Creative work is messy work. Embrace the suck.

In a post at Fast Company, Leo Babauta lists a number of ways to stop delaying and get the hard work done. Two of them apply directly to the hard work of creativity and innovation.

First, "Let go of your ideal."

If this fear were gone, you could just do the task easily. So what is causing the fear? Some ideal you have, some fantasy about life being free of discomfort, confusion, embarrassment, imperfection. That’s not reality, just fantasy, and it’s getting in your way by causing fear. So let go of the fantasy, the ideal, the expectation. And just embrace reality: this task before you, nothing else.

There's a reason why we don't call the IdeaFestival the "IdealFestival." Because creative work is new work, there will be times when fear threatens to shut done the whole creative process. Don't let it. If you're not making any mistakes, you're not trying hard enough. And if your idea is truly an original, no one can tell you NOW whether it will work or not. The key is work toward your idea by making little bets, which brings me to the second point.

"Embrace the suck."

Doing something hard sucks. It’s not easy, and often you’re confused about how to do it because you haven’t done it much before. So what? Hard things suck, but life isn’t always peaches with roses on top (and a sprinkle of cinnamon). It sucks sometimes, and that’s perfectly fine. Embrace all of life, thorns and pits and all. Life would be boring without the suck. So smile, embrace the suck, and get moving.

This is key. As Oliver Burkeman said so well last year, the idea that our default state ought to be a happy state gets in the way of actually being happy because it makes us suspicious of all the other emotions we will eventually feel. There are few things as harmful to creative work as an unwillingness to live in the moment. One can find meaning in the hard work by simply reminding oneself that if it were easy, anyone could do it.

Stay curious.


Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Alexandre Dulaunoy

The IdeaFestival's One and Only Rule

This is a lightly edited version of an earlier blog post. Please remember, discounted Early Bird Festival Passes for IdeaFestival 2014 are available only through Sunday, April 27!

I love meeting people who discover the IdeaFestival and decide then and there that they just HAVE to be a part of it.

I was once that guy. Over the years, I've learned that the most common question those of us who work with the festival get when talking with other people about it is this one:

What is the IdeaFestival?

Here's my answer to that question. The IdeaFestival is a celebration of the central fact of early 21st century life, which, paraphrasing Daniel Pink, is that it's become a whole-brain world. Reason and logic will take you a long way, but whether you're an artist, businesswoman or scientist, an ability to envision an alternate path, to imagine, to connect the factual dots as it were, will get you where you want to be. In this world, the meaning makers win.

The biggest struggle most of us have in our day to day lives is the struggle to refocus, to escape the routine and the rote answers the routine brings. It's work to just look up from whatever and whoever might be on our minds at the moment.

With lives emulsified with more and more data, with demands on our attention and with old businesses being replaced with new ones - anyone remember Kodak? - being curious is the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary. For people like me the frontiers are internal. The hard problem of consciousness, for example, is endlessly interesting. For others they horizons are external. True, a restless mind guarantees nothing. But without a desire to walk toward the unknown and a certain tolerance for uncertainty, nothing of value ever happens.

To be an expert one must take risks. One must be willing to live in the question.

The terrible business truth today is that doing the same old thing may get you the same old result. It could also drive your business or organization into extinction. Apple is the most capitalized company on the planet because it created whole new markets. It broke the rules. And now it gets to make the rules. I've since forgotten the statistic, but more than - probably much more than - half of Apple's revenue is derived from products that didn't even exist as recently as 2007.

Every IdeaFestival fan or organization that makes its way to Louisville for one week in the fall makes a faith statement. As Kris Kimel explained to the afternoon audience recently, "we don't do tracks." There is no business track. There is no arts' track. There is no day set aside just for physicians, accountants or marketing professionals. One presentation on mindfulness will follow another on what nature can teach us about complex systems will follow another on what magic says about belief and everyday life.

No person who goes to the festival knows what she will find. The measurables, the metrics and measurements (gah!), have almost nothing to do any answers supplied by the incredible people who show up year after year to speak. The only measurable is the electrifying connection you will make, let's say three hours and fifteen minutes into the second day of the nerdocalypse when you realize that what speaker A and speaker B were saying has a lot to do with your situation C.

