Degrees of Freedom

Day 345 Week 50 Q4 Tuesday, December 12, 2023

There are many kinds of degrees of freedom. There are the kinds that are afforded to you because of wealth or physical prowess, or family or connections, or where you were born. Many people in the world have overly constrained lives. Creative Outliers, who really do have a lot of control over their life, their time, and what they do, are extraordinarily fortunate because they can create things to do with all of that freedom. On the other hand, if a person is exceptionally creative and they don’t have many degrees of freedom in their life, this can be torturous. An important figure of merit for me is how much freedom a person has. This is what I value the most, personal freedom.

The best predictor for a terrible life is to have an extremely creative person who craves freedom to work for a control freak with low self-esteem and narrow vision. This is a very low degree of freedom situation, and I urge any creative person to get out of it as quickly as possible. Alternatively, if you have a boss who values your creativity and gives you enough time to express it and perhaps even enough budget to express it with, then you’re golden. This was the good fortune I found myself in, when working for Apple Computer before it became the mega-sized company it is today.

Once, believe it or not, I went to my boss and asked just what my budget was. He laughed at me and said we are prepared to fund you more than you are capable of responsible spending, and since we know that you are responsible and won’t spend money without doing the necessary research to make sure that you were spending intelligently, we are not worried about it.  I promptly went out and built a new laboratory and bought a lot of expensive equipment and, much to my amazement, found this to be true. This was a truly extraordinary amount of freedom and more degrees of freedom than I ever had before.

Fortunately, I was able to make terrific use of it and design a lot of products.  It was a very heady time. I fear those days may be over because research has mostly vanished. It has been turned into development and there’s not very much high degree of freedom work left. The only way I have ever been able to come close to this was by being self-employed and starting my own company. The good news is that today’s a better time to start a business than ever before. The barriers to entry or lower. The leverage an individual has is higher. And how you manage these degrees of freedom becomes of paramount importance.

Try hard to maximize the number of degrees of freedom you have in your life, and then maximize how you use them. It is oh-so worth it.

Living in Your Own World

Day 341 Week 49 Q4 Friday, December 8, 2023

Creative outliers have the ability and the tendency to create and then live in their own world. This is essentially what computer programming used to be. You wrote a program to do what you want to do, and then you spent your time in that program. Many of these people did not know how to deal with the human race very well but were much better at dealing with their computers. They were called at the time derisively nerds. But the nerds did have their revenge and are now some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world.

To some extent, everyone lives in their own world and has to out of self-defense because the larger world is difficult to live in. Artists hang out with artists. Engineers like to spend time with engineers. Business people like to spend time with business people. We all have to pass the sniff test many times in our lives to be part of the group. There is some sort of a Darwinian advantage to spending time with your own. It is safer to be in a group of people like you because you understand each other and you have similar priorities, concerns, and responses.

However, it is also dangerous to live in your own mind, in your own world, because the outside world powerfully and dramatically affects you. And has to be dealt with. Creative outliers have more ability to live in their own world because they have more ability to create their own world. So we have to be on guard from overdoing it because it can be very comfortable, but it is also not reality. On the other hand, the external world does not seem very real much of the time as well because we are deluged with manipulative messages primarily trying to get us to buy things and spend our money in a particular way.

By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, as a creative outlier, the purpose of business is not to change the world. It is to find people who have some money and get some of it. I was horrified when I discovered this because I had thought the reason to be the founder of the company was to make significant changes in a positive way for everyone. I was saddened to discover that if a company does not find people who have money and get some of it, it does not survive. There’s a reason why people say cash is king.

Those who have more money have more influence, and therefore, I have a greater chance of having a successful life. It is really that simple. If you live in your own mind and pay no attention to generating revenue, you will not have a sustainable life. This may be fined if you have a patron, but if you don’t well, then you have to stop living in your own mind all the time. And come out to smell the roses and make some money.

Chaos Compartmentalization

Day 334 Week 48 Q4 Friday, December 1, 2023

I’m sure that by now, you know that creative outliers have more chaos in their life than people who are not creative outliers. If you have more ideas per unit of time, whether that be per 2nd, per minute, per month, or per year, in all cases, this still results in more chaos than is convenient.

Today is the first day of a new month, and this month is the last of the year, which means historically, it has been a hard month to get things done. This is because if you were at all involved in selling anything retail, you know that December is the time of the year that most sales are made. Even if you are not involved in selling, there is generally a lot of family activity revolving around this time of year.  This may require travel and dealing with people that you do not always want to deal with. It is an inconvenient time, which is why it’s hard to get things done in December.

