The Creative Failure that Led to Sigmund Freud’s Success

Why Even a Dead Page can have Purpose

Image: Sigmund Freud Collection, Library of Congress/Aggregate

In 1895, Sigmund Freud started Project for a Scientific Psychology, a monograph where he tried to explain all neuroses under a single framework. The ambition and expectation of the task brought trouble of equal magnitude. In Creating Minds, Howard Gardner writes that Freud “reveals his own despair at the magnitude of the task, the meager tools at his disposal, and the seemingly contradictory mission of laying bare what the psychic censors have withheld from introspection or consciousness.”

And yet, as Gardner highlights, Freud’s breakthrough work The Interpretation of Dreams can be seen as the successor to Project for a Scientific Psychology. The editorial note in Project for a Scientific Psychology agrees, “The immediate continuation of the ‘Project’ among Freud’s published writings is to be found in The Interpretation of Dreams.”

It was only after Freud finished Project for a Scientific Psychology, that he felt the doubts of it, “I no longer understand the state of mind in which I concocted the psychology,” he writes in a letter. He didn’t end up publishing Project, and it wouldn’t see the light of day until a decade after he passed away.

New creative work can always be built at the tail end of a creative failure. In Freud’s case, The Interpretation of Dreams wasn’t an immediate success either; only years after publishing did it cement itself as something that would change the fields of social science and establish the domain of psychology.

There are lots of reasons for us to do things that won’t work out well, especially because there’s a possibility that they lead to something that will. It’s possible, of course, that Freud could have come up with Interpretation without Project. But in practice, and in actuality, he made a monograph he couldn’t bring himself to publish, before he made the one that would cement his legacy. 

Writers sit on both sides of this, and I’m sure people in creative work of all sorts do as well. Mark Manson doesn’t force his writing when he knows it’s not good; why waste the time re-writing? But Danielle Steele advocates writing dead pages, knowing she’ll have something to work with after and that re-writing is easier than getting blocked.

Not every piece of work is meant to see the light of day; but maybe that wasn’t its purpose. The decision is yours to make.

As Stupid As This Sounds

Eddie Huang and David Chang dropped a podcast yesterday, and it was as good as I thought it would be. David’s voice kinda sounds like Joe Rogan’s, so it was almost like Eddie was back talking about TED and stuff.

There’s a moment in the first year of Eddie’s restaurant Baohaus, when Eddie personally delivered baos, and he recalls delivering to David in a tenement building on Grand street. David was already a prominent chef, and Eddie couldn’t believe David lived there.

“Nobody gets into this business to truly make money,” David says. “As stupid as that sounds.”

“No man, you do [it because] you love it,” says Eddie. “It’s also most of us that ended up in the restaurant business, it wasn’t our first choice…. I grew up in a restaurant, I saw how hard my dad worked, and I saw how lucky he had to get to get the run he had and then how quickly the rug was pulled out from under him. He had, maybe like a seven year run, where he broke bread and the rest of it was just bleeding.”

Two successful artists, running two successful businesses, that may or may not make it through this pandemic. It reminds me of author Robert Caro, who could’ve made a really handsome living writing shorter, faster, good books. Instead, he chose to spend decades researching Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson to make probably the best books in his time. He’s got the trophies to show for it too. He writes in his book, Working:

“It’s the research that takes the time—the research and whatever it is in myself that makes the research take so long, so very much longer than I had planned. Whatever it is that makes me do research the way I do, it’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s not something for which I can take the credit—or the blame.”

Despite being a man of many words, Robert can’t quite put his finger on it. Neither can I, but I’ve something similar. It’s certainly not for research, but for writing and business. I know a lot of market-driven entrepreneurs, who optimize purely for financial returns. “If it’s not ecommerce or SaaS, don’t talk to me.” Frankly, I honestly think that they have what Caro describes as well, and can’t optimize the other way around. They feel a need to chase the money.

But it’s got to be OK for that not to be the goal. We need more businesses, whose interests are tied more locally, to have thriving communities. More businesses that are genuinely mission-driven, and still see money just as oxygen. That’s not just geographic, but can count digitally too, where a lot of people congregate. We can’t let the unicorns and VCs hog entrepreneurship.

There almost has to be something greater, if not just for cognitive dissonance. The numbers don’t work otherwise. Eddie and David talk about how most restaurateurs make 10–12% profit margins, and how some chef-owners work 72 hour weeks to take home $60,000.

I’ve always thought, and still think, there’s a way to balance it out; to make money, and to stay true to the vision. To compromise on inessentials. To hedge bets. Outside of Baohaus, Eddie writes books, did a TV show, and now directed a movie. Outside of Momofuku, David did the very great Lucky Peach, he’s getting that Netflix bread, the podcast, and I don’t know what else. They don’t have portfolios; they have bodies of work. If you don’t know… you won’t know.

The freedom to make these choices on how to spend your time, the currency of life, could bring anxiety and tension. But that’s the cost of choice. It’s never a bad decision to think twice about stupid, easy, money. Your bank account might be poorer for it, but your life could be richer.

Doing Something Interesting Is the Best Way to Promote Yourself

I’ve advised a lot of companies, leaders, and friends on how to promote their work through writing. But as I was thinking about it, combing through Eddie Huang’s The Pop Chef archives and having seen one too many aphorisms on Twitter, I thank God for granting me this moment of clarity:

If you’re not a writer, writing about your work is the best way to promote yourself.

If you’re a writer, doing interesting things is the best way to promote yourself.

When the product you’re promoting is your own writing, the solution isn’t to write more. It’s to make your writing better. And the best, fastest, way to do that is to write about something interesting that you did. And one way to do THAT, is to ingest a ton of interesting stuff and refine your perspective.

I say that about writing, but it applies to who makes outside or full-time income in the “content creation” business.

That being said, it’s hard to doing interesting things during COVID-19. It’s not like I can get my George Plimpton on and go immersive, that’s never been my cup of tea anyway. Staying sane counts; it’s not interesting, but it is healthy. Pusha T told me, wealth don’t buy health. (Yeah!). For me, and every other writer out there, the job is to:

  • Read and share interesting, obscure, books
  • Listen to or launch interesting conversations
  • Explore interesting things on the internet

And to keep at it, everyday. It’s painful to try to come up with some new mind-blowing concept every day, but some of the keys:

Respond. Go read the best magazines in the world, that few people are reading, and pick the articles that resonate most with you and who you are. If you’re on a mission, signal boost things. Talk about why something is smart/stupid, somebody is right/wrong, and why you believe/don’t believe in something.

