(For Writers and Artists)
Edited by AJ Knight, Krystle, Amanda, Brendan and 10 others
Creative inspiration is magical when you have it and frustrating when you don’t. For anyone who has had writer’s block, who struggles with agent rejections, or who has thrown in the paintbrush, here are some fresh perspectives on what creativity really means. Art is a passion that has many forms of expression. Invite the Muse to not only visit but to stay a while!
1. Go to writing or art critique groups. Creative people need supportive peers to inspire, console, and bolster them. It is so important to get out of the office, study or studio to be around other people. Surrounding yourself with those who have similar goals and issues creates a positive synergy, infusing you with fresh energy. Someone in the group will always inspire you, give you a great idea, offer a solution, or provide a creative spark that keeps you going.
2. Create in another discipline. Artistic people have many outlets for self expression. For example, you can balance mental projects (writing) with hands-on (crafting). It awakens different parts of the brain and forms new neural connections. Switching it up keeps the creative juices flowing.
by Scott H. Young
When is the last time you went ballroom dancing, made a speech, learned a new language, took up karate or even cooked a new exotic food? When was the last time you did something out of your comfort zone?
The experience was probably frustrating, depending on the difficulty of the task and how far outside of your comfort zone it was. You may have felt insecure, uncomfortable or ridiculous. If the task was difficult you may have been frustrated at attempting to gain progress. Due to this feeling, chances are you rarely participate in events out of your comfort zone.
I am going to call this phenomenon the Frustration Barrier. This is the barrier that keeps you from trying new things and going out of your comfort zone. It is also the same feature that allows you to quit far too early when you don’t immediately “get it”.
The problem with the Frustration Barrier is that it is usually temporary. Once you break through the barrier, you can actually start enjoying the learning process and have some fun. More importantly, breaking through this barrier gives you access to a huge amount of personal growth that occurs whenever we do things that are out of our normal frame of mind.
If I have found one thing that separates successful people from unsuccessful people it is the ability to handle this barrier. Unsuccessful people give up on it too soon, successful people manage to break through the barrier and as a result can enjoy the process of learning new things and gaining the benefits that come with being skilled in that area. Also, these people are generally much more “developed” as human beings as they have had a much richer variety of experiences from which they can use in their life.
The reason I bring out the Frustration Barrier is that it reminds me a lot of a problem in game design known loosely as the entry barrier. The entry barrier is the problem that occurs in many games. Many hardcore games are designed for entertaining skilled and proficient players, therefore people who are new to the game or genre are generally frustrated when they are attempting to learn how to play the game. For those who aren’t literate on gaming terms, hardcore implies it was built for an audience of very experienced and skilled gamers and is usually complex and has nothing to do with the content of the game (no, not that, tsk tsk ).
The entry barrier in games is what makes learning a game difficult and only once you have past it will you actually enjoy the game. However, there are methods from game design that we can apply to reduce the entry barrier. As a result we can use these techniques to lower the Frustration Barrier of any task. If we can lower the Frustration Barrier, then we can make it far easier to learn and do new things.
One of the tools games use to lower the entry barrier is a tutorial level where the player is told how to play. This is similar to the frustration barrier. If you feel uncomfortable or frustrated learning how to dance or exercise, then simply get some instruction on the material. If you are starting your own business, why not read a lot of material on starting a business? You could also interview other entrepreneurs and ask them about their experiences.
If you are having trouble getting in shape, why not join a fitness class or hire a personal trainer? If you are a bad cook, go to a cooking class. If you want to become more proficient at speaking why not join Toastmasters? This may seem simple, but think of how many things you have you deemed impossible for yourself before you took this step?
Another tool games use to lower the entry barrier is by gradually increasing the difficulty so that initial levels are incredibly easy but soon become more difficult. We can take this tool and apply it to our Frustration Barrier.
If you are having trouble doing something, especially something that is outside your comfort zone, then make your first steps so easy that you can succeed just by showing up. For example, if you want to start exercising, make your first step just to show up at the gym for a half hour every day. Don’t worry if you aren’t getting the best workout, all you have to do is show up!