Let’s further assume that on this first day of the month, it is before nine in the morning, and you have a meeting at 11 and another one at two at a dinner engagement at six, and all of these things require varying amounts of preparation.  In other words, it’s a pretty standard day, with an average amount of chaos and expectation to get things done.

So what do you do about this? It’s not a new revolutionary realization. You have consistently been producing chaos. I’m sure that everybody else in your life knows this and probably has reminded you of it from time to time. Well, let’s pretend for a moment that you have just received an assignment to come in and consult with a senior leader and either business or government, and they have already sent you the $5000 you requested upfront before agreeing to meet with him for two hours to address a critical situation with the understanding that the remaining $5000 would be paid after you completed your two-hour meeting.

How would you spend those two hours so that they felt and you felt that it was worth everyone’s while to pay $10,000 for two hours of someone’s time?  For starters, you would have to be certain that you could make those two hours count, and therefore, you would have to compartmentalize all of the chaos into what can I do right now immediately that will have the most value and also be clear and evident that it has a lot of value.

You would have to take into account what happened before and what is expected to happen in two hours and ask yourself what is the most important thing that could possibly happen in order to start the day with a fantastic two hours. You would have to compartmentalize, everyone would, and everyone who accomplishes a lot does.

You know what to do, so do it!

Natural Boundaries

Day 330 Week 48 Q4 Monday, November 27, 2023

Natural bounties like rivers, mountains, and oceans separate countries from each other. Births, deaths, and marriages separate different parts of our lives from each other.  Calendar boundaries are derived from the winter solstice in December. Crossing any of these boundaries creates opportunities to re-examine and evaluate where we are, what we’re doing, and where we are going. 

Do you use the end of the year as a time for evaluation, re-examination, and recontextualization?? I certainly do, and I bet most of you do as well. This natural cosmological boundary is the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is a good time for everyone to take a look at themselves.

When you have accumulated more tools, ideas, and relationships than you have time to deal with, natural boundaries can come in handy.  Whether moving geographically, psychologically, or digitally across platforms, all create the question, “What can I take with me because I can not take it all?” 

People who have lived in many lands get very good at choosing what to keep and what to let go of. The same can be said for homes, jobs, partners, careers, and even operating systems. We simply can not carry everything with us, for it drags us down.

While letting go of things, consider letting go of limiting ideas and destructive relationships. You can edit out of your life whatever is not welcome. And if you don’t, entropy will surely get you.

Take advantage of these natural boundaries. Even language often changes at the border. So can customs and attitudes. When in Rome…. 

Coming up against natural boundaries can be an excellent time to make sure you are being true to yourself. As creative outliers, we have even more choices than most as we can create as many as we think we might need, and that often results in creating even more than you need because you never know in advance if you might need some more options and since you are good at option creation, it can become a habit. 

Depending on your frame of mind, this can make boundary crossing very easy or very hard, and sometimes both at the same time! Take advantage of the rivers, oceans, and mountains that partition your existence or existences, for you most likely have more than one.

In less than a month, the seasons change, and along with them, the number of hours of light and darkness. How will this affect you? Presumably, you have already lived through a fair number of these transitions. Do you use them to your advantage, or do they hang you up? It is really up to you. 

To some extent, we create our very own tectonic plate movement. Do you want a mountain or a river or an ocean? You have a lot to say about this.

Three Big Ideas 

Day 329 Week 48 Sunday, November 26, 2023

The first is that Innovation is involuntary, and it is an extension of the creative fact that all human beings are born with the ability and necessity to be good at in order to survive. Innovation does not come about because a boss decrees it. It’s not a magical thing that only some people can do. It is an involuntary part of being a human being.

The second large idea is that nobody can do anything by themselves. It always takes a village or a team or stakeholders. Stakeholders are other people who have some stake in your success when you’re creating a renovating. The image of the lone an artist in their studio or the musician in their practice room with inventor in front of their desk it’s just very incomplete. All of us need help no matter who we are.

And the third idea is what’s in it for we? Too many people only asked the question what’s in it for me?  You have to turn the M upside down and turn it into a W. Since you cannot do things by yourself, and you know that they were going to be others and part, it is really worth your while finding out what’s in it for them, or what’s it for us, or was it for we.

