Category Archives: Creativity

Be More Like Chase

Who is this for? Those looking for a few takeaways from the recent NMX conference in Las Vegas.

I’m basking in the afterglow of an amazing few days at New Media Expo (or NMX as the kids like to call it) in Las Vegas. My notebook runneth over with nuggets of wisdom and truth. My panel with Chase Reeves, Justin Jackson and my podcasting partner-in-crime, Mike Vardy, was seemingly well received. My voice is gone but slowly recovering from a mixture of dry Vegas air and far too many conversations to count. And my liver … well, my liver isn’t very happy with me right now, but let’s not dwell.

I learned a lot over these past days, largely due to some of the best encounters and conversations in the halls and at the bar that I’ve had in a very long time. But if there’s one thing I’m going to remember, if there’s one thing I plan to take away, it’s this: I need to be more like Chase Reeves. In fact, I think we all do.

Now I’m not suggesting that I, or the rest of us for that matter, should try to start acting like him. We’d all fail miserably, and bartenders all over the world would struggle to keep up with the demand for Negroni and Fernet. I just noticed a few Chase-centric takeaways (they say you’re supposed to look for takeaways at conferences, after all) that I believe we could all benefit from.

Make Everyone Feel Amazing

The first thing you notice about Chase is how good he makes you feel. Then you realize that he makes everyone he comes into contact with feel exactly that good. You also realize that this isn’t about him wanting you to like him (no matter how many times tells you that this is why he does it). It’s about him actually wanting everyone and anyone around him to feel amazing. Good times follow good feelings, and Chase knows how to create them both.

I plan to start working a lot harder to make the people around me realize just how special they are. I plan on saying more of the things that I believe to be true about those people but feel far too self-conscious to say.

Work Hard, Get Good

Chase is a maker. He is a creator. A big part of his ability to make so many of the ideas in his head come to life are the skills he has painstakingly cultivated over the years. There’s no shortage of inherent talent and intelligence there, but it’s his drive to learn new skills that makes the man a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve spent so much time over the years trying to figure out what I really want to do with my life. I wish I had spent it all figuring out how to do things. Chase is the embodiment of what happens when someone continually takes the time to develop new skills. He’s a living reminder that building skills trumps chasing passions.

Don’t Know How Good You Are

The only thing more impressive than Chase’s skill is his humility. If I had half that man’s talent, I’d be insufferable. Even though Chase takes pride in his work, I’m not sure he knows just how magically delicious the fruits of his labor are to those of us who enjoy them. And even if he does know, he isn’t letting that fact get in the way of his strong desire to make whatever comes next even better and more meaningful.

This is a great and necessary reminder to stop worrying about how good I am all the time (because I literally worry about this all the time). I need to silence that inner voice and use that energy to work harder at getting better.

Create Memorable Moments

I dare you to forget meeting anyone who casually introduces himself as “Chase Wardman Reeves, from the Internet.” I dare you not to smile when you’re sitting at a bar and a group text goes out to inform everyone seated around you that, “We’re having a great time!” I dare you not to appreciate someone who—even though he’s as tired and has been as busy as the rest of us—acts as the event planner and camp counselor for an impromptu night out for 25 people. And I dare you not to love the guy who randomly asks if anyone is game to take a leisurely “Old Italian Man Walk” around the exterior of a casino just to think and talk about life.

I will never forget so many moments from the past few days, and this is largely due to Chase. It makes me want to put a lot more thought and effort into making more ordinary moments memorable.

Reach Over, Not Up

Chase has this great theory about building third-tier relationships. You should read his post (and this recent post-NMX follow up), but the short version is that those who embrace the third tier stop spending their time and energy trying to get the attention of heroes and potential mentors, and start spending it on the people doing, or aspiring to do, great work beside them.

I’ve been more than guilty of my fair share of shamelessly chasing the attention and approval of those who are more successful than I am. Heroes are great to have. I won’t be letting go of mine anytime soon, but I’ll be focusing my time and my energy on those doing kick-ass work right beside me.

