From Kanye to Hemingway

9 Experiences For Sparking Creativity

This is a list of experiences for sparking creativity in my life. I selected experiences that were particularly interesting or especially meaningful for me when it comes to opening creative pathways. Maybe one or two of them will do the same for you!

I invite you to contribute your own spark to the list. I have a section near the end of this post where you can check out what others have said sparks creativity for them, and also contribute your own spark to the list.

1. Listen to All of The Lights by Kanye

Listening to this song starts sparks for me every time (link to video). It’s the Rocky theme song of Hip Hop for me.

I picture the training scenes from Rocky IV when the synth-horns kick in, Ivan Drago on machines and Rocky all-natural.

Kanye may not be the most humble person, but he pushes the envelope, and then pushes further still. He’s got that fever for being the the best at what he does.

That’s what pumps through this song and into my blood when I listen. Because way down inside, I too, want to be the best.

We all have a big ego. And we’ll always run into the Ugly, but it doesn’t mean stop moving forward. The in-built motion in this song, inspires me to keep training.

2. Read The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway

I first read “The Sun Also Rises” when I was 22 at Broadway Cafe in Kansas City, MO.

Hemingway’s writing deflated all the fluff, and taught me to ask for brute honesty.

He placed cold simple words onto his experience, so that truth and complexity were forced to flex.

Hemingway also had his ego, and like Kanye, wanted to be the best. But he also was on a relentless search for the true good life.

And this was the spark for me. I didn’t have to search for a pulse reading Hemingway, his reckless search was the pulse, and I recognized it in my veins too.

3. Start At Zero

As an artist, it is tempting to polish and perfect all your existing work before going on to something else. Editing is not a good place to start creating.

When you start with nothing, a blank page, an empty garageband file, an unbrushed canvas, you are at zero. When you have nothing it forces you to go and get something. It’s scary at first, which is exactly why we want to edit instead of creating something; because at least we’ll have something.

Starting with nothing makes us feel empty, and we’ll do lots of things before feeling that. But it’s a tremendous opportunity if we can keep from running.

4. Read Seth Godin’s Blog

I wake up each morning with a new thought in my inbox from Seth Godin’s blog. His ideas usually require flipping the world upside down to understand. But that’s good news in a world that’s flipped wrong-side up.

Seth Godin takes me further in, always challenging me to make time for nuance and context, before completely ingesting my information. I read his blog for re-direction and for re-routing all my tendencies to chase the Big Easy.

Godin reminds me that deep inspiration comes in big slow waves, and that it’s worth investing in. Reading his blog inspires me to live well and be remarkable. He may give you a spark or two as well.

5. Submit Entries Each Week to the New Yorker Caption Contest

One of my personal entries to the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. It didn’t win.

One of my personal entries for the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest…it didn’t win.

The late Roger Ebert would always share the entries he submitted to the New Yorker Caption Contest every week on his blog. It always sparked lively and humorous discussions in his comment section, and was a blast to follow. Sometimes his submissions were brilliant and sometimes they weren’t. But he submitted them regardless, and we all still had lively discussions.

When I started submitting to the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest myself, it was surprisingly difficult to submit entries that I thought sub-par. But Roger gave me the courage to submit even the ones that were less poignant. Why? To get used to the idea that I won’t be brilliant every time, and to still show up anyways. This is the best exercise I know for dismantling the perfectionist in me. When Roger passed, I continued still. It’s my thank you to him, and my own way of honoring his impact on my life. It’s my favorite habit. Maybe it’ll be a tradition when I am old and look back.

6. Attend The Sundance Film Festival

Something special happens when tens of thousands of people from all around the world gather together in a remote town tucked away in the mountains to highlight and celebrate the human experience.

When I attended the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 for the first time, I had one word to describe it: Magical. It is capable of much more than a spark. For me it was an enlightenment.

During the festival, Park City is buzzing with inspiration. How can it not be, when filmmakers from all around the world gather to highlight the human story through film?