Remix. If you’re not writing about COVID-19 right now, then you’re doing something right, but you better be damn sure it’s a good story. Everybody’s trying to stay alive and sane, and boring stories have a harder time of surviving. Meme it up if you have to.

Document. Every time I get an idea, it gives me a burst of anxiety. I wish I was kidding, but I feel an impulse to write everything down. Before bed, before the shower, after the shower, during a HIIT workout video, whatever. I’ll remix Bezos, these are the acorns that will grow into a tree of a good idea.

Have fun. Fun is usually interesting, but it’s got to be original. I played the Super Nintendo pack on Switch this weekend, but is it worth a blog post? [Chris Tucker voice] Hell, no! Shouts to Pharrell, the Mr. Magoo of music.

Ghostwrite. If you don’t know how to say something in an interesting way, remember how your favourite writers write. I don’t go so far as to type the words out myself, but I know some people do just to feel what greatness feels like. Reading is enough for me.

Write in serials. Don’t be working on some masterpiece with no due date. If you are, make a version of it that you can ship today. (This article is an example of that.)

The Rise of Personal Infrastructure

The company person is dead; long live the entrepreneur. There are plenty of people who have written extensively about reasons this change is happening; the gig economy, neoliberalism, the winner-take-all system being just a few of many factors. I’ll leave it to the experts to talk about macroscopic changes. 

One very clear factor is, each individual will need greater support. This support can show up in many forms, including friends and family, but I think one thing each person is in control of can make a drastic impact: personal infrastructure. Examples of personal infrastructure:

  • A note-taking system to support your thinking, capture your experiences, and enable you to mine mental gold.
  • Relationships. This might include mastermind communities (e.g., Slack groups, email threads, webinars) where people learn from each other. Or just expanding your network, with requests for introductions. Managing these relationships with personal CRMs like Superphone and Clay. (This is what entrepreneur and recording artist Ryan Leslie means when he talks about making 30 phone calls per day.)
  • Equipment including hardware like 3D printers, or software like Norbert. This requires learning new tools and a basic understanding of UX/UI, as well as keeping up with the tools that come out and free alternatives.
  • Your own automations and apps, which can be built with code, or with no code (like Zapier, IFTTT). I call these small machines. The greater your understanding of building products, the stronger and more useful these small machines can be.

Your personal infrastructure should be as free as possible; that is to say, you should be able to control it and make most of the rules, and you should minimize its costs. That way, there’s no reason it can’t stay with you regardless of your income and very basic mobile phone or laptop. (3D printers can be portable.)

Most of us spend our time in our work; we’re laboring and toiling away to get our tasks done, either for ourselves, for our clients, or for our employers. But every hour we spend in our personal infrastructure will enable us to do things more efficiently or effectively; if we write, then our infrastructure enables us to put ideas together faster. If we need support, we can reach out to people. If we need to print an iPhone dongle, we can use a 3D printer. 

With each hour we spend working on our work — working on our personal infrastructure, we’re potentially saving dozens, hundreds, or thousands of hours on future labor. 

Ideally, some of this time and energy we rescue from our personal infrastructures — as well as the solutions we devise — can be re-allocated to producing value for other people, supporting them with their own personal infrastructures. Sometimes, this will be an exchange of value; for example, maybe people will pay you money for your product, or for your perspective on something. 

Rescuing time and energy means regaining control of it, and freedom. That’s ultimately the purpose of personal infrastructure, to expand your capabilities so that you are free to pursue your greater calling (obviously within the boundaries of the law, in case you had to ask).

When You Can’t Outspend, You Need to Outteach

Showing Your Process Is the Best Promotion

One tried-and-true formula to promoting your work requires you accomplish something, draw people’s interest (and sometimes money), by showing them how they can do the same thing. I’ll paraphrase what Kathy Sierra writes:

When you can’t outspend, you’ve got to outteach.

CEOs, creatives, and marketers all approach me with the million dollar question: But what can you talk about when you don’t have a story, or any accomplishments, yet?

1. Do something interesting and document it

My favourite example of this is Eddie Huang’s The Pop Chef. His restaurant, called Baohaus, was originally called the Pop Kitschen. Eddie writes in his first blog post, “So, the point of this blog is to document the opening of my new restaurant…. Leading up to the opening of my new restaurant, I’ll be showing you guys the recipes, the branding, the menu, etc. Should be dope, so stay tuned!”

Is starting a restaurant interesting? It’s alright for people who eat to live, but it’s meaningful to people who live to eat. If you’re like me, you stick around because Eddie can make anything interesting. The guy opens up a blog post, “Getting a Loan,” with a photo of a masked robber pointing a gun at a barely visible bank teller. He uses words like “entrepoorneurs.” It’s funny. He makes up his own reader questions, then he answers them. He hits back at ideas that he doesn’t agree with.

Here’s a very short list of examples, off the top of my head:

2. Study other people’s processes and show the parts that get your attention

My 12th grade english teacher always told me that the most important thing in the world was perspective. If she were inclined, she could’ve used that line to become a VP at McKinsey. The idea stuck with me — perspective really is important. The funniest part of this success strategy, is it doesn’t even have to be your success, as long as it’s your perspective.

There are all sorts of ways to use your perspective, but to tell a story with other examples. The 48 Laws of Power uses all historical examples. When I explored Slack’s content strategy, I spent 55–60 hours looking at old and up-to-date Slack sites to deconstruct how it worked. Andy Raskin looked at Elon Musk’s speech, and I’ve read that post like 10 times. Maria Popova open-sourced her notes, which led me to buy Figuring. (And now her blog is in the library of congress web archive.)

3. Listen, talk, and figure out your own counterintuitive truths

When a CEO approached me for editorial support, he told me about how he wanted to write something counterintuitive. That’s actually only half the battle; it needs to be a counterintuitive truth. This is one of those things that sound simple, but is actually quite difficult. 

Jason Fried and David Hanneimeier Hanson are probably the best at doing this. They’re outspoken, honest, and they think really clearly about what they’re actually writing. They say they only write when they have something to say, and I actually believe them.

The idea doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be simple. The aptly-named “Value add disease” is a good one that anyone who has made/received an unnecessary contribution could have written. 

