Credit: UNSPLASH

Create more than you consume

But it’s how you consume that’s vital to creative inspiration

A few nights ago, I did something for the first time in my life.

I listened to a full album (Jay-Z’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail), from the first song to the last, without any interruptions.

I put on my headphones, closed my eyes, and just listened.

I have been working a lot on reading more thoughtfully so I can retain more but this was the first time I tried it with music.

After listening to that album (in that way), I seemed to build a deeper connection with the work. I researched Jay-Z and listened to the whole album again the next day.

That experience of deep connection was rewarding enough, but it led to something more.

It inspired me to write this piece.

So while I may not have done anything “creative” while listening to the album, it still inspired creation.

It’s important to always be creating, but integrating doses of mindful consumption is often an important part of the creative process.

What happens in your brain when you consume thoughtfully

When I was in University, I worked at a psychology research center under the direction of one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 most influential people, Dr. Richie Davidson.

Dr. Richie Davidson at work with a Buddhist monk

One of the studies reviewed by our lab was on meditation and how being in the moment decreases the noise in your brain, leading to improved scores on working memory and intelligence tests.

When you allow yourself to fully immerse in an experience, you give your brain a chance to make deeper connections, thus enhancing your ability to recall these connections in the future.

The importance of getting emotional

We all have vivid memories of certain moments in our lives. Maybe it was a song at a live concert or that one thing we experienced on a trip that we will never forget.

Those experiences are memorable because they probably made you happy, sad, or angry.

When you tie an emotion to an experience, a hormone is released that greases the wheels at certain chemical locations in the brain where nerves rewire to form new memory circuits:

Bundlr

This is why moments in your past that made you feel something often come up when you need to think creatively.

An experience that connects with your emotions is easier for you to recall.

If you make yourself available to focus deeper on what you’re consuming, you’re giving yourself a better opportunity to connect at an emotional level, retain more of what you consume, and use that to your advantage when you need to be creative later.

The Learning Pyramid: A technique to retain 90% of what you consume

I’ve found myself guilty of skimming through tweets, articles, and videos, thinking that I’m retaining everything.

The reality is, most of what I thought I was learning will slip right through.

When you consume in a passive way, by skimming and moving to the next thing, you’re at a learning disadvantage.

The Learning Pyramid explains the most effective way for you to learn is by either teaching someone or trying to immediately put what you learned into practice.

The Learning Pyramid states that people retain:

90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately.
75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.
50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.
30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration.
20% of what they learn from audio-visual.
10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading.
5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from lecture.

This is often why great writers also happen to be great readers. They immerse themselves in a topic because in order to create a meaningful dialogue, they must.

Self-taught individuals, also called autodidacts, are masters of retaining information largely because of their ability to reflect and put into action most of what they consume.

Leonardo Da Vinci was an autodidact, and he used a system of practical actions and rewards to retain information.

These actions resulted in mistakes along the way and it was these mistakes that would solidify his learnings.

As Sean D’Souza, author of Psychotactics.com, states:

Listening or reading something is just listening or reading.
It’s not real learning.
Real learning comes from making mistakes.
And mistakes come from implementation.

How to turn consumption into creation

Reading a book or watching a movie is an important part of my creative process, but I always try to make sure I’m fully immersed in these experiences.

Here’s some things that have worked for me to use consumption as fuel for creativity.

Take a stance

Instead of just trying to get to the end of your Twitter feed or articles that you saved for later, read each article as if you would need to tell a friend about it after.

This is fundamental to retain more of what you consume and absorbing information rather than glazing over content, and simply hitting a retweet or like button.

Psychologist Robert Cialdini uses a technique where he takes out a piece of notebook paper and writes a 1-page summary immediately after every chapter he reads.

Research shows this technique can help you retain over 50 percent more information than if you were to read the same chapter over and over and try to memorize it.

Consume like you’ll have to teach

When you consume, think that you will need to teach someone about the topic. Better yet, actually do that.

Whether it’s your child, significant other, or your parents, consume and share what you found or try to put it into practice.

No one said it better than Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus:

lookhuman.com

This learning through action and making mistakes is one of the main reasons why research suggests that people who travel or study abroad have been found to be more creative.

