bringing magic and joy to the world. Let’s say his vehicle was a children’s book. Now that’s the top level stuff, but with this book where the magic happens is the interaction between the petrol and the keys. The thing that gets him into the flow state, but also the thing that kicked everything off. This book started as a $50 bet with his publisher that he couldn’t write a book using less than 50 unique words. The publisher’s a skeptic, Dr. Seuss is like, watch me, bruh, this fly’s an ant, right? This gets him off the couch, this is his keys that spark the ignition. But it’s not the thing that keeps him going. No, the Petra of the Flow State, so when you read accounts of how he wrote this book, he had all of the words on a wall and he was seeing it like a gigantic maths problem. A train, a train, a train, a train. Could you, would you, on a train? The balance, the brevity, the repetition, the rhythm. Apparently, for a young Dr. Seuss, this whole thing, he did with the focus that somebody might do a Sudoku or a crossword. And the end result was a literary classic and 50 bucks. The idea is that frameworks help us take this creative energy and do something with it, which is why what we just did is actually only a third of the framework that I wanna build today. So consider this the context. We still have instruction and constraints to go. And to work that out, we gotta take a step back and look at why we get stuck in the first place. Chapter two, what is creative angst? Creative angst is what happens when the stallion doesn’t have a harness. It just breaks stuff. It’s the whole idle hands of the devil’s plaything phenomenon. In psychology, there’s a concept called state orientation, a style of responding to a dilemma or conflicts that’s characterized by prolonged analysis and assessment of alternatives rather than by swift decisive action. The hesitation of state orientation thus leads to the perservation of current mental and behavioral states. Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, not changing, thinking more, nothing happens. In the context of this video, that’s exactly how I would define creative angst. But outside of ourselves, what else could be causing it? I believe that creative angst is a byproduct of creative freedom. Creative freedom is the freedom to do anything you want. And twist, it’s not super cool. Chapter three, the problem with freedom. Imagine two pieces of paper. The first one’s blank and the second one has a little instruction that says draw a happy dog balancing on a beach ball. If our aim is to be creative and read ourself of this angst, which one gets us there faster? Ironically, it’s the one that limits our freedom. And the answer we can deduce from jam. Yup, jam. So in the world of sample advertising, you know, when you’re in the safer market and someone gives you like a little… biscuit and they’re like, buy the rest of our biscuits please. There’s this jam company that wanted to know whether it was better to put out six jams or like, a hundred and six jams. We all know where this is going. It’s the paradox of choice, right? When people are presented with too many options, they freeze. They defer, they procrastinate, they don’t buy any jam. It’s a tragedy, a jam tragedy. Oh my god, I’m such a dad. I’m sorry. This is the problem, okay? It’s too many things. There’s a lot of things. But yes, this particular company found that the fewer jams led to more jam purchases. Less choice equals more action. And action, when it comes to creativity, is the name of the freaking game. The page that tells you to draw a dog on a beach ball is not really about the dog on the beach ball. It’s just about getting us out of the zone where we are deliberating, where you procrastinate and then before you know it, you lost like eight years of your life staring at the page and you’re like, ah, shouldn’t have done that. So in a world that puts freedom on a pedestal and particularly creative freedom on a pedestal, like you can do whatever the heck you want. What we’re trying to do here is break that. Instead of seeking creative freedom, we are going to seek creative focus. But before we get into that, I wanna talk about how I’m putting this thing together.