7. Try the Daily Crossword Puzzle

When I was a kid, I watched my Grandpa do the crossword puzzle everyday. I would find them scattered around his house with a few words missing here and there. Almost always I would find his ideas, or little drawings, scribbled in the margins. They represent the reason why this activity makes the list. The crossword puzzle gets the mind going.

Doing crossword puzzles as an adult, I see the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. I’ve had to save my fair share of crossword puzzle cut-outs, not for the words in the boxes, but the bursting ideas in the margins.

8. Start Listening And Feeling In Color

A co-writer once asked me before we had even fooled around with chords or lyrics, “What does it feel like? Our song?” At the time, it felt odd asking that kind of question before a song existed. But when we gave it a real shot, we started coming up with stuff we probably wouldn’t have from a traditional approach. I started seeing the logic in it.

Since then I’ve grown to love this type of thinking because it opens up a world of possibility. Asking the color of sounds or feelings or ideas is a good way to get the creative ball rolling. For me:

I Am The Walrus sounds dead-yellow.
England feels like grey-magic.
And Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange really does sound orange to me.

Try it. What colors do you hear and feel?

9. Avoid Black and White Answers

When everything fits nicely in neat little packaged ways, the world gets boring real quick.

Not accepting a black and white world makes everything come alive. Sometimes, I’ll catch myself tidying concepts using black-and-white/cut-and-dry thinking, it almost always leads to narrowness and misunderstanding.

Answers that stay black-and-white erode possibilities instead of expanding them. When you can pin down the world with a few basic concepts, it gets too small, and so does the meaning we can draw from it.

What Sparks Your Creativity?

I seriously love hearing what sparks creativity for others. It’s how a person like me has fun. So, offer a suggestion of your own in the side comments, and I’ll make them public for others to read and try as well!

This was a blast to write. If you had fun reading it, hit the ‘Recommend’ button below so others can get a spark or contribute their own suggestions for all of us!

Hit me up on Twitter or Google+. I like meeting people and checking out what they’re stirring up : )

Next Story — A 10 Question Political Quiz That Needs Your Answers
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A 10 Question Political Quiz That Needs Your Answers

Exploring politics on Medium while hoping to avoid death threats :)

This article contains a 10 question multiple choice political quiz that needs your answers. It’s an experiment, and I’m inviting the participation of every Medium reader who is interested in improving our systems of cooperation that we call government. If there is enough interest and participation, I’ll publish part II of the quiz next week. My intentions are straightforward- I want to see if Medium is a place where thoughtful debate and engagement about politics can happen.

Whether you consider yourself: Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, ‘Other’, Green Party, Voluntarist, or like the founders — despise party affiliations because they tend to monopolize the vote, or detest ideologies because they tend to turn into malware that destroys critical thinking… everyone is welcome to participate here!

Feel free to answer one, none, or all of the questions below.

To answer questions, simply highlight the answer you agree with.

To answer and then respond, just highlight your answer and click the ‘response’ button and type a response.

If your answer is ‘Other,’ highlight ‘Other,’ and then click the notes button and leave a response if you’d like…

And now! Without further ado…

Here are 10 multiple choice questions to explore politics on Medium (and try and figure out what the hell happened this election season):

1. Who are you voting for this election season?

A. Hillary Clinton
B. Donald Trump
C. Gary Johnson
D. Dr. Jill Stein
E. Other

2. What have politics become?

A. Like professional wrestling for those with disposable income
B. They’re better in the United States than anywhere else, and if Americans don’t like it, they can step up and help reform it
C. An Orwellian 2 minutes of hate where Democrats and Republicans get to release their anger, and in doing so, help ensure cooperation is near impossible
D. Important, but the majority of people don’t seem to take it seriously or participate until it’s too late
E. Other

3. What would you call our system of government in the United States?

A. Democracy
B. We used to have a republic, but the republic has become an empire
C. We have a representative democracy
D. Something worse than Communism or Orwell’s 1984 has happened in America
E. Other

4. Our government (systems of cooperation) won’t get better until…

A. We take more money from the top 1%!
B. They stop takin’ all our jobs!
C. A third party forces the Democrats and Republicans to evolve
D. We develop new technologies. For example, it might be new financial tools that show us who and what our dollars really support, and/or that help us analyze which corporations back which politicians.
E. Other

5. Is America and our political system controlled by…

A. Those with the top .01% of wealth
B. The ~14% of eligible voting Americans who voted in the primaries
C. The ~86% of the American population who are too disenfranchised to vote in the primaries
D. Anyone who has enough ‘will to power’ and skill at raising money can positively shape it
E. Other

6. What do you think when politicians make the majority of their money from speaking engagements, or donations to their libraries or foundations?