There are a lot of other ways to teach people. And there will, forever, be knowledge that’s gated away. People gotta eat! But eventually, even that knowledge will become free as more people teach to build their own audiences. To try to win the attention lottery.

One day, it’s possible that this incentive will lead to knowledge being accessible for everyone. It’ll just be a matter of organizing all of it and curating it.

How to Win the Social Media Lottery

Angellist founder Naval Ravikant writes, “Every single tweet costs nothing and has the potential to reach the entire world.

“It’s the best lottery ever made.”

It’s difficult to predict what will be a hit or not, and luck is a factor, so the metaphor of a lottery works. Artist Pharell Williams calls himself “the Mr. Magoo of music;” despite making so many hits, he still doesn’t know why they work. But of course, Pharrell knows that music isn’t entirely a lottery. And Naval knows that Twitter isn’t entirely a lottery. It’s a combination of luck and skill. Here are some conditions and skills that can set you up win the social media lottery:

Leading Thinkers are Memelords

One person replies to Naval, “But one where a winner keeps winning. Case in point, you.” Naval replies, “I’m playing the same lottery as you. The only difference is that I’ve figured out one of the winning numbers in advance.”

The key to winning the lottery is people paying attention to you. People with an audience, relationships, and reputation get to win the lottery more often because they scratch fewer numbers; people are already interested in them. To build on Naval’s analogy, some people, like Kanye West or Banksy, have figured basically all but one of the winning numbers; they can win with very little effort. In fact, other people tell stories about them, in the hopes of winning the lottery, so they can win with none at all. 

That’s because unlike the lottery, not each ticket is made equally. UC Davis distinguished professor Dean Keith Simonton, who has studied creative genius for decades, has a concept he calls the initial creative potential of an idea. He’s turned it into a formula, based on originality, utility, and surprise

Most social media posts barely qualify as lottery tickets. In fact, they have virtually no chance at going viral. They’re not original, useful, or surprising. 

In our case, some people have developed a good sense of the initial creative potential of their ideas, and what people like, and so just seem to win the lottery more and more often. Others clearly have a skill for this; modern day memelords, like Tim Ferriss and Lil’ Nas X, come to mind. They constantly cultivate a practice of making memes or “ideaviruses,” and an infrastructure and community that enables that as well. They then build those memes into their actual books and songs, and their promotional content, to make them more shareable.

We’ve now stretched beyond the limits of the lottery metaphor. When it comes to anything related to creativity, success is a moving target. Figuring out a “formula” only works at the highest, abstract, level. On Twitter, the word constraint, the voice and tone, and all of that matter. 

One strategy that people naturally follow is to chase the moving target; to remix memes, make their own trends, etc. (That’s why everyone is talking about the coronavirus right now.) This works sometimes, but also detracts from the disproportionate success that comes with originality. 

Experiment and Learn from the Feedback

To me, social platforms are not only lotteries; they are also laboratories. Writer David Perell says, “I’m writing a book about writing, one sentence at a time — right here on Twitter.” I feel the same way about Medium; I’m writing a book about creativity, one article at a time, with a chance to learn which combinations of ideas and phrases resonate with people. 

Rather than throw everything into a book proposal, the “waterfall” way of approaching writing, I’ve taken a more agile approach to my writing. Constant, small, releases. I’m clearly still experimenting with frequency — at minimum once a week, often more. I figure, if Facebook can push changes to their product every day, so can I.

From a publishing perspective, publishing the way Charles Dickens did sounds really useful to me. (A Tale of Two Cities first appeared in 31 issues of All the Year Round magazine.) Keeping track of information is more important too, because it potentially provides the infrastructure to make more tickets, faster. It also means developing a sense of how to get better lottery tickets, through stronger ideas and communication. 

That’s the theory, anyway. This is hard work in practice. For example, the more time I spend writing this article, the stronger I feel about this idea. I realize this iteration of it is very far from perfect. But it’s also just the first one; a few hours ago, it was a hunch. I plan on writing some notes down, and letting time and my unconscious brain work its magic. 

It’s A Numbers Game*

*But, again, not every ticket is made equal. Buying a lottery ticket is easy, because each one has the same chance of winning. Making a lottery ticket in the social lottery is much more difficult. 

The main challenge with creative work is, like entrepreneurship, it’s so inherently personal. Failing at creative work can also feel like failing as a person. Making shitty creative work can feel like being a shitty person. And watching other people succeed — they always seem to be succeeding — is discouraging. 

In The Luck Factor, Richard Wiseman briefly writes about three people who win a ton of prizes (TVs, holidays, etc.) from competitions. He writes, “All three of them were well aware that their lucky winning ways are, in reality, due to the large number of competitions they enter.” Some of them do up to fifty per week. But entering those competitions are easy; the prospect of the pains of creative work deters most people from continuing, or even starting.

While creative work requires us putting ourselves into it, I think succeeding requires removing ourselves from the outcome. It’s difficult to keep this in mind when it also is how we put food on the table, but it’s important. Make getting those tickets as fun as possible. Simonton writes in The Genius Checklist about figuring out what’s acceptable, and trying to make more of those; not trying to make perfect work, but making more acceptable work.

On top of that, real life happens. Some days, you’ll make five lottery tickets; other days, just one. On the bad days, you just need to keep making one. And no matter how close you get to winning the lottery, or even if you win it once, you might win just by playing the odds. If you’re not happy abiding by luck or those results, then you need to notice and play the deeper levels of the game, what some call the metagame. I’m barely scratching the surface here; another article, for another time

Again, the lottery metaphor again reaches its limit here. Not each creative idea — Tweet, Medium article, YouTube video, etc. — has the same chance of winning the lottery. And skill, cumulative advantages like followers, timing, etc. all can be huge factors. 

The Social Media Lottery Is Actually the Attention Lottery

The most important part is this “social media lottery” concept expands far beyond social media; it’s about catching people’s attention at scale. Don’t limit yourself to studying social media. The strongest example that comes to mind is 50 Cent’s mixtapes, which secured him a second record deal after he got dropped from his label. It generated much-needed buzz, way before social media was around. Or if you want to go really old school, take a look at the Hedgehog and the Fox.

There are ways to improve your odds at winning this lottery. It’s worth understanding them. Packaging ideas, experimenting with them, and playing the odds are just a small sliver of the actions and mindsets it takes. Keep your eyes open; every day gives you 24 hours a chance to learn and participate.