Be Really Fucking Brave

For those of you us who know Chase, or follow his personal site, you know this hasn’t been an easy year. His family suffered a loss that no one should ever have to experience. And while the loss of a child is not something you ever get past, they’re getting through. This was the first time I’ve seen Chase since the passing of his son and he is handling an impossible experience with a grit and grace that I still cannot fathom.

There are a ton of obvious lessons here, but for the moment, I’m just going to admire a bravery I cannot imagine and hope I never need.

Chase Is My Big Takeaway

This past week I learned a few new things about marketing, about entrepreneurship, about podcasting, about the Internet, but other than several memories I’ll cherish, I plan to walk away from the experience with one clear desire: I want us all to be a whole lot more like my friend, Chase Reeves.

Chase Wardman Reeves, from the Internet, invests in himself, in others and in the moment like no one else I’ve ever met. And while there’s no way he could possibly be copied, I’m going to keep learning every damn thing I can from the man. And I strongly suggest that you do the same.

Sure, That’ll Happen

Who is this for? Those who worry that their dreams will never become a reality.

When we were little kids, my brother locked himself away in his room watching movies. He decided that one day he was going to make one of those. Sure, that’ll happen…

When he was 12, my mother—who totally didn’t bother to learn enough about the movie—took far too many of his far too young friends to see Pulp Fiction. He fell in love with Tarantino. He wanted to make a movie just like him one of these days. Sure, that’ll happen…

When we were teens, I suggested that my brother actually read a book for a change. I gave him a copy of Get Shorty. I figured his only shot at finishing a book was to get him to read a book based on a movie. Despite never really reading a book before, he was hooked. He started reading any Elmore Leonard book he could find. He wondered if he would ever get to turn one of them into a movie. Sure, that’ll happen…

When he was a young independent filmmaker with far too few films under his belt, my brother decided to adapt the prequel to Jackie Brown. It was based on a movie from his favorite filmmaker and a book from his favorite author. He sent it in hoping to one day hear back. Sure, that’ll happen…

After nearly giving up on his dream he convinced Leonard (and got permission from Tarantino) to let him make it. But only if he, a young director with two films under his belt, could get the project funded. Sure, that’ll happen…

When he found producers and financiers who saw the potential in the project—and, more importantly, the potential of a young director—he was told that he would need to convince A-list celebrities to sign on in order to get a green light. He’d have to get stars like Jennifer Anniston and Tim Robbins to come on board. Sure, that’ll happen…

For years my brother has had—and been encouraged to follow—impossible dream after impossible dream. For years, many (including himself at times) thought it might not happen. There were successes along the way, but there were most certainly lows. And now, after two decades of working towards and never letting go of his dreams, this happened:

(Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

(Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

Some will call him lucky. Some will say that he had every advantage. They may even have a point, but here’s the truth: for two-thirds of his life my brother took an unlikely dream and worked to make it real. For over twenty years he allowed himself to believe that sure, that’ll happen…

Unpausing

Who is this for? Anyone interested in the recent changes in my world, the impact they’ve had on my personal projects and the approach I’m considering getting those personal projects back on track.

Pausing a project is easy. There’s often a significant amount of thought that goes into deciding what you will and will not continue to do, but the actual final act itself couldn’t be simpler: decide to stop doing something and then stop doing it. If you use software for project management, hit pause or put the project on hold and—like magic—watch it drop off your list and off your mind.

Over the past few months, I’ve had to hit pause on more than a few projects. I even killed some. Since January, I’ve been working on projects for my job that took significant mental bandwidth. For months, I aided in the due diligence process as we sold our family business. Immediately after we closed, I transitioned myself out of the company in order to go work for our new parent company. I closed the book on a 13 year career and watched what has always been our family business no longer be our family business.

This is all good news. I’d been seriously thinking of making a professional change for some time, and I happen to really like the company that did the acquiring. But these are big, emotional changes, and when I added them to a significant increase in actual workload, something had to give.

For months, things I care about have gone by the wayside. This site hasn’t received the attention I would have liked. Relationships that mean the world to me have been malnourished. I haven’t worked on the second draft of my book. This might sound bad, or at least unproductive, but the decision to pause these things is paying off.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m finding professional flow. The decision to focus on my career is helping me to make the most of my new opportunity. I’m challenged by the work. I like the team. And I’m interested to see where things go.

