‘Great Artists Steal’ and other insights from Chris Rock

Artists who have been at it for a while have great insights on the creative process. This NYTs interview with Chris Rock is from November 2014, there’s some great stuff in here if you listen carefully.

1. Great Artists Steal. This is something I have a hard time convincing my students of. They think if they steal that they are not being original. Not true. Great artists steal. All of the time. There are no new ideas so get over it. Steal. And you might as well give credit bc the phrase “Great artists steal and hide their sources well” is dead in the age of internet. Inspiration is everywhere. Let’s celebrate it.

2. Don’t fall in love with your first draft. Amateurs fall in love with their first drafts. Artists don’t. They push it out like the ugly thing that it is, then they get on with the work of iterating through many more drafts. If you’re a writer, that’s rewriting nd editing. If you’re a painter, that’s sketching. If you make movies, that’s shooting and cutting tons of great content. If you’re an entrepreneur, that’s getting feedback and pivoting. Rarely do you nail it right out of the gate. So do your first draft, then move on.

3. If you hired an actor who doesn’t own their character by the end of the process, then something is wrong. To extend this to other art forms, if the members of your project team don’t eventually own the project, then something is wrong. Either they are the wrong team members, or you didn’t let go of control when they were ready to take it. As a leader, you have to start out by modeling investment in the project, the character, what have you. But then you have to watch out for that moment when your team is ready to take the reigns. Give it to them along with your faith and your support.

There’s a fourth point in here that’s not directly related to creativity, but kind of is bc it illustrates the importance of perspective. Chris Rock loves Kanye West. There’s a lot of criticism of Kanye in the news lately and all I have to say is watch that. He’s an important artist to a lot of people. He may not be for you, and that’s ok.

OK. If you have other insights on creativity, then please share in the comments.

The relationship between being creative and letting go

This past Friday and Saturday I helped out with a design-thinking workshop led by Tracy Brandenburg and Sirietta Simoncini and their graduate students in the Systems Engineering program at Cornell University. The workshop was held for dozens of executives from around the country.

Throughout the two-day workshop, the execs were asked to prototype their ideas in several forms: physical prototypes, storyboards, and skits. Each time the workshop participants had to present their prototypes, Tracy or Sirietta would call out a reminder, “OK. Once again, it’s time to let go of your prototype both physically and emotionally.” For some, this was easy. For others, this was really difficult. It’s hard to detach from something we just made and admit to ourselves “This isn’t done yet. I need help.”

In an art school critique, it’s often the case that students aren’t allowed to defend their work. “You won’t be there in the gallery to explain your concept to the viewer” so the reasoning goes.

Art students are trained to let go of their work.  My colleague from RIT, Roberley Bell, has an assignment in which her design freshmen work on a project all semester. Then on the last day of class, she hands out shovels and tells the students to bury their work in the ground. This may seem extreme. But compare the burying to the exercise from the professor she got the idea from — he hands out matches and instructs his students to burn their work!

And then there’s this experience I had as an undergrad in art school: I approached my professor with a print I had made and asked him what he thought. He looked at it for 10 long seconds. Then he picked it up, ripped it in half, threw it on the floor and said “That’s what I think.” For months I was shocked. But then I came to realize two things: 1. He was probably having a bad day and 2. He didn’t rip up my work because he didn’t like it. He did it to show me that I was being too precious about it. Harsh as that approach may seem, he effectively taught me to let go.

What makes this letting go even more difficult is that you can’t let go completely. You need to let go enough to gather useful feedback and listen well. But you also have to remember that you are the designer or artist or entrepreneur and your vision matters. When Project Runway contestants have a client challenge, their mentor Tim Gunn always has to remind them, “At the end of the day, it’s your name going down the runway. You want to please the client. But you also want to maintain your vision.”

Not easy.