Later, you can take steps to increase the difficulty. For our exercising example we could research and implement a more rigorous and consistent exercising plan. Once you’ve past the Frustration Barrier, then this step is pretty easy. If you aren’t past that stage, then just keep the increases to difficulty gradual so that you won’t give up.
One of the big advantages we can have over game designers is that we canchange our beliefs that create the Frustration Barrier in the first place. While these beliefs may be difficult to change, if we take steps to remove them then the problem of the Frustration Barrier can be reduced significantly.
The first invalid belief is that we need to be good at something when we start. While everyone recognizes this at face value, many of us have this belief subconsciously. We believe that there are certain expectations of our level of skill and that we must have at least that level. If you are just starting out exercising, a big source of the Frustration Barrier could be your lack of strength and endurance. You might feel inadequate or self-conscious or frustrated because you believe you should be able to do better than you are.
Remember, we all have areas inside our comfort zone that we excel at. If we are starting a new skill we should pride ourselves simply on our courage to approach these things at all. If you feel frustrated or self-conscious because you can’t lift as much as the musclemen at the gym, just remember there are probably a lot of areas of your life that you excel at and they would feel self-conscious about their lack of skill. You don’t have to be good at anything you start at. You are going to learn and improve not to stroke your ego.
The second invalid belief we can have is that something is impossible if we don’t “get it” at first. I am guilty of this one too often myself. I usually can push myself through that barrier but when I am experiencing confusion or frustration I often feel the tendency to give up way too soon. I notice this is particularly true of computer problems. Many people who have difficulty with computers will give up on attempting to find the solution way too soon deeming it to be impossible, or deeming themselves inadequate to solve the problem.
Unfortunately this attitude allows us to never get the necessary skills to become effective in those areas. Even if it feels like you aren’t making progress, as long as you are resisting the Frustration Barrier, you are learning more and more which can help you in the future. I think this is the reason that many people have trouble using computers, that they simply don’t push that Frustration Barrier just a little harder and so they never build the skills to handle even simple problems.
Be patient and also realize that developing your skills in an area is just as important as solving your problem or becoming good. So if you start cooking a new exotic meal but it tastes horrible, that doesn’t mean that cooking is impossible or that you just wasted your time. You gained valuable experience that moves you further in your next attempt.
The third invalid belief is that there are certain things that we can’t do. I can’tdance. I can’t cook. I can’t use computers. I can’t play sports. I can’t speak in public. Pick your choice.
These beliefs are very limiting. Understand that while some things will be out of your comfort zone, there is going to be incredibly few things that you can’tdo. Simply trying these things, and using the previous methods to reduce the Frustration Barrier might allow you to realize that you actually can do some things you previously felt were impossible for you.
What are the things you currently have on your can’t, won’t or don’t do list? Are they there for a good reason? Maybe you should take another go at them and see if they actually hold any bearing in reality. Remember, the Frustration Barrier can keep us from approaching things that are initially difficult but ultimately satisfying.
There becomes a problem, however, when we can’t see whether it is the Frustration Barrier or whether the task itself we dislike. Lets say we start a new sport and are initially discouraged and frustrated. Is that the barrier or is it the sport itself?
To answer this one you need to separate your skill with the task and the task itself. If you are frustrated with how badly you are performing the skill then chances are it is simply the Frustration Barrier at work. However, it might be that you really dislike playing and you believe you would dislike playing even if you were excellent at it. I believe this case is usually in the minority, but when it does occur, don’t punish yourself by struggling through a Frustration Barrier that leads nowhere.
Where has the Frustration Barrier stopped you in your life? How can you now approach those things that are uncomfortable or frustrating to allow yourself to truly enjoy new experience from which growth and success are based? Don’t let a little barrier get in your way!
by Matt Villano
Starting a business can be exhausting, exciting and exhilarating—all at the same time. This is precisely why it’s refreshing to hear words of encouragement from those who have done it before—and succeeded. We spoke with entrepreneurs we admire to cull the single best bit of startup advice they could muster—and the experiences that led to it. They’re simple mottoes, to be sure, but their impact can be tremendous.