A. That’s not true, none of them do that
B. Their job is way harder than it looks, and they’re allowed to earn money
C. They’re just bribes!
D. Everything is fine
E. Other

7. Because of the horrible violence and costs of the Drug War, many states in the U.S. are beginning to allow adults the right to change their minds with different types of plants (like cannabis). Is this:

A. A move in the wrong direction
B. The beginning of the end of the Drug War
C. A false start, the freedom to change your mind with plants might not spread to every state
D. I think cannabis should be illegal for everyone
E. Other

8. What do you think of America?

A. We won the freedom lottery! #Muerica If you don’t like it, you can geeeet out!
B. I’m not a citizen, but I would love a chance to become one…
C. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best system of co-operation we have to become better, and create technologies that will help the rest of the world!
D. I hate it, because…
E. Other

9. Do you believe we have a one party system in the United States? In other words, do you feel the two dominant parties, which espouse different values, differ very little in their actions?

A. Yes
B. No
C. Yes, but…
D. No, but…
E. Other

10. Are you going to openly support Trump or Clinton?

A. I tried this online, and I received death threats
B. I don’t support either publically because I fear for my personal or economic safety
C. Yes, and I’m not scared!
D. No, because I’m voting for another candidate
E. Other

That’s it for this quiz! Hope you enjoyed this start of exploring politics and debate via Medium.

If you liked this article, be sure to click recommend to help others find it, or share on facebook or twitter!

I have a draft of the second quiz on standby; if there’s enough positive feedback on this article, I’ll publish the second quiz next week.

Next Story — How I Wrote A Successful Post On Medium
Currently Reading - How I Wrote A Successful Post On Medium

How I Wrote A Successful Post On Medium

Step by step, that’s the strategy I used.


Medium and “successful posts”

Although I find Medium to be a fantastic tool I rarely use it, and, when I do, not systematically. Nevertheless, one of my goals for 2016 is to use it more often and on a regular basis.

Every time I deal with a tool I am not so familiar with, I always follow this pattern:

Studying, Practicing, Pushing to the limits

After studying a few months, I made the first experiment and wrote this post:

The words “successful post” may sound like a scandal, since it can obviously mean anything or nothing at all. A post may well be considered successful according to the number of visits, shares, conversions and so on.

As you will see, every time I started with something new I set some measurable goals which I eventually achieved and defined a successful post accordingly.

Strategy

Let me begin by saying I used some growth hacking strategies. Since this expression is often misused, let me explain what I mean by that.

Growth hacking is not magic, nor a spell that solves your product’s problems.

It is a mindset. An approach. A philosophy.

Sean Ellis, the person who first used this word says:

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth

Every experiment I undertake is structured as follows:

  1. Setting some clear goals
  2. Planning a strategy to achieve them
  3. Have time to develop it

Goals

I set some not so pressing goals which could be achieved within a reasonable timeframe (1–2 weeks):

  • Reaching at least 200 recommends
  • Being featured in a big Medium publication
  • End up in Medium’s homepage or be featured in a tag page
  • Increase my followers

Choosing the type of post

There are two types of posts which work very well on Medium: lists and the what-I-learned type of things.

I opted for the first because, when I surf the net, I always collect many resources and, moreover, lists are easily assembled and written, especially if you are writing in a language which is not your mother tongue.

Moreover, there is a strategic factor, the possibility to “involve” many people into spreading the content.

Choosing the right tags

Tags are extremely important and powerful in Medium. Choosing the right tag at the right time makes a big difference.

