May 302014

Sometimes the goofy ideas get things flowing.

Sometimes the goofy ideas get things flowing.

If the good ideas won’t come, I’ll take a crappy one instead. In fact, that may be the one that turns into sheer brilliance.

According to the Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC), it might make sense to come up with the worst idea possible. So says YEC member Brittany Hodak of ZinePak.

It seems Hodak makes this a practice during those sessions, and when minds get gummed up for some reason or other, she’ll take the dumb and dumber just to blow the brain gunk out.

(Brain gunk. That sounded squirrel-dung nutty when I slammed that phrase down. Now I really like it. Borrow it if you want.)

But the worst idea possible? Isn’t that counterproductive? Seems that way to me. When I plot out a novel or article or blog post, I want stuff that works. I don’t want to fritter my time away with a bunch of garbage. I can dream up enough screwball crap without making a special effort to do so, thank you.

Two thoughts on stupid

  • But here’s the thing. A lousy idea indicates someone is really thinking around here. Someone’s going out on a limb. Everyone else is silent, meaning everything’s copacetic or they left their brains in their other pants pockets. It’s better to ask the stupid questions than none at all, and better to dream up a total loser than to not do anything.
  • Now here’s Thing 2: When all is said and done, who says it’s a dumb idea anyway, and are there any guarantees it will stay dumb?

As far as who says, it’s usually me. In those rare moments when I have my filter on, I’ll shoot down any of my moments of a) cosmic brilliance or b) celestial stupidity without even feeling badly about it. A moment like that is scary anyway, and it needs killing.

Staying stupid? Let’s go down the list. At one time people — and the press — howled at the idea of putting a man on the moon. I mean that was one of those what-are-you-smoking ideas, too funny to even take seriously. Or the thought of me running a computer that’s smaller than my bedroom? Now, that one was uber-dumb.

Somebody had to dream up this junk in the first place.

In the early going a dumb idea will get a chuckle out of you.

Bounce it off someone else and he’ll think it’s a real hoot. You’ll brighten his day.

Throw it to a committee and — well, just try it sometimes. I double-dawg dare you.

In a group setting Hodak will have her staff dream up the biggest, dumbest ideas they can. Maybe even engage in a round of can-you-top-this. You think that one’s a real turkey, listen to this.

You know, that’s the idea that just may work.

# # #

Talk to me: Share some of your biggest, dumbest ideas. Did they work?

May 232014

Tick tock ... tick tock ...

Tick tock … tick tock …

I got into a discussion — okay, call it a debate — about the best motivation to push a project forward.

Put a date on it.

That’s the final leg of the so-called SMART goals that are all the rage these days. Depending on who you listen to, the other four parts may include (s)pecific, (m)easurable, (a)ttainable and (r)ealistic. It’s that fifth one that remains the same no matter who interprets the goals, so it must be important.

In the acrostic, T stands for time-sensitive. There’s a deadline attached.

I’m an old journalist and I know what blowing a deadline means. It means you’re fired. So it’s important stuff.

In the real world of creating and hopefully finishing things, a deadline means something else:

It means you’re serious.

It means you will start, and finish. Or at least you’ve improved the odds considerably.

You’ve made a date.

Michael Hyatt gets more projects and requests than any person can name. He’s a busy guy. But when he’s really serious about getting something done he puts it on his calendar. He’s adamant about not blowing off appointments.

For me, the simple act of putting a date on something became a revelation.

See, I’ve always had a gazillion projects going on.I’m busy, reasonably unfocused and admittedly manic enough to load my to-do lists until they break. So I’ll stuff things in there, give it a shake in the hope that everything will settle on shipping, then load it some more.

With my first fiction work, I decided to try something different. I experimented with deadlines.

I set one for completing the first draft, one for the second draft, another for the final draft and a fourth for shipping.

Nailed ‘em all. And this is a guy who can’t complete anything.

Until I put a date on something I’m just screwing around.

I’m a wanna-be with an amateur’s attitude.

Professionals take their work seriously. Pros also get stuff done.

If I look real hard at those twin statements, I just might find a connection.

I have another fiction project in the works, and am now finishing the second draft. That’s the one where I sort through the hastily-thrown-down first draft and ruthlessly kill those wonderful turns of phrase I fell in love with but they don’t move the story forward.

My self-imposed deadline for the second draft is May 31, and based on my progress I’m going to achieve that with time to spare. And that’s after taking several days off for a cross-country drive.

I’m gonna knock it out of the park.

If you’re a real killer in the getting-stuff-done world, you can double your fun by publicizing your deadline. Put it up on Facebook, Twitter, even on LinkedIn.

As I wrote this I decided to eat my own dog food here. I posted on Twitter:

creativedanger May 13, 6:26pm via HootSuite

On 2nd draft of my new novel Damage Control. Self-imposed deadline is May 31. I’m gonna nail it. #amwriting

That’s going public. What’s even more public is putting it up on LinkedIn, which goes out to a more professional network. These folks know me and are about something.

So I guess that means I’m kinda serious.


Talk to me: Do you impose deadlines? Do you publicize them? Please share.

May 152014

rest-1103330-mTom Morkes, my online doppleganger (only without the cool haircut), suggests a way to jump-start your creativity — have more adventures.

Now, Tom is on the same page as I. We’re both big on the just-start-something school of thought. He’s had his share of adventures himself. I guess jumping out of choppers and doing a hitch in Iraq does qualify as adventures.