Researchers noted that people who studied abroad were able to make quicker mental connections suggesting that full immersion in new experiences may enhance your creative juices.

Nothing will help you absorb more of what you consume than trying to do. It’s through the mistakes made where the real learning happens.

Seek out the weird: Make opportunities for idea collisions

Studies show that unusual experiences introduce new neural connections and increase the chances for you to find unique concepts as these connections collide with your existing thoughts.

Go out with different types of people or try things you’ve never done before. When you meet new people or try unexpected events, it creates an idea cocktail in your brain.

Inspiration could come from something as simple as a sign on a wall or an interaction with a waiter (an experience you’ll never get if you’re not fully present).

Whether it be a dinner with close friends or a night at the movies, by focusing on being present, your senses can soak in every element of an experience.

It’s not necessarily how much you consume, but how you consume that makes the difference.

Instead of fighting to win the battle to consume all the information you can, come to terms with the fact that you lost the war.

This will make consumption much more enjoyable and coincidently, help you do better work.


Got an idea?

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Next Story — Ugh, Silicon Valley, can’t you enjoy anything?
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Ugh, Silicon Valley, can’t you enjoy anything?

I’m starting to get really tired of hearing the latest trends coming out of Silicon Valley. First it was these soylent smoothies so the elite didn’t have to “waste time” eating meals, instead devoting more of it to work. Then it was meditation, because meditation allows people to keep a better grip on stress and anxiety in order to work more effectively. And now lately, the big thing is apparently Stoic philosophy, because it helps one to make better decisions in an industry that moves a million miles an hour.

Seriously?

Do you people do anything but fucking work? Do you think about anything else besides work? Do you care about anything besides work? The life hacker community is bad enough, always trying to find a shortcut to things that require dedication and perseverance, but the Silicon Valley elite seem to want to take things to the other extreme — they’re looking for anything that’s going to give them a 1% improvement in their work.

You guys realise there is actually more to life than work, right? How about you take an hour and sit down to eat a meal. Because you need reasons and quantification on everything, here’s why you should actually eat – although I can’t believe I even have to spell it or for you:

  1. Eating with people is something our species has done for 200,000 years, 2,000,000 years if you want to count our relatives
  2. Food tastes good, and it’s worth taking the time to savour
  3. Eating a meal is relaxing, and takes your mind off of everything else

Meditation is the main practice of Buddhism and a way of achieving greater insight into the mind, spirit, universe and human nature. People spend their whole lives practicing it, discovering new things about themselves and the meaning of existence. Of course the elite of Silicon Valley now use it as a tool so they can squeeze in more work each day. Honestly, I’m all for Bruce Lee’s philosophy of taking from everything, discarding what is useless and making what’s useful your own, but this is ridiculous.

And Stoic philosophy. The great writings of the Romans, why don’t you use it to make your own life better instead of using it to yet again further your work? I’ll tell you why: because you don’t have a life. All you do is work, and thus all you ever see is how things can contribute to that work. Here’s a wild idea for you: meditate because it’s good for you. Do it because you want to find inner calm and peace. Do it so you can find an insight into how your mind works. Doing it just to be able to squeeze more work in? God, what a waste of an amazing practice.

Eat for the reasons I gave you above. It blows my mind that someone actually has to sell you on eating food. How far from reality have you gone that you consider food and the comforts of a meal a waste of your time?

Philosophy exists to answer the great questions of human existence, and in terms of Stoic philosophy, the every day questions of human existence. How do I live a better life? How do I deal with the fear of death, the fear of letting down loved ones and those who depend on me? While it exists to be used by anyone, I can’t help but feel it’s been hijacked by people so out of touch with the rest of the world, that all they are looking for are ways to become even further out of touch with the world. Hell, if I could get <insert Valley celebrity here> to start espousing the fact that he writes a blog every day, I can guarantee you everyone there would jump on the bandwagon.

I even heard Tim Ferriss say recently on his podcast that he never used to read fiction because he couldn’t see the point, but now he finds it useful because it cements life lessons better in his head than non fiction would. For Christ sake, how about you just read a book because it’s entertaining, because it’s a nice way to spend a few hours? Why must everything be some kind of learning experience?