Chapter four, deadlines. Life has a deadline, a literal deadline. So it makes sense that everything that we do within this mortal life should probably have a deadline as well. Otherwise we are insulting existence. That’s a bit much. You’re probably familiar with Parkinson’s law. That warp will stretch to fill the time allotted. A deadline puts boundaries on how much time we can allot to something, which usually is the thing that makes things actually happen. My guiding rule is systemize. If you’re gonna write, make it. yourself a writing session. But you gotta know when’s it gonna end. It’s gonna be an hour. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Here are two stories that I can’t stop thinking about at the moment. The first story starts around the same time I do in the early 90s baby. It’s about the game series Duke Nukem. You got Duke Nukem 1, Duke Nukem 2, because it’s the 90s you got the Obligatory Naming Convention of Duke Nukem 3D, and then of course Duke Nukem Forever. It’s the same as Jarkas isn’t it? But the real story can be told by the years that these games came out. In order, 1991, 1993, 1996 and 2011. What? That’s a hell of a gap. So after Duke Nukem 3D, the devs had hit three home runs, and now it was time for their fourth right? But instead of smashing out of the ballpark, they sort of choked under pressure. They had creative freedom to do whatever they want. There were hungry fans, there was money, there was Duke freaking Nukem baby. But here’s where those gems in the supermarket come back in. They stalled and choked, they overthought, they deferred, they procrastinated, they kept changing the game engine. Meanwhile, technology and society just kept changing around them, and so by the time that they were actually ready to release the fourth game, people said it was underwhelming that the humour just didn’t translate to a modern audience, and worst of all, it was just a jumbled mess. There was no frickin’ focus. Compare this to Goat Simulator. The iconic Goat Simulation game. This is our second story. Our protagonist is this guy, Armin Abrisic. Our setting is the one month game jam at Coffee Stain Studios. This is where you’ve got 30 days to just make a game. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done. Armin, in a movie that I really respect, just kept pitching Goat games. What if a Goat did this? What if a Goat did that? What if a Goat had like a Tony Hawk Pro Skater type of gameplay? Bingo. This was the thing that made Coffee Stain Studios light up. They green -lighted it, and in a couple of weeks, under serious time constraints, like Armin was doing things like literally going to an online marketplace and buying his Goat model for 20 bucks. And he’s building, and he’s building, and he’s building, and eventually they make this little gameplay video which goes up on YouTube, and yes… The response was electric. People really got on board with the idea of Goat Simulator. Something about the absurdity, the frivolity, the Goat of it all. It connected. The game gets finished, gets released, and this philosophy of done is better than perfect is so entrenched that the Goat Simulator website literally had a message that warned people against buying it. Goat Simulator is a small, broken, and stupid game. It was made in a couple of weeks, so don’t expect a game in the size and scope of GTA with Goats. In fact, you’re better off not buying anything at all, actually. To be completely honest, it’d be best if you spent your 10 bucks on a hula hoop, a pile of bricks, or maybe a real -life goat. The game was a smashing success, with multiple extensions being made, released, and loved. And just this year, we got Goat Simulator 3. There was never a Goat Simulator 2. To segue from one livestock animal to another, what we saw was Duke getting you committed to a game. divided in a stallion while the goat simulator team learned to harness theirs. While they both had direction, only one of them had a deadline. The brain is so easy to master, you just have to confine it and stun through repetition and systemization. So let’s wrap this all together in chapter five, the freedom of a tight brief. This is a David Ogilvy quote advertising one of their madmen type dudes, give me the freedom of a tight brief. I believe that a tight brief is how you harness the creative stallion and the way to make a tight brief is to put all of the elements we talked about together. Let’s look at somebody who has already made one and Lamotte. She is a simple one that I love. It’s for the book that she is currently writing write two crappy pages a day. So when you break down her brief, it sits in these categories context, instruction, constraints, her destination is spreading that message of the book to the world, her vehicle, the book itself, her petrol is the flow state that comes when she’s writing and the way that she gets there is by telling herself to be intentionally crap. A clear instruction write two crappy pages a day. The constraints is that these pages must be part of the book she’s writing. They can’t just be like a fridge manual or something. Quality is negotiable, quantity is not, and the deadline is daily. So all we need to do is break down whatever it is that we want to do and put them in those categories ourselves. So that’s the tool. And while this sheet of paper might not be groundbreaking, it does get us to articulate the foundational stuff. What we’re doing, why we’re doing it, how to start, how to keep going and what we got to do to get there. Let’s come up with something you can do. That’s where you start everything. That’s how you start to build a system. Honest thing, the creative stallion is a lifelong mission and it takes a million different attempts and methods. But with every new tool that we find, we get one more way to get back on the horse. And given what that horse can do, if we don’t, just that extra little bit of clarity can definitely go a long way.

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