A trick, I think, is to remember that feedback is essential but should not always be taken literally. For example, when someone testing your prototype says “This button should be red” it doesn’t necessarily mean that the button should be red. As a designer, you need to interpret feedback. “This button should be red” probably means, “I want the button, or the action the button sets into place, easier to find and use.”

Still, in order to get feedback in the first place, you need to let go of your prototypes, both physically and emotionally. You need to be open and vulnerable. You need to have faith that the feedback, once you interpret it, will help you develop and deliver something better that you are able to when working alone.

related reading:

http://99u.com/articles/7187/why-sharing-your-work-setbacks-struggles-breaks-creative-blocks

Crafted Products

cp

There will come a time when it will no longer make sense to mass manufacture and ship products all over the globe. This will happen when the convenience and low cost of tools and components for making products in small local factories wins out over the economic and environmental costs of shipping to and from abroad.

When that time comes, there will be a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to manufacture and sell crafted products — products made in small customized batches, manufactured as needed. The products might be anything from small electric toothbrushes to big boxy refrigerators.

This will go down in one of two ways:

1. Large firms will emerge with a franchise model

2. Individuals will do it on their own, create their own networks of knowledge and resource sharing.

The former perpetuates the top down, centralized, mass solutions that we have today. The latter promotes regionally specific innovation and collaboration with the advantage of global knowledge-sharing network.

Or perhaps there is a third option. If so, what does that look like?

related:

ARTISANAL CAPITALISM

http://www.economist.com/news/business/21592656-etsy-starting-show-how-maker-movement-can-make-money-art-and-craft-business

ARTISANAL MANUFACTURING

http://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2013/12/11/artisanal-manufacturing-creating-jobs-to-produce-things-in-america-again/

CHRIS ANDERSON COINS “LOCAVORE MANUFACTURING”

http://longnow.org/seminars/02013/feb/19/makers-revolution/

THE HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE FOR HUMANS

https://makebetterstuff.org/2013/06/20/421/

Who Is Best at Predicting the Future?

I’ve come across an interesting study about a correlation between cognitive styles and accuracy in predicting the future. The study is from Philip Tetlock, Professor of Leadership at UC Berkeley who built on Isaiah Berlin’s theory about foxes and hedgehogs. Put simply, foxes are lateral thinkers,  hedgehogs are linear thinkers, and it is foxes who are better at predicting the future.

Tetlock contends that the fox–the thinker who knows many little things, draws from an eclectic array of traditions, and is better able to improvise in response to changing events–is more successful in predicting the future than the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, toils devotedly within one tradition, and imposes formulaic solutions on ill-defined problems.

This insight makes sense, that foxes with their ability to hold multiple points of view are better positioned to see the future. But there’s a twist. Hedgehogs, with their certainty, tend to be more confident and thus convincing to a crowd. And foxes, with all of their “It could be this way or it could be that way” internal debate, tend to express less confidence and are less convincing to a crowd. Stewart Brand sums this up nicely here:

Bottom line… The political expert who bores you with a cloud of “howevers” is probably right about what’s going to happen. The charismatic expert who exudes confidence and has a great story to tell is probably wrong.

As you may know, I’m interested in “unlikely leaders” and foxes  fall into that slot. They express doubt while the hedgehogs express confidence. So my question for all of us is this: How might we train ourselves to listen to foxes, to embrace their expressions of doubt so that we can better understand where we’re going.

read more here:

http://longnow.org/seminars/02007/jan/26/why-foxes-are-better-forecasters-than-hedgehogs/

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2006/11/quiz_fox_or_hed.html

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7959.html

http://www.chforum.org/library/choice12.shtml

“I will live until I die.”

In April of 1996 my mother was operated on for a recurrence of breast cancer that had metastasized to her bones. In the OR, they cut her open, took a look around, and closed her back up. The cancer was everywhere.

In the recovery room, her doctor looking down at her chart told her she had six months to live. My mother grabbed the clipboard from his hands, took a lipstick out of her purse, and wrote in large bright red letters, “I will live until I die.”