Seriously, you Silicon Valley people, stop trying to use everything to further yourself in that bubble. Do things because they’re worth doing, and you’ll find that they’re actually rewarding in their own right. You might discover that life isn’t all about work, and the lies that you tell yourselves about working all the damn time for legacies and altruism are just so much fluff to disguise the fact that you’ve forgotten what life is really about.

Next Story — Making the most of your 5–9
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Making the most of your 5–9

How ‘microadventures’ make you a smarter, happier, and more creative person

Last week, I spent the night sleeping underneath the stars. With the gorgeous, open sky above me I felt like the perfect adventurer cozied up in my sleeping bag.

The kicker? I was in my backyard.

I’ve always been mesmerized by adventure. I love the idea of traveling the countryside with just a backpack, but too often life manages to get in the way with bills, deadlines, and chores.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A few months ago, I stumbled across the work of Alastair Humphreys — National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year. While Alastair has some huge adventures under his belt (like riding around the world on his bike and rowing across the Atlantic Ocean) his passion now is all about going small.

He’s on a mission to encourage everyday people to experience adventure through small expeditions he calls microadventures (hence my backyard camping):

“Adventure is accessible to normal people, in normal places, in short segments of time and without having to spend much money.”

For Humphreys, adventure represents a simple mechanism to trade the rushed and mundane world for something fun and unpredictable. It’s the perfect way to push yourself outside of your box and absolutely necessary for innovators that want to keep their creative spirit alive.

The best part? A life of adventure is easier than it might seem.

This post first appeared on the Crew blog. Check out more like it here.

Why you need to live a life of adventure

Adventures can be messy. For one, you’re forced to step outside your comfort zone and trod through unfamiliar territory, while also taking time out from your regular day-to-day.

But, for all the risks and difficulties, adventures offer up some amazing benefits for creatives:

1. Adventures spark new synapses in the brain

In many ways, creativity can be summed up as the ability connect the unconnected — take two separate, seemingly unrelated ideas and combine them into something new and novel. Our ability to make these connections is heavily influenced by how our brains are wired.

Think of your brain as a complex highway system. If you’re constantly driving up and down the same roads it’s hard to have new experiences and novel ideas.

You need to break out of your rut. In the brain, this is referred to as neuroplasticity — the ability of our brain circuitry to change.

Research on travel indicates that new experiences can spur change in your neural pathways:

“Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.”

Furthermore, recent studies have found ties between foreign travel and connecting ideas, the foundation of creativity:

“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms.”

The take-home here isn’t to pack your bags and get your passport. You can experience new sights, sounds, and smells minutes outside your door. You just have to look a bit harder (more ideas on that later).

2. Adventures get you outside of your cultural bubble

When I was in college I was fortunate enough to make multiple trips to Alaska. On one trip, we took a small plane to the remote fishing town of Valdez. I’ll remember that trip for several reasons, but mostly because of just how much the local lifestyle differed from my own. From the tour guides to fishermen, I found the community’s way of living fascinating.

At home, we naturally surround ourselves with people we like. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of those people are in fact similar to us in many ways. We create an echo chamber of our own thoughts.

Researchers suggest exposing yourself to different cultural identities as one way to break out of this echo chamber. It helps to remove what researchers refer to as a ‘habitual closed-mindedness’. In fact, cultural immersion is a key reason travel helps to increase creativity. Just lying on the beach in Cancun won’t cut it. You have to get involved with the local life.

Even around your own town there are ways to break out of a cultural rut. Sure, it might not be the same as going to another continent, but it’s a step in the right direction.

3. Downtime provides time for your mind to process

I’ll tell you a secret: I’m addicted to my phone.

Even when I’m on vacation, the temptation to check my email, touch base in Slack, or peruse my Twitter feed is overwhelming. I just have to take a look at the grocery store line or the table next to me at dinner to know I’m not alone. We’re constantly bombarded with an influx of information from our phones, and it’s harming our creative potential.

According to researchers, our brains need downtime:

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

During these periods of downtime, a part of our brains called the Default Mode Network springs into action.

This network reflects back on our day, processes memories of events, and does a sort of internal performance review. The Default Mode Network also encourages the mind to think obliquely and create new connections between ideas. If you have a steady stream of information coming in at all times, you’re missing out.