I used this two-step strategy:

  1. Using tags with lesser competition at first
  2. After the visit peak, opting for only one strong tag

At first, I chose three tags that allowed me to hit the top ten and eventually chose the startup tag, which is often very used.

Sharing among groups

Let us not beat around the bush when it comes to sharing, being part of big groups is a big advantage.

Of course, I am not talking about spamming. Never spam!

More than 100 likes in a Linkedin group

Always share great contents and the group will promptly respond.

As for me, I shared a link in a dozen groups (Facebook and Linkedin) related to startup, marketing or product development topics.

Linkedin became the second referrer for the post

Asking to share the post

Remember when I said lists have a big strategic advantage? The advantage is being able to bring the post to the attention of all listed people.

Why? To have them share it, of course!

In my post I mentioned 50 websites where to recommend a product, then I contacted all of them and told about my post.

What was the outcome? More than 70% of them shared it.

Asking big publications to feature the post

By that time I had already reached the first 100 recommends on Medium and this was something I could use to approach publications.

I approached the two biggest ones in the tech and entrepreneurship fields and told them about my post.

Result? One ignored me and the other one replied.

The Mission (the name, at the time, was Life Learning) liked my post, they accepted me as a featured author and published it on the first page.

That was the turning point.

Right when daily visits were decreasing, this featured post made me reach another visibility peak and allowed me to focus on the long tail.

The long tail :)

Exploiting the long tail

A post, as any other product, can have great results when working on its long tail.

In the days following the featured post, I worked on the long tail to fully take advantage of this visibility. The most important things I did were:

  • Putting a link in all the other posts
    Medium gives little or no chance to customize, but if you work around it a little bit you can have some very interesting results.
    As for me, I took my previous three posts and added a read next line linking to the one I wanted to promote.
    My old posts do not make lots of visits, of course. Why, though, not taking advantage of them to direct traffic towards the most important one?
The “read next” hack
  • Adding other posts to the publication
    Once you become a featured author of a publication, you can propose any article you want.
    After adding a link to the main post in my previous writings, I submitted them to The Mission. Two were accepted and, as you can easily guess, led traffic to the main one as well!
  • Simplifying the social sharing
    Unfortunately, Medium does not emphasize social sharing as much as it could.
    I simplified the sharing procedure by manually adding two share buttons for both Twitter and Facebook at the end of the post, nothing more than two small images with a link attached.
The “social share” hack
  • Replying to the most important posts
    Medium treats comments as posts. During the following week, I made a few comments to some trending posts, pointing at my article.
    This is not spamming, just to be straight and clear!
    Answer only if your comment and the link relate to the topic and bring some added value to the conversation. If you follow this simple rule, you will be amazed by the results.
Replying Product Hunt

Conclusions

Results were outstanding. When I first wrote this post (February) the numbers were:

  • The post received more than 500 recommends.
  • I am now an author of one of the most followed tech publication on Medium.
  • I was featured in the startup tag page for a couple of days.
  • I had a 300% increase in followers.
An email from Medium

Indirect results are:

  • My future posts will start from a 140k reach from The Mission, not my usual 1100 followers.
  • I stopped working on this post, but I keep receiving visits, actually more than 200 a day. Before that, there were none.

I come to an end by confirming the concept I started with:

There are no magic formulas or spells that bring results at a blink of an eye

Most of the activities in this post can be successfully used in other fields or with other platforms. Others relate to Medium only.

What it takes are the right approach and a very well structured three-step plan: Goals, Strategy, Time.



Did you enjoy this post?
Recommend it, by clicking the hearth icon below.