That flash of insight is all yours. But you must do one thing and one thing only to have that moment.

Stay curious.

I hope to see you this fall!


Image of Diavolo at the IdeaFestiva by the incredibly talented Geoff Oliver Bugbee

"Goldilocks" Earth-Sized ExoPlanet Found

This is remarkable. Exoplanet hunters appear to have found the closest Earth analog yet, a slightly larger and similarly rocky version of our world 490 light years away orbiting its sun at a range that makes it possible for liquid water to exist on the planet's surface.

'This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star,' Elisa Quintana, of the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center and the lead author of a new study detailing the findings, said in a statement.

Other planets of various sizes have been found in the habitable zones of their stars. However, Kepler-186f is the first alien planet this close to Earth in size found orbiting in that potentially life-supporting area of an extrasolar system, according to exoplanet scientists.

Before losing its ability hold a steady gaze on a field of hundreds of thousands of stars while looking for the telltale dips in light that would indicate that a body is passing regularly in front of the star, Kepler logged tens of thousands of potential planetary candidates that scientists will be analyzing for years to come. Kepler-186f is the most promising exoplanet yet in the search for life beyond our own solar system.

In what is now looking like incredible timing, Lee Billings, the author of a book about the search for life beyond our home world, "Five Billion Years of Solitude," will speak at IdeaFestival 2014. Even better: the lowest priced Festival Passes of the year are now on sale, but only through April 27! You don't want to miss Lee and other announced speakers like Debbie Millman, Claudia Hammond, Jason Felts and Steve Pemberton.

Many more speakers will be announced very soon!

Stay curious.


Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

Research: Intelligence an "Openness to Experience"

New research demonstrates that one of the key attributes of intelligence is "an openness to experience," one of the so-called Big Five personality traits, the others being conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Scott Barry Kaufman, who has documented his on unorthodox learning style and is skeptical about the ways in which intelligence has been traditionally assessed in his book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, is also well placed as a cognitive psychologist to offer new ways to think about the subject.

In his article at Scientific American, he suggests that intelligence can be viewed as an aspect of personality rather than a wholly separate domain of human functioning, and reviews the data from a group of individuals who took both personality and intelligence tests. Kaufman:

Given this data, where does IQ fit into the personality puzzle? While this is just a single data set, it is consistent with other studies suggesting that the most relevant personality domain is openness to experience, particularly the dimensions that reflect the ability and drive for conscious exploration of inner mental experience.

Well, far be it from the IdeaFestival to question the benefits of new experiences.

Because of his interest in cognitive working and creative expression, Kaufman's linking of intelligence to "openness to experience" rather than "extroversion," for example, suggests one explanation for creative achievement across the divide between art and science. Individuals who go on to make novel contributions in both domains must first consider the stimuli before engaging it.

I'd be very interested in hearing Kaufman's views of to what extent this openness can be acquired.

Stay curious.

Please remember, discounted Early Bird Festival Passes are on sale now through April 27 only!


Image of Daniel Roth: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Michael Wolff on Design: Empathy is Your Superpower

In this video from 99U, designer Michael Wolff talks about how "past experience" is not his friend, quotes Maya Angelou about what makes for lasting impressions, and dishes on about how "design can be an agreement system among designers."

In my judgement, the last point was much on the mind of architect Lance Hosey last September when he spoke at the IdeaFestival.

Because designers tend to know a "great deal about very little and very little about a great deal," Wolff believes empathy - the capacity to feel something toward the object of one's thinking - is the key to great design. I was particularly interested in his comments about corporate and business expression. In what struck me as honest bewilderment, he says "he's never understood any boardroom he's ever been in." And written corporate communication isn't meant, in his view, to be expressive or to be read.

"It's meant to be approved." That's hardly the way to connect emotionally with buyers.

Give the video a look. You won't want to miss designer and visual essayist Debbie Millman, who will be one of the IdeaFestival 2014 speakers! Festival Passes at the Early Bird rate of $350 will be available only through April 27.

Stay curious.


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