I’ve found a place where I’m great at disconnecting: in the middle of the woods. No cell reception means no email, Twitter, or apps.

If camping in nature isn’t your favorite, forcing yourself out of your normal routine also helps. Personally, if I don’t have a desk nearby with a laptop ready to go, I’m less inclined to work.

Staying in town? Go somewhere you have never been and leave your phone in the car. Leaving town? Rent an AirBnB and see how many new places you can explore.

It all sounds well and good but I can’t because…

You probably knew intuitively that adventures and break times are beneficial for your mind.

There’s a reason the book was called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and not Huckleberry Finn and the Incredible To-Do List. Adventures are fascinating, but they can be hard to rationalize in a busy life.

This is where the concept of microadventures comes to the rescue.

Excuse: I can’t take time off for long vacations

That’s perfectly fine. Adventures don’t need to be a week long. In fact, researchers indicate we might be happier with more frequent, shorter vacations than one or two long ones during the year.

Don’t worry about taking off an entire week. Instead, take off one or two days to extend your weekend. Use the time to take a drive somewhere new. You’ll be ready to go by Monday morning.

Excuse: With my busy schedule, I don’t have enough time

Humphreys runs into this excuse quite often. So often in fact that he developed the 5 to 9 challenge. Many of us are so busy from 9AM to 5PM that we can’t even think about stepping away, but we have 16 hours of free time before we’re back at the grind the next day. Those hours are ripe for a microadventure.

As with most habits, the key is to start small.

Don’t think about venturing off into the wilderness for days at a time. Focus on taking a few hours out of your day when you normally would be free anyway. Put it in your calendar and hold yourself accountable. I’ve done three microadventures (standup paddleboarding, camping, and hiking) within an hour drive from my house.

Excuse: The gear is too expensive

If you’re set on outdoor microadventures, you might be looking at a modest financial investment (Alastair put together a helpful list here), but odds are you might have more than you think already. If not, buy the gear over time and stick to free expeditions for now. Last week, we drove into the mountains and did a 2-hour hike complete with a gorgeous view at the top. Total cost: $20 (for lunch on the way home).

Excuse: I don’t know what to do

I struggle with that too. Thankfully, there are a handful of awesome ideas here to get you started. Here are a few that I’ve found to be pretty accessible:

  • Commute to work. Take the scenic route rather than the direct one and maybe even stop for breakfast along the way.
  • Climb a hill and watch the stars. In my case, we watched the fireworks. All you need is a blanket to lay on.
  • Try a new activity. In my case, we went standup paddleboarding (amazingly fun!). You could go rock climbing, kayaking, or ride your bike around the city. It just has to be something new.

It’s highly unlikely that I’m going to turn into the next Bear Grylls. You won’t see me on National Geographic cycling around the world or kayaking across the Atlantic. That’s okay. I’m content with sticking to smaller adventures.

Over the past few months, I’ve tried to get in some sort of adventure every week. I don’t always succeed. Life gets in the way. But, when I find myself setting up a tent in the middle of the woods as the sun is just starting to set, I feel a small tinge of excitement. For that one night, I feel like a man of adventure. That feeling is addicting, and it keeps me coming back for more.


This post was written by Jeremey DuVall. Catch up with him on Twitter.

Make your next microadventure building something you love.

Check out Crew, where you can work with the best designers and developers in the world. Over 10 million people have used products made on Crew. And over 3 million people have read our blog. Join them here.

Next Story — You don’t learn anything from drafts
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You don’t learn anything from drafts

Why you should publish more content, more often.

Whether it’s a blog post, a video, a podcast or any type of content. Hitting publish can be extremely daunting.

You can worry how others may react to it. You can worry it’s not polished enough. Or that it might fail. But, one of the of the most important lessons I’ve learned since I started writing is simply:

You don’t learn anything from drafts.

When you put yourself out there and embrace the vulnerably, that’s where the magic happens. That’s where you learn and improve your craft.

And the great thing about shipping content is that the more frequently you publish, the easier it gets. Eventually, making content becomes less of a “big” thing, and a part of your workflow. Then your mindset changes from:

“This is a special moment”

to

“This is what I do: I create, I publish, I put things out there.”

Play the long game.