Do you want to read more about startup marketing and public relations?
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Next Story — Submission Guidelines
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Submission Guidelines

For writers interested in submitting their story, pitch, or receiving a story assignment for The Mission

At The Mission, we strive to publish as many evergreen stories as possible. We aim to publish stories that will matter today, next year, and if we’re lucky… for decades. This pursuit forces us to have strict editorial standards for the submissions we accept. We receive a large number of inquiries and submissions, and will only consider those that:

  1. Align With Our Mission and Themes. Each story must align with our mission, and one or more of our themes. Our themes include: accelerated learning, startups, technology, health, the future of (insert any industry here), life stories and lessons.
  2. Tell a Story. Each submission must include or tell a story, no matter how brief. The total length of the stories/articles we’re looking to publish are around 1000–3000+ words. The types of stories/articles we’re looking to publish include: Op-Ed’s, journalism, narrative nonfiction, near-term speculative fiction, historical fiction, and we aim to include plenty of rich media (video, data, charts, even gifs) wherever it makes sense.
  3. Entertain and Educate on Emerging and Important Topics. Each story should try to tie into an important topic (whether it’s importance was lost in the past, now, or will be vital in the future). Our stories seek to explore, entertain, and spark conversations on rapidly emerging technologies and issues. We’re looking for strong opinions, weakly held.

The topics we’re especially interested in covering are:

Technology and Science- startups, software, hardware, apps, VR/AR/MR, the IOT, machine learning, engineering, robotics, nanotechnology, bio-engineering, material science, and breakthrough technologies that are helping abundance become ubiquitous

Explorations- personal challenges, tragedies, triumphs, and travels, emerging physical and mental trials, new sports, innovative types of entertainment and art, seafaring, spacefaring, along with asteroid identification and mining

Improving the Human Condition- rebuilding our crumbling culture, developing the developed world, optimizing ourselves, promoting empathy and love, health and longevity, personal mastery of our bodies, biome, neuroscience, helping politics and systems of cooperation evolve, and promoting voluntary evolution

Architecturally, Stylistically, and Visually Appealing. For the philosophy nerds out there, we want each of our stories to reach for the three tiered platonic cannon: the good, the true, and the beautiful. We’re looking for stories between 1000–3,000+ words which have been carefully structured, and edited for grammar, spelling, readability, and cohesiveness. We suggest that writers get help from places like: Hemingway App, Grammarly, and friends who can provide critical feedback. Please include any and all relevant pictures or gif’s that help tell the story (properly attributed), and use quotes, italics, and headers appropriately. Please use lists sparingly, and if you feel compelled to make a listicle… make it an epic one.

Paid and Unpaid Writing Overview

Paid writing- We pay writers for original stories that we assign, or for original pitches and stories that align with our themes, topics and editorial standards.

Unpaid writing- This option is well suited to those writers who are interested in writing with fewer editorial guidelines, or who want to promote their businesses, or want to repurpose their content onto as many sites as possible.

To Have Your Submission Considered, Please:

Fill out this form when you’d like to submit a pitch (for both paid or unpaid consideration) or to receive a story assignment about something we’ve been dying to see created and published. If your story or pitch has been accepted, we’ll be in touch.

We’re Looking Forward to Your Submission!

Next Story — 100 Stories on Medium in 100 Days: “Stop whining and start making”
Currently Reading - 100 Stories on Medium in 100 Days: “Stop whining and start making”

100 Stories on Medium in 100 Days: “Stop whining and start making”

I’ve always been a content creator. I‘ve been a news reporter, TV news anchor, and managed 100’s of journalists. I’ve written literally thousands of articles. I’ve created TV programs, linear channels, and a cable network. I launched websites and mobile apps and live streams before they were popular — when I had to do the coding myself.

So when @jeffjarvis recently replied to one of my comments and told me to stop whining and start making, I was pissed.

I was in one of those moods. I was whining, I suppose, about how the big media companies are swallowing up all the smaller ones and how it’s changing the news industry I love. I made the comment thinking about how you need scale in order to succeed these days when negotiating things like program acquisition and cable/satellite retransmission fees.

Jeff, of course, rattled off a handful of projects one person — with no budget — was able to create that are evolving journalism. After stewing about it for a while (and failing at writing that rebuttal that would be so clever it would knock him off his feet, something clever like “yeah, so?”), I finally decided to do something about it.

The Journey

I went on a journey to create. I freshened up two personal websites that had grown stale. I started blogging again. I started tweeting again (I had all but given that up). I cut back on Facebook and started addressing relevant topics on Medium and LinkedIn. I added content to YouTube. I launched two publications on Medium and conned another half-dozen Medium publications to add me as a Writer.

