Aug 152014
Sometimes the best ideas take you right off the cliff. (Photo by Eric Pulsifer)

Sometimes the best ideas take you right off the cliff. (Photo by Eric Pulsifer)

Dad’s seriously into classical music. Not an expert to the point where he can tell you who-all played in a particular recording, but he knows what he likes. The radio in his living room is on classical all the time.

Some nights, though, the music gets a little … well, strange. Up-and-down-the-scale violin and cello, out-there violas and woodwinds, strings sounding like a chain saw in need of a tuneup. Somehow I can’t picture Dad sitting through that — his tastes are normally rather bland — but he enjoys it. Maybe it’s because he can’t hear so well.

Hey, I like a litle out-there stuff myself. I’ll have Albert Ayler or Pharoah Sanders blasting on my Bose stereo late at night, and it’s edgy invigorating stuff. Once when listening to the title track of John Coltrane’s Kulu Se Mama I tweeted something about how it sounded like someone ripping the head off a live chicken in a Santeria ceremony. But that track is one of my favorites.

In truth, I find that really crazy stuff is best when I’m writing fiction. The music and my mind both wander.

But this is the stuff that, at first listen, I wonder what in the world I’m getting myself into.

Much of the best art — in fact the best anything — meets a lot of that say-what? at first hearing or viewing. Seth Godin, a man I respect, suggests that I-don’t-get-it response is a good way to tell if that idea of yours is a good one.

If everybody “gets it,” the idea may be too bland. Too obvious. Maybe of no consequence whatsoever. In all probability no one will give a rip. Everyone likes it but no one’s all fired up about it, either to the positive or to the negative.

“The popular, obvious, guaranteed ideas have definitely been taken,” or are so small that they’re not really worth your blood and tears,” Godin says. True.

The popular, easily understandable stuff has already been done once. Maybe twice. Now if I was to put together an online microblogging service where you spit out your thoughts in 140 character bursts and we follow each other, big deal. Boring. Been done.

But in 2006, four guys — Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Noah Glass thought that same thing up. And obviously they were smoking some bad stuff there. Listen, I’m fairly up on the tech stuff and it still took me more than a year to figure the point behind Twitter — let alone learn how to use it. Now it’s the social media platform I go to before anything else.

If I’m throwing that book concept to my writing group or that song arrangement to my bandmates, maybe I should pay attention to the response. If everybody gets it right away, I need to spin and try again. I’m not saying anything new.


Aug 122014


One of the greatest. If you’re a musician, writer, entrepreneur or just like to get things done, this is the man to learn from.

Robin, thank you for showing how this creativity thing is done.

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