So said a stranger to Jeff Curran, founder and CEO of Curran Catalog, a high-end home furnishings company in Seattle, more than 20 years ago.
The two men were sitting next to each other on a cross-country flight, and Curran, then 25, had just broken into the catalog business. They got to talking, and Curran spilled his idea for a startup while his neighbor interjected with devil’s-advocate questions. When the plane landed and the two rose to claim their bags from the overhead bins, the stranger finally opened up his can of insight. Those three words inspired Curran to pour $15,000 of his own cash into launching his company, which has grown into a profitable B2B and B2C brand.
"After that plane flight, I’m sitting in the bathroom at my parents’ house and I pick up [a financial] magazine, and this guy was on the cover," remembers Curran, now 47. Turns out the man was mutual-fund maven Mario Gabelli.
Curran still lives by Gabelli’s advice. Earlier this year, after learning about profit margins in the high-end car-accessories business, Curran Catalog launched a new product line: designer flooring for collector and European automobiles. “There is such a thing as overthinking a big decision,” Curran says. “Sometimes you just have to get it done.”
Anupy Singla never intended to build her business around this philosophy, but the more she looks back on the history of Indian as Apple Pie, her Chicago-based Indian food-products business, the more she credits customers with driving her strategy.
Exhibit A: When Facebook followers complained they were having trouble finding certain Indian spices, Singla equipped her company to buy those spices from manufacturers and offer them for sale. Exhibit B: After friends and neighbors asked her to show them around Chicago’s Little India, Singla began hosting intimate tours of the shops on Devon Avenue for $50 per person. Even her Spice Tiffin, a modernized version of a traditional Indian storage container for spices, went to market at the behest of customers.
"The point of view for this company is to make Indian food easy and accessible," says Singla, who was born in Chandigarh, India, and immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was a child. "If customers are saying they want certain things, it’s up to me to give them what they want."
Singla’s ultimate goal is to sell her products in retail stores across the country. Until then, however, she plans to leverage her responsive customer base to test-market products and see what sticks. “If something isn’t right,” she says, “they’ll let me know.”
On some level, especially on the ledger sheets, Corey T. Nyman’s fledgling wine label, Labor Wines, is about dollars and cents. But the Las Vegas resident prefers to focus on a more powerful force driving his business: his love for the work.
For Nyman, Labor Wines is the culmination of 20 years in his family’s hospitality and food-and-beverage consulting business, and of more than a decade fantasizing about making and selling his own Oregon wine.
"I experienced Oregon wine country on numerous visits in 2002, and the place touched me in a way nothing else ever has," he says. "Since then all I’ve wanted was to give something back."
To bring his dream to life, Nyman turned the traditional winemaking model on its head. Instead of investing in land—a move that would have required a huge capital investment—he and a business partner work with growers to buy grapes from specific sections of specific vineyards, then pay those same growers to make wine. Production is small, but thanks to Nyman’s connections with restaurateurs and distributors nationwide, Labor wine is available in more than 35 states.
"I’m starting an Oregon winery living in Las Vegas," Nyman says. "If that doesn’t scream passion, I’m not sure what does."
Above all else, this was the mantra that got Leo Rocco through his toughest times on the way to founding GoPago, a San Francisco-based mobile payment company that last year received millions of dollars in funding from JPMorgan Chase. Before the big deal, Rocco had dumped $500,000 of his own money into the company, maxed out his credit cards, endured three years without a paycheck, fielded numerous eviction notices and pivoted his business three times.
"I was on fumes," admits Rocco, who spent years working for IBM’s Rational Software group before striking out on his own. "It takes an amazing amount of resolve and mental strength to continue doing what you’re doing and fight the self-doubt that inevitably creeps in, but when you truly believe in the business you’re creating, there’s just no other way to do it."
Rocco boasts that his penchant for perseverance likely came from his parents, Italian immigrants who came to the U.S. with nothing and built a successful tailoring business in Buffalo, N.Y.