What I quickly realized was that although I had increased my volume of content generation, I hadn’t necessarily increased the quality. I realized that writing, like anything else, is a muscle that has to be exercised. While I could crank out content — that’s what I did for years when I rewrote wire stories for websites — producing content with substance that could impact people takes real work.

Goal: 100 Stories on Medium in 100 Days

So, I launched my “100 Stories on Medium in 100 Days” effort. My real purpose wasn’t to write 100 stories, but to write enough to get better at it.

The average NFL football game runs 3 hours and 12 minutes. If you cut out all the time in the dead time between plays, it amounts to 11 minutes of actual football.

That’s divided up between the offense, defense, and special teams.

Yet NFL teams practice six days a week to play that 11 minutes.

They practice plays and scenarios that may never be needed. They exercise and do drills over and over until it becomes muscle memory so, in that moment, they don’t have to stop and think about it. They’ve done it hundreds of times before, so they know what to do and how to do it.

When was the last time we practiced anything?

To improve my writing, I needed practice. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I have to admit it is a lot like exercise. It’s hard to get started, but once you do, you feel better about yourself.

It was easy to find topics that interested me. The subject matter wasn’t the hard part. What was hard was creating something totally original, or failing that, something I had enough experience to build upon that I could provide real substance, context, or advance an argument.

I also found how easy it is to fall down that rabbit hole. The internet opens up a world of research tools that let you go deep into just about anything you want. I could lose hours clicking on one more link with one more thought on something.

After all is said and done, here are the 5 things I’ve learned:

1. To be really good at anything takes practice and a commitment.

I may never by a truly great writer, but I’m better than I was 3 months ago.

2. Sometimes setting one goal actually leads you to another.

In setting out to write 100 articles in 100 days, I didn’t stop to think about the research I would need to do. I’ve become a much better researcher. I’ve become more thoughtful about my writing. When I started on this journey, I did a lot of analysis on industry research and found myself “re-packing” and summarizing it. I realized I needed to absorb the information and then see what I could add to it. If I couldn’t add some depth, context, or perspective, what’s the point? It’s led me to think more and write less.

3. Being curious about things can lead you to make discoveries about yourself.

I’ve always loved finding original stories, finding a fresh angle on a story, or creating something of substance that anyone else would care about. I’d forgotten how much I liked learning and being exposed to new ideas. I’ve awakened my curiosity about things. I’ve always felt like I was on top of things in my industry, but I found things I had never noticed before. It’s made me better at my job and much more aware.

4. It’s easy to have an opinion. Having insight is difficult.

What’s that saying?

“Opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one.”

Having an opinion that means something is hard. Creating an argument that can move people, make them think (or re-think), or provide some true insight, takes thought.

I’d never thought of myself as a whiner…or someone to sit on the sidelines. I worry constantly that the world, new technology, and new advances will pass me by. That’s why I try to be an early adopter of technology to stay current. It’s why I became Google AdWords certified and IAB digital sales certified even though my job didn’t call for it. It’s why at age 54, I went back to school to get my MBA in Business Administration — while continuing to work full-time. Most of my friends thought it was a little crazy to spend that money now since it wasn’t going to give me any real financial gain in the years left before retirement. All I could think of was I’m running a $15-million-dollar business and I’ve never had any formal business training.

So being called a whiner hurt.

5. Sometimes you need a kick in the butt to get started.
 So stop whining and start making!


This is story #100 in my quest for 100 stories on Medium in 100 Days (I did it in 80 days!). If you liked what you’ve read, please click that little heart (you know where it is) or follow me. Thanks for reading!


My Top 10 in no particular order

Here are my top 10 list of stories that I’ve written over the past 80 days — not necessarily the best performing stories, but the ones I like the best. Any — and all — feedback is appreciated.

Finally, the story that got the most visits, reads, and recommends:

While a lot of my stories appear in various publications across Medium (depending on topic), you can also check out my two publications: Digital Vault and SportsRaid

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