Rethinking Content Marketing Incentives

“To make marketing that doesn’t suck.”

I can’t tell if this phrase had imprinted itself into my mind, or if it was an original thought — if there is such a thing — when I was thinking about the future of my business. Then again, this sort of thing is what content marketers do best. We tell ourselves that we’re not doing marketing, that we’re better than “traditional” kinds of marketing. As if, “to make marketing that doesn’t suck” was an aspirational goal. Well, in a field that most people hate, at least it’s an honest one. 

The opening phrase comes up often in this article, where the journalist portrays a struggling writer investigating a content marketing conference. The truth is, it’s much easier to become a content marketer than a journalist. You can provide for yourself. You don’t have to write three articles a day at some content farm. I had the pleasure of doing that for a few months as a staff writer, and my writing literally turned into crap. Plus, I’m glad I didn’t turn into a self-righteous struggling writer, like the author portrays in this fun article where he investigates a content marketing conference. An excerpt:

“The S.W. considers that the void Handley speaks of is in part the result of journalism’s collapse. In the absence of stories told by humans to communicate about being human, companies tell people stories about being consumers. Readers consume the information made available to them in this way because they are unable to turn off the human impulse to understand the world.”

That’s a gut punch. And to be fair, if he were in content marketing (I wouldn’t wish it upon him), he might’ve gone into all of the garbage out there that’s written for search algorithms, or to promote products in the most obvious ways. But at the end of the day, I haven’t seen a content marketing piece read like Bret, Unbroken. (Then again, to be fair, I haven’t seen any journalist write an article like Bret, Unbroken, in a while.) There’s merit to aiming lower.

It starts with exploring the possibility of aligning content marketing incentives with the greater good of the internet. We’re figuring it out. There are content marketing publications that do really good work, because content marketing presents some advantages:

1. Allocate big budgets to cover untold stories

This is something that Glitch’s Glimmer and WeTransfer’s WePresent excel at. They talk to actual journalists and commission them to do actual investigations and stories. Check out this piece. Or this piece.

2. Promote a mission that benefits a larger audience

There are companies that build brand images (e.g., cute mascots like the Telus animals, etc.), and then there are companies that are on actual missions. Patagonia is on a mission — their brand reflects that. Kickstarter is on a mission, The Creative Independent reflects that.

I guess it’s really up to people to decide if a mission is improving the world vs. just selling more stuff. I still probably wouldn’t buy Patagonia clothes (this video killed it for me), but I bought the book and I’d pay for more. I have some of the catalogs at home. I want to see the environment on our home planet survive and thrive. I think it’d be better for everyone if it did.

Similarly, everyone “can” use Kickstarter, and it’s at least another alternative to funding projects. Granted, you can argue about how “accessible” it really is to people, but it offers another option, and I think that’s good. The Creative Independent is all about promoting creativity and art, and I think the Internet is a much better place for that.

Lastly, think about Stripe increasing the GDP of the Internet, and Shopify teaching ecommerce. Teaching/promoting entrepreneurship. Sure, one can argue that the current system has forced a lot of people to become entrepreneurs. I haven’t done the work to have an opinion on that, but my point is, give me an alternative. Until you do that, whether you’re going to become an entrepreneur either by choice or by necessity, you might as well do it well.

3. Teach people how to get better at their work

This is basically making better trade publications. It’s OK — improving work means improving 40+ hours of your life, which is nice — but not everyone actually cares about getting better at their work. For many it’s just their job. So, I get it.

I hope that in the future, we in the business of content marketing conceive of and develop a greater belief in more of these types of incentives. The business metrics obviously need to align here, but I think that any person that understands brands also understands how the Internet works. People don’t care where the content comes from, as long as it’s high quality, and the bar for quality sinks lower every day.

Making good content will make people believe you also take making your product or service seriously. And that will draw customers and team members. It can be as simple as proving that, “making case studies” for it to convince the marketing managers, brand managers, etc. Maybe I’m being optimistic here — I know the machine has crushed many an aspiring editor’s dream.

It’s time we all tried to step up from trying “to make marketing that doesn’t suck” to something more audacious. After all, the best way to make your business and brand better is to make the Internet better for someone.

Writing Is Building, Too

Reading Marc Andreessen’s recent article really brought me back. In 2013, when I interviewed eight entrepreneurs for a magazine I was making, this phrase came up almost every time:

“Learn to build stuff.”

My first thought was that writers, like me, build articles, essays, and blog posts. Sometimes we build entire blogs. At other times, we build books. We could build brochures, or technical manuals. I could go on with other formats, but I basically substituted “write,” with “build,” and was stuck thinking about tangible outputs.

Software developers build apps and infrastructure, designers build research and prototypes, marketers build ads, etc. “World building” is a thing, too; writers are capable of building imagined realities, either in an imaginary world or into the physical world.

But all of that is like saying a manager builds meetings; but, meetings have a bunch of important stuff that we don’t appreciate. Information gathering. Reminding people to do stuff (or forcing them to make progress before the meeting). Persuading. Unblocking.

Writers also can produce words in all these formats, but it’s important to consider: What do those actually do? What can writers build in this time, and after it, to help move the world forward?

*Note: When I say “writer,” I just mean somebody who writes. You don’t have to be a full-time writer; in fact, most of the people I talk about here are not full-time writers. Neither am I.*

One could, easily, spend the rest of their life pondering this. Here’s what I came up with so far:


Writers can identify, package, and spread high-quality information. For example, writers can connect new dots, like those entrepreneurs did for me. They can talk to experts for interviews to signal boost expert opinions. They can research, understand, and promote well-researched and validated facts, in a timely way. They can read analytically and syntopically, and actually develop a deep grasp of something and communicate it well.

They are free of the curse of knowledge; they understand what normal people don’t know, and can talk with them and keep their attention. They are good communicators. They can build a shared understanding. They can also reveal complexities that others haven’t considered. They can show everyday people how to do stuff, like reheating masks, to improve their lives. Writers can also build tools like this one, led by Erin Kissane and Alexis Madrigal.


Writers can build cultures. Noah Brier talks about this with Superorganizers, how his new team works heavily in Notion to document and maintain their processes. Writers can work with internal cultures, but external ones too. They can persuade and accelerate cultural, technical, and mental progression.