"They taught me that if you get knocked down, you get back up; if someone stops you from driving forward, you find another way to get to where you want to go," he says. "When failure isn’t an option, you promise yourself you won’t fail. It’s not crazy. It’s hard work."
Mike Masnick, founder and CEO of Floor 64, an insight and consulting company based in Sunnyvale, Calif., admits this advice might be a bit “wonky” for certain circles. But for Masnick, whose company has nearly a dozen revenue streams, it speaks volumes.
Floor 64 manages two insight platforms: Techdirt, a technology and business analysis blog, and the Insight Community, a marketplace for connecting companies with a diverse community of expertise. Add to the mix competitive market analysis for businesses in a variety of industries and an effort toward improving government policy on privacy and intellectual property, and the firm dabbles in a bit of everything.
"There’s no reason why any particular business can’t have half a dozen business models all working together simultaneously," he says. "Think of it like an investment portfolio: You wouldn’t put all of your money into a single stock, so why on earth would you do that with your own company?"
The crux of Masnick’s advice: No matter what, keep innovating. Generally speaking, this requires a fundamental understanding of what benefits your market is seeking, and a commanding grasp of technology and technological change.
"By innovating and providing increasing benefits to your customers," he says, "you no longer have to worry about competitors ‘catching up,’ since you’re always leading."
As founders and CEOs of San Francisco-based Little Passports, an educational monthly subscription company for kids, Amy Norman and Stella Ma remind themselves of this often.
The two met in 2004 while working high-powered jobs at eBay and became best friends. When they left to launch Little Passports in 2009, they recognized that they were in for a new challenge—one that could potentially shake the friendship to its core. Since then, however, they have managed to succeed through a commitment to candor.
"We have found it important to be honest with each other and communicate," Ma says.
Adds Norman: “Before we started the company, we talked about how we’d handle certain disagreements; this way, when we have them, we get our perspectives out in the open, talk them through and move on.”
Trust also helps, which is why Norman and Ma opted to share the CEO title. Each woman has the power to act on behalf of Little Passports individually; if one needs to tend to her family during an important business meeting, the other can represent the company solo. They like to think of themselves as interchangeable. “Without trust,” Norman says, “that would never fly.”
Without this line of thinking, it’s hard to imagine where Wicked+ would be today. For years, it was a typical marketing and branding agency, operating out of a 500-square-foot storefront on the main drag in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Passersby, thinking the space was a shop, often would come in to inquire about buying things they saw through the window. Gradually it occurred to founding brothers Brian and Colin Cooley that they should expand their operations to include retail.
Today the agency’s modest store carries a handful of products from local businesses, including commuter bicycles, safety razors, Chemex coffeemakers and T-shirts. At any given moment, the brothers might go from writing a video script to selling a bag of coffee.
"I never imagined we’d evolve Wicked+ into a retail brand," Brian says. "But we saw the opportunity and made it happen."
He describes the strategy as a “small bet,” noting that he and Colin could have invested big in tricking out a retail operation but instead opted to test the waters gradually. Now that the duo has seen that the shop can be successful, they’re contemplating a bigger wager: expanding to a larger space. “We want to grow,” he says, “but we want to do it organically.”
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The greatest lessons from this story are don’t think and just do. You’ll never move forward if you just sit there thinking about it. Just do it!
Let your customers lead the way. Figure out what the consumers are after and find and easy, efficient way to deliver!
It’s all about passion. If there is no passion, there is no drive. Without drive, success is out of the picture.
No simply isn’t a choice. Don’t let yourself fail. Always think you can, and you will!
Seek fleeting competitive advantages. Always lead the way in whatever your endeavors may be. Be the best you can possibly be.
Business relationships need work, too. Don’t neglect people in your workplace just because they’re coworkers. They can become just as much a family as your family at home. Become friends and great feats can be accomplished just from knowing each other better!
And lastly, be open to anything. The world is always changing, and we must be prepared for whatever it throws at us. As long as we’re open minded, nothing will surprise us.