Of course we have guys in the creative realm who can say the same thing. Hemingway had plenty of them. Journalist Ernie Pyle did his best-known work on the battlefield. George Plimpton faced very large Detroit Lions in an exhibition football game.

It makes sense to have these adventures. Supposedly they make you smarter. That’s what was discovered about German lab rats; the more things like slides and hidden doors in their habitat the more their brains developed. Adventures also help your memory, it seems.

But I discovered something else. A good adventure, even one that doesn’t come off as planned, can help you to sprout a pair. I think I wrote about this once. I got back from an Appalachian Trail hike and parked myself in my living room. Didn’t even unpack my backpack. It probably smelled up the joint. But I sat, legal pad in hand and wrote. The entire first draft of a manuscript, in fact. And I published the stupid thing; first thing I ever really completed and shipped.

See, that hike didn’t go so well. To put it bluntly, it was a gigantic cluster. One of my buddies got dehydrated and we had to shut things down early. But hey, I’m out there doing stuff instead of just talking about it. That just kind of spilled over into my other work, and I think the tone of this blog changed a bit right about then.

Now, none of this says anything about whether adventures indicate you’re smart. Withess Plimpton; going up against the Lions front four or going into the ring with boxer Archie Moore can’t be too brainy. Even with the adventures there are limits.

I’ve had my share of adventures. Many were good and became fodder for future writing. Others were borderline manic.

OK. Let’s be honest. Just say full-blown 24-karat manic. We’re talking about long-distance-moves-with-a-new-romantic-entanglement kind of manic. But you know what? Even those totally insane adventures had their upsides.

They did make me smarter. I think. Maybe even smart enough to not repeat that same mistake, though I couldn’t swear to that. But again, these manic adventures helped round me out and give me at least some settings and/or plot lines for fiction writing.

It’s probably not necessary to go on these extreme crash-test-dummy hey-y’all-watch-this adventures to reap some benefits. While changing routes to work may be too small a step and abruptly quitting work to herd sheep is too extreme, you can catch a nice middle somewhere. Whatever it is, it has to be a real break in your routine.

According to Morkes, these adventures have to involve you in a big way. They have to be yours, not someone else’s. You’re the lead character, the protagonist. Going off on someone else’s adventure doesn’t count.

These adventures have to be vivid enough that you can easily remember them. Is discovering a new coffee shop at that level? Maybe, if the espresso is absolutely phenomenal. That’s borderline. Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is something I’d remember.

But then, yeah, there’s always that nice middle.


Talk to me: Had any adventures lately? Please share.

Shameless plug: The deluxe edition of B.I.C. Cartel is out now. That one has some added (nonfiction) material that picks up some ideas from the story and unpacks them:

  • Does your mentor have to be alive?
  • What does The Muse look like with her gown torn off?

Grab the Kindle version or get the .pdf (on a pay-as-you-want) from Gumroad.

May 092014


That's me doodling on a large scale, whiteboards and all. Don’t let the boss catch … oh, I am the boss.

That’s me doodling on a large scale, whiteboards and all. Don’t let the boss catch … oh, I’m the boss.

Employers are funny. They say they want creativity in the workplace, but it’s usually nothing but lip service. Most don’t want to see the stuff that goes with creative thinking in the office or on company time.

That means no staring out the window, no screwing off, no bugging the other workers. Look busy. Productivity is how all things are measured in the workaday world, and all except the most visionary of owners/stockholders want to see the good productivity numbers right now.

Kate Taylor of laid out a few ideas for someone to exercise that creative streak, even someone who works for someone else and draws a regular paycheck.

  • She advocates shaking things up, breaking the routine. Now, the cool thing about this is it can be done at home. Even if it’s singing in the shower — she said that, not me — can be enough to move things around. I’ve heard other ideas like taking a different route to work or keeping a journal in the morning. Larger shake-ups can include hanging with a different bunch of people.
  • Embrace your weirdness: Uh, I have no idea what she’s talking about. Maybe it’s my thing for index cards or ability to tune out a conversation because my mind is galloping elsewhere? Hey, if you’re creative you’re probably weird anyway. I guess if you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em.
  • Doodling: Remember Sergio Aragones of Mad Magazine? He drew all those cartoons in the margins of almost every page, and those may have been the funniest thing about the publication. It seems Steve Jobs was quite the doodler, and of course Leonardo da Vinci. I have two 4×4 whiteboards I can go crazy on, plus those index cards. Don’t try it on that sales report at work, though. I mean, there are some limits.
  • Analyzing those ideas: Ever hear of “Creatalitics?” Neither have I until I read Taylor’s article. For me it’s taking that goofy idea I picked up on one of my walks and picking it apart. Is it doable? Is it worth doing? Inject a little bit of that logic in there; right brain gives way to left brain just like a relief pitcher in the seventh inning. Incorporate that step with a little doodling — like a mind map — to double your fun.
  • Goof off: This is another one of those don’t-try-it-at-work things, unless you can get away with that. But even if you’re working stupid long hours on the job you can chisel out a little time to do this at home. Act the fool. Paint something on your garage wall. Break out the Play-Doh.

If your employer decides exercising creative thinking and having fun on the job is important (I don’t mean company bowling tournaments which only happen off the clock), go for it. If not, pick your spots.


Talk to me: How does your employer handle your creative streak? Please share in the comments.