Writers can be powerful. Manifestos have changed peoples’ lives. Writers can inspire and promote people who are doing their part. At times, writing provokes or repulses, to spark thought and achieve a similar effect as inspiration. I’ll invoke Pac: “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”

Writing is also unique because of how fast it can be done. Words can be strung together quickly, thoughtfully, and deliberately to respond to the ocean of emotions that we feel en masse. Words are also inexpensive; when Stripe’s CEO talks about Stripe Press: “But we see our core business as building tools and infrastructure that help grow the online economy. (“Increase the GDP of the internet.”) When we think about that problem, we see that one of the main limits on Stripe’s growth is the number of successful startups in the world. If we can cheaply help increase that number, it makes a lot of business sense for us to do so.”


Writers can cultivate calm in times of chaos. Similar to how farmers don’t “build” their fields, writers don’t build emotions. Writers can cultivate them, and calm them down. Right now, due to page view incentives, we see the opposite — information spreading fear, hate, division. Sometimes, even advertisements are promoted as articles.

But we can still entertain, we can express, and we can bring people together. Late night shows used to set themselves apart with set design; now, because even the biggest hosts are recording from home, we’re all conditioned to “lo-fi video,” where everybody’s background looks more or less like a vloggers. And the extra time has enabled people like John Krasinski to launch Some Good News from his home to great fanfare.

Like other forms of building, we’ve taken words for granted. Some of the reasons for this are the intangible nature of the results of words, the variation in quality, and the increased access. Thanks to modern education, words are by nature accessible for everyone to use and the most affordable ingredient to build with. All you need is a pen, and paper. Borrow a laptop or a phone to take a picture. (Drawing and sketching are the same way.) It has no longer become “literature” or “high art”; basically, words have a branding problem.

Words make up both the lowest forms and highest forms of communication — dances, buildings, and visual art all require using writing and words, even if only for titles and artist statements, or to get resources/infrastructure for the art like pitching, proposals, etc., or for meetings, etc. Words are the great unifier between different types of people.

There is a time and place for writers to buy 3D printers. To sew masks. To plant their own food.

But there is also a time and place for writers to inspire, inform, and soothe others to pick their tools up.

And a time to collect those results and show them, like the Slack Wall of Love did back in the day.

Building is an action. It’s also a mindset. Remember, even when Marc Andreessen urged us to build, he did not build a factory himself to prove his point. He built an essay.

How to Be More Creative


Image: Alice Dietrich/Unsplash

Long before the World Economic Forum and LinkedIn called it out as one of the most important skills, people have wanted — needed — to be more creative. The problems we face today are more challenging, complex, and ever-changing. Creativity itself is also challenging, because there’s a mystique to it; it’s a force that has only recently, in past decades, come into scientific and practical analysis.

You’re reading this article because you want to be more creative. You want to have more ideas that are original, useful, and surprising; or maybe you want your actions, ideas, and products to change your existing field of work, or transform your field of work into a new one. Or, maybe you just want to get better at your job, or to make better work.

Everyone experiences the creative process a little bit differently, but creative actions share similar patterns and mindsets. Here are some ways you can deliberately apply them to be more creative:

Take Action Right Away

First thoughts come with what author Natalie Goldberg calls “tremendous energy.” “When you get an idea, don’t hold it,” author Paolo Belardi recalls his master architect Vittorio de Feo saying to him. Not taking action on an idea right after you get it risks destroying the idea’s vitality. Instead, you want to “Sketch the idea immediately; draw impulsively, and transcribe unconscious energy from the brain to the paper by doing so.”

If you’re an architect and get an idea for a concept, sketch it out on pen and paper as soon as you can. If you’re a writer, write the idea down — whether it’s a headline, a concept for an article, or just the phrase that came to your mind. If you’re a musician, record yourself humming a riff, lick, or loop that popped in your head. There’s no need to make it extravagant; make it as simple as possible to jog your memory of the work.

Remember, there’s really no right way to record the first thought. The main goal is to get out of your head, and not to give your mind an opportunity to filter, edit, or analyze the idea.

And of course, just because you’re taking action right away, does not mean you need to release the work right away. You just want to complete your task as soon as you can. By taking action right away you don’t overthink the expression of the idea.

Even if the draft is turning out poorly or rough, just get through making a simple first version of it. You can always improve, or fill in the blanks later. If you feel tormented, don’t worry about making the best version of it, or even a better one yet. Just make what you can. When you have more time, energy, and capital, later on you can pick the idea back up and fill it in more. A lot of times, you may realize the idea wasn’t such a good one, or it turned out better than you thought. Taking action is the only real way you can find things out for yourself. Be decisive, and err on the side of action.

Review Your Ideas

Our memories are fickle things; writing an idea down somewhere is the first step. But the second, equally crucial, step to this idea is actually making time to review the idea, to jog your memory and resurrect it. Better yet, you’ll have allowed time to let the idea marinate, and for your unconscious to sit with the idea and expand on it.

My favorite example is author Sarah Cooper finding an 8-year old notebook where she had scribbled, “How to look smart in meetings.” She picked the idea up and wrote 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings at Medium, which led to her first book deal.

If you work with a team or at a company, good things can also happen when you review other people’s ideas in a company’s institutional memory. It’s worth spending time and energy seeking these ideas out — through meetings, to gather tribal information, or your own investigations — and to actually think about them.

Think Smaller, and Smaller Again

Setting deadlines and making plans is difficult; a lot of times, these plans are just arbitrary guesses. And sometimes, you don’t make enough time to meet the deadline, or realize the milestone you set was a lot more difficult. If you’re going to stick to your deadlines, then you want to make the scope of the project flexible.

That means, you need to figure out what the most valuable part of your idea is, and focus on that. Leave the rest of it for another day, and just try to make the deadline. For example, if you’re making a standup video, the value of the video is in the jokes — not necessarily the quality of the shot or the set. So, focus on writing and delivering the jokes really well, and make a lo-fi version of what you wished your video could be. (Comedian Hasan Minhaj did this with his show Patriot Act.)

In their book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy At Work, Basecamp founders David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried name this exercise “the scope hammer,” deliberately invoking the image of a hammer breaking a project up into smaller, more feasible, pieces.

The idea is to lower the “fidelity” of the thing you’re trying to do and being okay with that. Developer and agile coach Henrik Kniberg writes about this method: make the earliest versions of your work usable, testable, and viewable. To clumsily paraphrase, if you were building a vehicle to go somewhere far away, build a skateboard, then a bike, then a car; not a steering wheel, an engine, and then a car.