I’ve also benefited from the space I gave myself to emotionally settle the sale. This “exit” is something to celebrate, but I’d be lying—to you and to myself—if I didn’t need some time to accept the reality that what my grandfather created and my father built is not something I will ever be able to pass along to my children. I’m happy with how things turned out, but I’m also glad I’m not ignoring the significance of that truth.

Professionally and emotionally, I feel like things are on track. On the other hand, my personal projects are kind of a mess. When things were getting hectic I gave myself permission to take a step back, to ease off and give major life changes the attention they deserve. Now that the dust is starting to settle, I have to decide what to do about them. I have to figure out what to unpause and I have to decide if there’s any more that I have to kill.

I’ve tried to unpause it all as if no time had passed, the results have been poor and rife with procrastination. The reality is that I have to redevelop habits and muscles that have atrophied over the past few months. I don’t write as much as I used to. I don’t find my mind wandering to these personal projects as often as it used to. I could chalk that up to my being ready to move on, but that’s not really it. I’m just out of practice and these projects have been out of sight.

I really need to start revisiting these projects and will need to rebuild my habits. I need to prioritize the unpausing. I need to build back up some of my muscles. And once I’ve gained some momentum, I need to reassess what continues and what ends.

I’d love to make that decision now. I’d love to know exactly what I plan to unpause and accomplish over the next few months, but I’m just not there, yet. I have a good sense about what I’m doing professionally. Now I just need to dedicate some of the newfound time and emotional bandwidth towards figuring out what it is that I really want to do with my spare time. And then I need to dedicate myself to doing it.

In the meantime, things will continue to come a little slower than I’d like, here and on other personal projects. I need to get back on track, but I also need to be okay with the fact that it’s going to take some time to get back into a creative routine and to figure this all out. Pausing might be easy, but unpausing … it’s proving to be a lot harder than I imagined. That said, it’s time to start getting back to work. Acknowledging the hard time I’m having with that seemed as good a first step as any.

The Creative Turn

Who is this for? Those hoping to shift from creative struggle to creative success.

As readers of A Better Mess know all too well, I’m a big fan of both Yuvi Zalkow and his I’m A Failed Writer video series. It was the perfect mix of honesty and inspiration. Yuvi shared his struggles, but it also always felt as if the videos were helping him to overcome them.

When the series had run its course, I was sad to see it go, but excited to see where Yuvi would take his animated video concept next. After a few months of experimentation Yuvi has settled in on a new format. It’s one that I believe will prove to be extremely useful (and amusing) to those struggling with their own creative endeavors.

The Creative Turn – Yuvi’s new series – is an evolution of his own creative process. He will release one long-form interview as a podcast each month and then follow up with one of his short-form animated videos two weeks later. Each video will boil down the long-form conversation to its essence. I like to think of it as the podcast equivalent of CliffsNotes. The conversations will not be centered on the guests latest work. It looks to examine the time where their creative work went from floundering to flourishing.

As with many creative experiments, The Creative Turn started with a test. One night, Yuvi and I sat on Skype drinking and discussing the possibilities. The conversation started with a long list of things that Yuvi could do and we discussed them (and continued to drink) until they became one clear thing he would do. This conversation was never meant to be used – this will be clear from the audio quality – but as you will see from the abridged version of our discussion, it had a creative turn of its own.

Check out episode “zero” of The Creative Turn and check back two weeks from now to see the animated video Yuvi will create from our conversation.

Hold The Light

Who is this for? Those looking to improve at their own craft or to learn more from the time spent studying the work of others.

I just had one of the better personal learning experiences in my recent history. For two awkward hours I held an iPhone across my lap in order to provide Mike Rohde with enough light to sketchnote two main stage talks at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon.

Now, I’ve read Mike’s book on the subject. I’ve watched his videos. I’ve followed his work, and I’ve had him on a podcast to discuss his process. But nothing came close to watching the man work.

The experience did so much to enhance my understanding. I’d heard him share about capturing the essence. It made sense to me when I read it in his book, but the concept came to life when I saw what he captured and what he had to overlook. Reading his encouragements to not worry about mistakes helped, but it paled in comparison to watching the man fearlessly attack his own work. I’d heard about how he would get the bones of a sketchnote down, adding details and additional thoughts to it later, but I didn’t truly appreciate how he approached this until I sat beside him and watched him.