Creating content is much like going to the gym. You don’t expect to work out once or twice and see the results you’ve always dreamed of. But once going to the gym becomes a part of your routine — and not a one off event — you start to see results.

The same is true in publishing — no matter your field. When you’re publishing and creating regularly, you are lifting those weights and eventually you’re going to build muscle mass, but if you expect it to happen in a day or a week or a month you’re kidding yourself.

The practice is really the key and that’s what you should be focused on, not the instant outcome or result.

If you only focus on results, it’s easy to give up. But when you focus on the practice and routine, it becomes easy to keep going.

Along the way you have to expect that you’re going to have many failures and a few successes, but the most important step is hitting publish. You don’t learn anything from drafts.

For more content check out Frontcourt Magazine

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Next Story — Managers need to do things that don’t scale
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Managers need to do things that don’t scale

“That isn’t scalable.”

Ahhh. That is a phrase I hear far too often. I have an entrepreneurial partner, an entrepreneurial CEO and a lot of my social life revolves around people who are, or who are aiming to become, successful entrepreneurs. Not a week goes by where I don’t hear the above phrase. They don’t just talk about scaling in relation to business concepts, but it is in relation to how they operate, how they treat certain elements of the business and how their day-to-day life should be run.

No matter the business, no matter the success, there is always a fear that ‘it’s just not scalable enough’.

While focusing on how un-scalable their business is, Founders and CEO’s tend to forget that business is not just an idea, it is an eco-system comprised of real people and real creativity. It is in everyone’s interest for managers to keep employees engaged and foster a team of passionate and driven intrapreneurers.

If the CEO’s used 30% of the time they spend talking about scaling doing the below, I’m near certain that not only would team morale improve, but so too would productivity, and therefore revenue.

Hold meaningful conversations

It isn’t enough to say that staff are the backbone of a good organisation; they probably spend more hours at work than they do at home and without them, you really couldn’t function. I’ve heard the ‘everyone is replaceable’ mantra touted around, but it may take you an awful long time to replace them.

“I saw my employees as more important than even the product I was selling.” — Dal LaMagna

If more people prescribed to the view of Dal LaMagna, then I dare say the products would start getting better and the employees would start getting happier.

What better way to show your employees that you care than by asking how their weekend was and not walking away while they are mid-sentence? Bonus points if you know the names of their pets. I called work one day as I was running late and had to take my cat to the vet. The response I got was ‘I hope Daisy feels better soon!’ Well done, Boss.

Celebrate the victories

We are what people encourage us to be.

If you have just hit a milestone, tell your employees that before you tell your shareholders. Truth be told, they are probably the reason you reached that milestone.

The best managers won’t just celebrate the victories in the workplace, they will know when it is apt to celebrate personal victories too.

Train your staff at their speed

The best Project Manager I ever had hated negotiating fees for the first 6 months she was with us, and she is now the best damn hustler that I know. 
For those of you that have worked at a startup, you probably didn’t have a binder full of guidelines and best practices. You were probably thrown in at the deep end and told to swim. For some people, this works fabulously and you learn through doing.

However, not all people learn by doing. Don’t give up on a staff member if they haven’t learned the ins and outs of the business in two weeks. Some will and some won’t. It doesn’t mean that they won’t be a great investment 6 months down the track. If they show potential and learn by doing, let them do. If they learn by watching, let them watch. If they learn by asking questions and keeping a notebook, let them do that too. A staff member who hits the ground running is good, but when there is no guidebook, it is the exception, not the rule.

Don’t stop learning

You’ve just turned over your first $10m. You’ve gone public. Your staff numbers have just hit double digits. Great — now what? You keep learning, keep reading and keep growing.

There is always something more to learn.

It might be formal education such as going and getting your Masters or doing that summer school program that you have always been interested in. I don’t care if you’re a lawyer and want to take an astronomy class. It might be a little less formal; putting a paper together and looking for somewhere to publish it. It could be as simple as picking up a book and getting all the way to the end. The moment you stop seeking new knowledge is the moment your business begins to plateau.

Buy those damn cupcakes

Is it someone’ birthday? Did someone just get engaged? Has everyone had a really rough week? Did your team stay back past dinner time? Do something to show them you appreciate them. Let them know that you know that they are working hard and giving their all to the company.

Just buy those damn cupcakes and celebrate.

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