Makerbot founder Bre Pettis writes in the Done Manifesto, “Done is the engine of more.” Done provides you with hope, motivation, and the resilience you need to keep going. “Action is hope,” is a great quote attributed to the author Ray Bradbury.

Make A Bit of Progress Every Day

Doing something every day has many more benefits than doing something just once a week or once a month. For starters, if you work on something once a week, you’ll need to spend the first bit of that time jogging your memory on where you left off.

The psychological term for this is “accessibility.” I previously wrote about psychologist Timothy D. Wilson’s definition from his book Strangers to Ourselves, “a somewhat technical psychological term that refers to the activation potential of information in memory. When information is high in activation potential it is ‘energized’ and ready to be used; when it is low in activation potential it is unlikely to be used to select and interpret information in one’s environment.”

When you do something every day, it becomes more accessible throughout the rest of your day. You may find people inadvertently providing answers through conversations, or new potential ideas popping up in times you’re not actually working on the project.

This fits in hand in hand with the previous point; when you make tasks and projects smaller, it’s possible to complete in a single day. Even if you take on larger projects that aren’t possible to complete in a single day, breaking them up with milestones can enable you to make progress and eventually bring it to life.

Make Acceptable Work, Not Perfect Work

Since creative “success” can often be a moving target, subject to torrents of trends, personalities, and tastes, releasing more creative work provides you with more chances to hit the target.

That doesn’t mean you can just make work and release it thoughtlessly. However, it does mean that you can define what acceptable work means to you, and to make more of it; not necessarily to maximize and try to make each piece of work perfect.

Doing this enables you to spread your effort through different types of work and combinations of ideas. In a sense, it maximizes the surface area for luck. UC Davis distinguished professor Dean Keith Simonton, who has spent decades studying creative geniuses, writes in The Genius Checklist that this enables you to stay competitive in the game of chance.

Aiming for acceptable, rather than constantly trying to tweak for perfect, also means that you do gain more momentum. (See “Think Smaller, and Smaller Again.”)

When you make more work, you improve your quality as well. You have more combinations to choose from, you stay more motivated, and as people consume your work and start to appreciate your releases, they become more willing to provide resources to enable you to make more work. This type of cumulative advantage is known in the science community as the Matthew Effect.

Build Assets and Equipment

If we imagined that creative work took place in a factory, then the obvious thing to consider would be assets and equipment. The goal of investing in these tools is to make creative work easier for yourself. For example, music producers can purchase loops and sound effects, and 3d illustrators literally can start their work with assets. Journalists learn templates and formats for how to write their articles more quickly.

My strongest recent example is the Zettakelstein note system, which I learned from How to Take Smart Notes; I spend maybe an hour a day maintaining and adding to it, but it makes my ideation and writing processes throughout the rest of the week much easier; the quotes and ideas are so accessible (see “Make A Bit of Progress Every Day”).

Another tool I picked along the way was inspectional reading, a decades-old method of skimming through books to decide if it’s worth reading. The process should also acquaint me with the book’s best ideas.

You can also get better with software that can make your process faster; for example, I found transcribing my voice enables me to get my thoughts together more quickly.

Whatever You’re Doing, Try the Opposite

One of author Tim Ferriss’s favorite questions is, “What if I did the opposite?

The idea is simple, but the possibilities for applications are infinite. For example, if you write in the mornings, try writing at night. If you don’t promote any of your writing, try starting. If you always write your introductions first, start with the middle or the end. If you spend 5 minutes on your headlines, try 50.

You can also look to what everyone else is doing for inspiration; if they’re writing 3 posts per day, try writing 30 per day. Or, try writing 3 per week. If everyone else is obsessed with computers, try writing or drawing by hand. If you’re right handed, try using your left hand.

Work with Your Constraints, Not Against Them

Everybody has reasons to believe that what they’re trying to do is difficult, or even impossible. Because we’re all people, we all face similar challenges — time, money, and energy being just a few of the possibilities. The way to make things is to either work around the constraints or to work through them.

For example, art director Zak Klauck designed a poster based on a pre-selected word or phrase in under 60 seconds, every day for 100 days. You can do something similar if you only have 60 seconds to spare; spend one day preparing, and then be creative for the next week.

To invoke the spirit of actor, producer, and writer Tina Fey, say, “Yes, and,” to your constraint. You’ll be surprised at what you can make happen; and remember, something is usually better than nothing. And remember that people, even with infinite resources, can’t make things the way they want — the constraint is, in fact, the thing that provides an anchor and structure for creative work.

Change Your Physical Environment

Even though Jonas Salk spent thousands of hours in his 40 by 40 feet windowless basement laboratory at the Pittsburgh Municipal Hospital, his discovery of a polio vaccine took place during his visit to the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi in Italy. He would claim this was not a mere coincidence, and believe for the rest of his life that the design of the environment helped clear his obstructed mind and inspire his solution.

A change in scenery can be a powerful trigger for creativity. Houses cultivate collaboration, isolated spaces enable focus, and travelling to new places sparks creativity.

There are also different variables that you can tweak, even if you’re stuck in the same place. You can play different music, or change the layout of the room. (See “Work with Your Constraints, Not Against Them.”)

Loosen Up to Tap Into Your Unconscious Mind

We tend to think that by trying harder, the outcome of whatever we’re doing will turn out better. That’s not always the case; in creativity, sometimes things get better when you try less and let go of the outcome.

One reason for this is because the conscious effort gets in the way of what the unconscious part of mind already knows how to do. As coach W. Timothy Gallwey writes in The Inner Game of Tennis, “If your body knows how to hit a forehand, then just let it happen; if it doesn’t, then let it learn.”

In his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman noticed a “funny, semi-Picasso like strength” in his work when he was instructed to draw without looking at the paper. His theory on why it worked out:

“The reason I felt good about that drawing was, I knew it was impossible to draw well that way, and therefore it didn’t have to be good — and that’s really what the loosening up was all about. I had thought that ‘loosen up’ meant ‘make sloppy drawings,’ but it really meant to relax and not worry about how the drawing is going to come out.”

Rather than constantly forcing and demanding yourself to make an effort, let go and allow the creativity to come. Once you finish your work for the day, you’re free to set it aside and revisit it later. Scope a project down (see “Think Smaller, and Smaller Again”) to make things easier on yourself.