Instead of just enjoying the talk and then seeing his notes, I was able to observe—up close and personal—how they come together. I was fortunate to experience the process, rather than just enjoying the results.

Now I still can’t draw to save my life, but I learned so much from the experience. Observing Mike’s process will inform the way I take in conferences and is causing me to rethink many of the ways I approach my writing. Rather than obsessing over every detail, I want to obsess over the essence. Rather than fearing mistakes, I need to remember that I can always find ways to fix them later. Rather than worrying that I’ve missed a key fact, I’ll look to get my idea down and continue to improve upon it later. None of these ideas are new. I’d heard them all before—in fact I’d heard them directly from Mike—but didn’t fully understand them until I saw him in action.

I’m not certain that there’s a better way to learn from others how to improve our game than by watching as they play their own. All too often we’re obsessed with getting them to tell us their secrets. We want things spelled out and told to us. We want a three step process on how we can do as they do. While there’s a fair amount to be learned from someone sharing their process, those two uncomfortable hours were a great reminder of the power of just sitting back and watching someone with a gift use it.

It was a gift to hold the light. It was a gift to watch him work and to learn, but more than anything I was encouraged to go out and the get the man a better light, so I could get back to doing more of my own. Learning about others is one thing, but the last and most important thing I took away from watching Mike bring a conference to life in the pages of his Moleskine is that nothing helps you improve at your craft quite like doing it.

How GTD Helped Joss Whedon Assemble The Avengers

Who is this for? Those who wonder how Joss Whedon managed to put out two movies while working on an upcoming TV show.

Joss Whedon on Getting Things Done:

Next actions’ is one of the most important things that you can say in any endeavor.

Even though he did not finish David Allen’s Getting Things Done, it seems that many of the better known concepts help Joss Whedon to overachieve.

All around great insights on inspiration and execution from a truly prolific creator.

A Balance of Concepts and Tactics

When I look at my own attempts to improve, there are two things that have made all the difference in my ability to do better work: concepts that help me understand my work and tactics that help me do it.

For too long, I’d focus on one or the other and the impact on the way I work was insufficient. As I continue to improve, I’ve come to value the relationship between “how” and “why” we go about achieving our ambitions.

For those looking to get a better sense of both the concepts and the tactics that can help, today is a good day. Two very smart friends are introducing projects; one offers an in depth look at the concept of mastery over how we work and another shares actionable tactics in many of the key areas of productivity.

Workflow by Kourosh Dini

It’s rare that logic and beauty can occupy the same space, it’s especially rare that this would happen in a productivity book. Workflow is a unique book. It speaks to the concepts far more than the tactics (although there are plenty of useful takeaways that will improve the way you work). It looks to infuse meaning and offer a better understanding of ideas that have lost their very definitions in an age of quick fixes.

It’s very much a textbook of self-mastery. It is meant to be read slowly and carefully. It’s accessible for a novice audience, but is targeted for those who want to take a deep dive into the concepts of productivity, creativity, workflow and mastery.

Workflow is available throughout May for $30 and will double in price starting in June. This 500+ piece masterwork is well worth its full price, but you should seriously consider getting it now at the introductory pricing.

For more information, be on the lookout for a more comprehensive review of Workflow over at Workflowing.

The Productivityist Workbook by Mike Vardy

Just as Workflow is aimed at those looking to study the subject, The Productivityist Workbook focuses more on the immediate challenges that keep people from accomplishing their goals. In this easily accessible workbook, Mike Vardy offers tactics that will help you do a better job of dealing with email, task, time and idea management. This book is meant to be ready quickly and you can start implementing the tactics in it right away. It offers insights and methods that will benefit those looking for a 101 introduction to several key areas of personal productivity.

The Productivityist Workbook is available today for $5.

I’m a biased fan of both Kourosh Dini and Mike Vardy, but I believe their latest projects – especially the complementary balance of concepts and tactics between them – will prove helpful to anyone struggling to do a better job of approaching their work and life.