Two Types of Creativity & Coming Back To Ideas
Recognizing the role of time, iteration, and breaks in your creator pursuits
It’s Alina Sere, founder of Creator Habits, and it’s been a while. I could say that life got in the way of consistency, but this is a post about taking breaks, coming back to ideas, and the role that time plays in certain kinds of creativity. In other words, it’s not a post about succumbing to guilt over a lack of consistency 😋
A Creator Habits Background
Before I get there, I’m going to quickly (re)introduce this newsletter and myself, since as I said, it’s been a while. This newsletter is a space is to explore the habits of being a creator. Sometimes that means diving into the science of (and myths around) consistency, or idea generation, or even exploring intuition as a creator. Sometimes it’s about diving into the habits that help build a creator businesses - like leveraging community or building products or repurposing content. All of these pursuits are connected by the little actions, or habits of daily practice.
And who am I? Well, I’d call myself a reluctant creator, who’s more comfortable supporting creators than going front and center as a creator myself. That said, as much as I’m someone who’s very comfortable behind-the-scenes, I also see the value in sharing what I’m learning as I go. For many reasons, creators have been my focus for the last number of years.
And my mission is to support creators in making sure they’re able to achieve a sustainable living.
In the last few years, this has taken multiple forms. I’ve worked on helping creators streamline their production process (via podcasting collaboration software), I’ve worked on helping creators productize (with informational and digital products) and currently, I am working with creators to launch them in international markets (more about that next time). But between these creator-oriented pursuits I’ve taken breaks, rethought, and “come back” to the question of how best to support creators. Which is exactly why I want to explore the topic of “coming back” today.
Coming Back To Creative Pursuits or the Difference Between Conceptual & Experimental Innovators
Many years ago, I was listening to a podcast about creativity.1 Malcolm Gladwell was explaining the difference between a Bob Dylan kind of creativity and a Leonard Cohen creativity. Borrowing from economist David Galenson, he said, the former is the kind of creativity we associate with genius: explosive. It’s full of individuals who have specific ideas about what they want to communicate and articulate their ideas quickly. They often do their best work early in life. They are “conceptual innovators.” Dylan is one of these, so is Picasso. So is Herman Melville who writes Moby Dick in just 18 months (when he's 32).
Then there are others, “experimental innovators.” This kind of creativity is emergent. They don’t know where they’re going, they work by trial and error, they do endless drafts, they don’t work quickly. Leonard Cohen is one of these, as is Cezanne. So is Mark Twain who publishes Huck Finn when he's in his late 40s and it takes him forever (over 7 years) because he ends up obsessively writing and rewriting the ending. Many of these creators release something and then obsessively return and revise, as was also the case with Leonard Cohen’s famous song Hallelujah.
Startups, Creative Breaks, and Time
In startups and businesses, experimental innovation, or the idea of iteration is pretty much orthodoxy. But even as iteration and failure are purportedly celebrated (at least for certain types of founders), what’s less talked about is what it looks like to put things away for a moment. To give something a little rest before coming back and approaching it from a different perspective.
Even in the space of business, this does actually happen. In his recent book Build, Tony Fadell describes a decade of working and failing to create a commercially successful music player and personal computing device. The idea haunted him, and followed him from one well-funded startup, to a major corporation, to his own startup. When his startup ran out of money, he joined Apple to oversee the development of the IPod and subsequently IPhone — two of the most commercially successful devices known. But the common thread in this career was actually time.
He kept thinking about this problem, kept approaching it from different angles, put it away at points while he took on new jobs, but ultimately, he obsessively came back to this same personal computing device space.
Why Time Might Not Be As Unorthodox a Creator Strategy As You Think
It’s easy to consider these examples, whether in music, writing, or startups, and think: these pursuits weren’t ruled by the unwritten (and sometimes arcane) rules of algorithms.
Sure, coming back to a creative pursuit may allow you to explore it from different angles, but what if your ability to grow (and thereby sustain yourself as a creator) depends on volume and consistency?
And yet, there are countless examples of YouTube and other creators taking a break. Creator burnout is well-documented and many creators are recognizing the importance of pacing themselves for the long haul.
Others of us, and I count myself among them, are simply experimental innovators. Our boundaries of completion aren’t particularly neat. We may publish something (ahem, this newsletter), and then come back to it over and over again, making endless edits. We may start one company in the creator space, and then come back to another from a different angle. Does that mean our way of creating is doomed in today’s world?
Just like iteration is startup orthodoxy, consistent and voluminous publication is creator orthodoxy. And there’s evidence to say that it doesn’t always hold up.
Last month, at the VidSummit Conference, I listened to Youtube strategist Paddy Galloway bust the myth of consistent volume and publication. He shared the story of his client Max Fosh (1.41m Youtube subscribers). He told Fosh to spend more time creating quality content rather than feeding the Youtube engine with weak videos on a weekly basis. Fosh was freaked out to stop publishing. It was against everything he had learned. But after a 42 day hiatus (the longest he’d ever taken), Fosh posted the best performing video of his channel’s history. Taking a break from publishing, working and reworking one piece of content, being iterative rather than explosive. All of it paid off.
I’m not saying that kind of success is an inevitability. But, if you’re a creator, and your content never feels done, you’re revising over and over again over the course of time, and maybe you even step away for long spells, at least you can recognize that you’re not alone. This is just as valid an approach to that of the prolific, “just do it” style of conceptual innovators. And perhaps, it’s the kind of tendency you can embrace and flow with rather than fighting against.
How do you work? Are you emergent or conceptual? What are your strategies for managing your specific approach? Would love to hear from you ❤️❤️❤️
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“Hallelujah” Revisionist History Podcast. Season 1, Episode 7. https://www.pushkin.fm/podcasts/revisionist-history/hallelujah