Think with Your Hands

If I were a better, I’d wager you spend at least 2–3 hours per day typing on your keyboard and moving a mouse or touchpad. But, those are only two of the things our hands can do, and they don’t nearly tap into our capabilities. We do our best thinking not just when we use our minds, but when we allow our mind to express itself through our hands.

As Immanuel Kant wrote, “The hand is the window on to the mind.” The instruments you use, and the ways you use them, can influence how the work turns out. For example, author Natalie Goldberg writes in Writing Down the Bones, “I have found that when I am writing something emotional, I must write it the first time directly with hand on paper. Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart. Yet, when I tell stories, I go straight to the typewriter.”

Psychologists John R. Hayes and Virginia Berniger conducted a study in which they learned children could generate significantly more ideas by handwriting than by typing. Similarly, authors Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer published a study in Psychological Science, where they write, “…even when allowed to review notes after a week’s delay, participants who had taken notes with laptops performed worse on tests of both factual content and conceptual understanding, relative to participants who had taken notes longhand.

In David Sax’s book The Revenge of Analog, Landor General Manager Antonio Marazza says that after a failed attempt at making their team go digital, they bet big on analog. Sax writes, “… Landor’s Milan office gave all their designers Moleskine notebooks, and banned the use of Photoshop during the first week’s work on a project. The idea was to let their initial ideas freely blossom on paper, without the inherent bias of the software, before transferring them to the computer later for fine-tuning. It was so successful, this policy remains in place today.”

Compete with Nothing

While social media connects us, it also makes it easy for us to compare ourselves with each other. Unfortunately, the comparison is usually rigged — at the end, the viewer loses. In his TED talk, actor Joseph Gordon Levitt talks about how craving attention makes him less creative. And producer Rick Rubin talks to Tim Ferriss about how competition and caring what other people think get in the way of artists producing their best work.

One solution to this is to compete only with yourself. Don’t worry about other people’s work when you’re being creative.

But the deeper level of this is could be not to compete with anyone or anything; not even with yourself. Rather, immerse yourself in the task at hand. Like Bono wrote about Frank Sinatra, pretend like it’s the last time you’re going to do that thing. This immersion naturally lets the other stuff fade away; it doesn’t matter.

Comparisons and improvement are all valuable in later stages; but in the moments when creative work is done, you only want to be focused on the work at hand. Everything else is an unnecessary distraction.

Remix and Improve Your Old Work

When Louis Vuitton menswear designer Virgil Abloh talks about his “3% approach,” he means that he approaches design only by slightly modifying an original one. There’s no reason the original design has to be someone else’s — it can be one of your own. For example, Childish Gambino’s 2014 song, Retro, uses the same beat and chorus as his 2008 song, Love Is Crazy. Kanye West only did a show for his 2008 album in 2015.

Be creative by taking an old draft or idea that you took action on, and remix it and improve it. As Vincenzi Danti says in Paolo Belardi’s Why Architects Still Draw, imitating and copying are two very different things. You’re not trying to copy your work — you are making a new version of it.

Artist Pablo Picasso, known for copying his own work, acknowledged, “I often paint fakes.” He also said, “If it were possible… there would never be a ‘finished’ canvas but just different states of a single painting.”

Masami Akita says of his noise project Merzbow, “The music of Merzbow should be viewed as changing, while being part of a continuum. What matters to me is this line of progression, more so than the individual works that comprise it.”

When you remix your old work, the spirit is not to merely repeat yourself; but rather, it’s to expand on a thread or a bigger idea. And even though you know it’s a remix of your old work, to a new viewer, it’s something brand new. The old draft is hidden in obscurity.

Work on One Thing at a Time

At my first job at Xtreme Labs, our VP of Engineering Farhan Thawar was a proponent of monotasking. He warned against the distraction caused by multitasking. Your brain is best when it works on one task at a time, to save itself from being overwhelmed whenever additional unplanned circumstances change.

Unfortunately, our phones, media, and other things get in the way. For years, my solution has been to buy a kitchen timer, set it for 20 minutes, and just work my way down my tasklist or while writing and editing. I aim to get in the groove of deep work. Even when I write and edit this particularly long article, I’m not checking email, and my phone is usually 10 meters away from me and silent (and I’ve turned off all notifications except Whatsapp and Messages). Sure, I miss out on funny messages, and I’ve gotten rid of apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. But it’s been great for my mental clarity.

Only when I’m done, do I pick up the next thing. I’d recommend the same for you, if you’re not already doing it.

Give Yourself a Chance to Fail

“I always question artists who are successful in whatever they do — I think what that means is that they’re repeating themselves and not taking enough risks,” performance artist Marina Abramović writes in Walk Through Walls.

While constant success may feel good, and certainly is good for business, it’s also a sign that what you’re doing is probably not that original or that surprising — and not all that creative. The risk is that you don’t improve or grow, and don’t get to explore the potential you inherently are capable of.

Compared to success, failure stings, and can be painful to cope with. But, it’s also a sign that you’re setting your sights high enough and trying new things. You’re breaking new territory. Once you recover from the first couple of failures, you might also remember how easy it is to try new things, and you learn to not take yourself too seriously.

Commit to a Deadline

“I wrote something because I was facing a deadline, and I realized the meaning of it much later. I had such experiences many times,” film director Hayao Miyazaki says in Yom, Issue 1994.

I don’t know about many good things that actually happened without a deadline. If you take the deadline seriously, you make the most of your time; otherwise, work expands to whatever time you’ve allotted to fill it (see Parkinson’s Law).

Commit to getting your project done by the deadline. If you find out along the way that it’s not feasible, keep the deadline, but reduce the scope of the project.

Deadlines enable you to make sure you’re measuring progress. If you’re not good at keeping or meeting deadlines, set stakes for yourself by enlisting a friend to keep you accountable.

Make Something Nobody Else Will See

While some academics might deem creativity to only be valid if it makes an impact in the field, these days the ubiquity of social media has made us fixate on what people think about our work, our image, and our creativity.

The solution is to make stuff for the sake of making, and creating a safe space for yourself to take action. If you feel stuck or if you feel blocked, then you want to create something for yourself that you know no one else will see. Act before you think. In an interview with Grantland, Donald Glover says, “So making songs now that I know aren’t going to be heard by anybody else, it is an interesting thing. Because I think you have to do that now as an artist. I really do.”

Ultimately, that exploration, free from self-consciousness and the trends of the day, leads to new ideas that you can potentially draw from for future work. Or not — it doesn’t matter, it’s not meant to for anyone except for you.

This mindset enables you to loosen up, because there’s no pressure. Even if you think whatever you’re doing is going to suck, you should probably do it anyway. Trying to turn a bad idea into a good piece of work can be a worthy exercise. And any idea that initially seems good might not actually be that original; if you get the impression it’s good, other people probably do too — which takes away from the originality of the idea. As Ben Horowitz writes, “The trouble with innovation is that truly innovative ideas often look like bad ideas at the time.”

Rest and Let Ideas Incubate

In London School of Economics co-founder Graham Wallas’s representation of the creative process, there’s a phase before the creative moment of illumination, which is called incubation. That’s the phase when you disconnect from your work, and let your brain and your unconscious sit with the idea.

If you’ve ever had a eureka moment in the shower or on a walk, you’ll know this feeling. You’ve had a chance to unwind and relax. Idle time and resting set the conditions for the “Incubation” phase; the time when the brain’s conscious efforts no longer focus on the problem, and the unconscious is given space to take over. To be more creative, you need to use this property of your brain to your advantage.

There are also other times, when you might have these incredibly tremendous powerful good first thoughts, and good ideas get put together. You want to write those down, but also to let the idea actually incubate and give yourself time to sit with it. Go for a walk, lie down for a nap, or do something else and allow yourself to drift off, away from the idea.

Remove Distractions

Interruptions mess up creative flow. You don’t want anything to interrupt or take away from the creative process. You need to be mindful of distractions, whether they are physical like a notification from a phone, or psychological like the urge to pick up a new idea when you run into a roadblock.

When you’re doing creative work, you want to stay disciplined on purely expressing the idea and bringing it to life. You want to be fully dedicated to making it the best version of what it can be. And then after you’re kind of done or like you’ve completed a good strong first version of it, or prototype, then you can let your mind wander a little bit from there.

But the last thing you want is a text message, email, or a craving to interrupt your flow, and drag your mind and body out of what you were doing.

Don’t Wait for Inspiration; Seek It Out

“Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentor, nature—all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won,” writes Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit.

Author Ray Bradbury writes in Zen In The Art Of Writing, “Similarly, in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, our movement toward or away from the sensed events.”

Consuming and creating are inherently tied in together; your take in inputs, you process them, you express outputs. Rich creative work takes place by cultivating the ideas through taking in, interpreting, and transforming ideas.

Not only are you taking in new ideas, you’re also exploring how these ideas connect together and what they mean to you. You’re understanding how people currently think about something, and what you need to say about that to achieve your creative goal. Then, you forget about the goal, and you get busy making.

Final Thoughts

You can take action to be more creative, but you can’t force it; take action, and let go of the outcome. Let your conscious mind go, give it permission to wander off and come back later in the editing and managing phases of the project. For now, just focus on letting the unconscious mind take over.

If you’re working with a team, it’s important to cultivate this mindset and attitude in the room where the creative work is happening. There are never any wrong answers, and people are just creating ideas — not editing or destroying them yet. Allow people to think out loud and go on tangents (but not to monopolize the conversation).

Remember, creativity isn’t just a skill; as Royal Holloway lecturer Oli Mould writes in Against Creativity, “Creativity is a power because it blends knowledge (from the institutional and mechanistic level to the pre-cognitive), agency, and importantly desire to create something that does not yet exist… it drives society into new worlds of living.”

The actions that you take today could be the soil from which new ideas and products grow, and, with the passage of time, will be, as Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said, a layer of sedimentary rock on which human intelligence is built upon.

Aim High, but Make Sure You Shoot

Rebranding, “Done Is Better than Perfect”

“Worse is better,” is the perfect blend of catchy and counterintuitive. It’s a meme; it captures a trend, its catchiness enables its spread, and bolstered its traction as an idea. The phrase was originally used by Richard Gabriel in his paper, “Lisp: Good News,Bad News, How to Win Big.”

These days, I’ve seen, as you may have, permutations of that theme; “Done is better than perfect,” “Move fast and break things,” and “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” come to mind. Many of the products out there today exist as a result of this “Worse is better” philosophy, and thus, perpetuate it.

Facebook is the most prominent example, literally using the first two quotes in the previous paragraph as mantras for their employees to rally behind, prioritizing speed and task completion. In 2014, shortly after Facebook had a billion active users, they rebranded the phrase as, “Move fast, with stable infra.”

The idea here is when Facebook finally became the biggest social network in the world, it could afford to finally slow down and prioritize getting things right. The new phrase, “Move fast with stable infra,” at least puts quality on the same priority as speed. Or as Gabriel writes in his paper, “Therefore, the worse-is-better software first will gain acceptance, second will condition its users to expect less, and third will be improved to a point that is almost the right thing.”

We’re now dealing with the consequences of this rather extreme mindset (literally, at Facebook); this mindset often accumulates debt. Temporary compromises are not revisited or improved upon; instead teams are focused on building new features, and on growing the business even more.

The line that stood out to me from a rebuttal of Gabriel’s thoughts, is this one by Nickieben Bourbaki: “It is never a good idea to intentionally aim for anything less than the best, though one might have to compromise in order to succeed.”

“Quality is the best business plan,” Pixar’s John Lasseter says to Fast Company. Similarly, economist Tyler Cowen says, “The returns to quality are higher than you think, and they are rising rapidly.”

The tradeoff is not as extreme as you think; and at the end of the day, as Steve Jobs — probably one of the biggest proponents of quality — now famously said, “Real artists ship.” Worse is definitely not better; and compromises should be minimized by the time a release comes up.

The world’s best brands and products — Pixar, Patagonia, Apple —  do place value in speed, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to tradeoff quality for it. They work smarter. For example, they might listen more closely to customers (“…the keyword is discovering instead of inventing. There simply is no time for inventing,” Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard writes in Let My People Go Surfing). Or, they make sure to pick the right strategies to focus their efforts on by tapping into collective intelligence (see Pixar’s Notes Day). Or, they make big bets and commit to them (see how Tony Fadell brought the iPod to life in 11 months).

Bourbaki coins an alternate saying best, wistfully writing, “Maybe Richard means one should aim high but make sure you shoot—sadly he didn’t say that.” Perhaps it’s time we took that approach with our work too, cutting as few corners into our work as possible, while making sure that we release it to the world. The world doesn’t just need more products; it needs better products.