Now, who are these messages for?  Not as much written for innovators, as for creative outliers. The difference between these two groups is that one comes from the other. Innovators come from the group called creative outliers. The difference is innovators have their ideas and inventions adopted. They have their Works listened to, viewed or read. In short they have traction.  They are in a dance with an external reality.

You have to have traction before you can scale. You have to scale in order to make money.  You cannot be a sustainable innovator unless somebody is willing to pay for what you’re doing, and that means you are delivering value to someone that is adequate for them, to part with their money and give some of it to you.

This may be unwelcome  news for many artists, creators ands inventors. It means, they all need to act like small businessman.  Education is a not-for-profit exercise and ostensibly so is art. They both have expenses and they both need to pay the bills and they both need to be concerned about cash flow.

Even Miles Davison and Duke Ellington, to world-class innovators how to keep a band working, and it cost money to travel and sleep and eat. Important that they each had a team of virtuosos who are more difficult to deal with, but worth it. This was the case at Bose at Apple, where I worked for 15 years. They all recruited virtuosos not just who was avaialble. And they all had to operate a business to stay afloat.

Creative Outliers All

Day 328 Week 47 Q4 Saturday, November 25, 2023

All human beings are born created outliers. We each can adapt to whatever happens, and the primary mechanism we use is creativity. We do not have to teach anyone how to be creative, but we do need to get out of their way at a minimum and maximum help them. This means all of us are potentially able to be innovators. 

The reason we do not manifest more innovation has more to do with the fear of those around us who find it much easier to provide negative feedback than support. It seems like 100 people can say no for every person who can say yes.  It is difficult to ignore all of those nos. Yet some of us do that and continue on to create.  

Some of those who create actually get to innovate. The main difference is that the act of creation does not require others to adopt or accept what you have done. Innovation requires your ideas, works, and insights to be adopted.  This is much harder than simply manifesting some tangible form of your insight. You have to go to traction first in order to scale. Innovation implies scalability.

Until something is scalable, it is not very fundable because the return on investment is not yet demonstrated as being possible. Many books claim to teach Innovation and creativity. They are written mainly by innovation scholars, not people who are Innovation practitioners.

There are so many more people who can discuss Beethoven than those who can actually perform it in front of others. Being creative when you were a child, it’s a very natural thing. It is nonsensical to ask a five-year-old if they are creative. Of course, they are. What happened to that person in the next 30 years?

In general, circumstances beat the creativity out of them, and by circumstances, I mean other people. The act of becoming socialized consists, in part, of letting go of your dreams of creativity. It takes an unusual person to protect the integrity of their creativity and their vision. It is easier if they do not have the same pressures as everyone else. 

It can be much more difficult to be a creative outlier when you’re responsible for supporting others. It is challenging to get paid to do what you don’t know how to do. Assuming everyone is born as a creative outlier, are there things that we can do to hold onto it instead of having it beaten out of us?

You may have to choose more carefully who you spend your time with. Band together with other creative outliers and support each other and each of your creative processes. If you spend time with people who do not value creativity, they will not value you. Even if you are born a creative outlier, you might be tempted to hide this or pretend it is not there and eventually forget that you were born as a creative outlier.

Curtain Time

Day 324 Week 47 Q4 Tuesday, November 21, 2023

There comes a time for every creative outlier when the curtain goes up. This is not only for performers but for anybody who’s having an interview, a first date, or any place where you need to tell the story. And by a story, I don’t mean something fictitious; I mean the narrative of what’s actually going on. In order to engage life, you have to show up. And when you show up, you had better have a story. And it certainly helps if it is accurate and if you know it to be true. Some stories are meant to manipulate, but I am not encouraging those. I am encouraging you to tell a story to yourself to understand who you are, what you’re doing, and why you are doing it.

There’s a compelling reason why you need to have a clear and consistent story.  If you spend all of your time acting and pretending, you might lose track of who you are. Have you noticed that most famous actors’ marriages don’t last very long? Perhaps this is because they become so facile at telling a story that is not theirs. In any case, from the creative outlier perspective, there is a time when the curtain goes up, and that is when you have to perform if you are a musician or make that pitch if you were an entrepreneur or a pitcher. 

In order to get anything done, it will take more than you, which means you need other people who have some stake in what you are doing or in you. These people are called stakeholders, and they can be your boss or your subordinate, or your peer; in all cases, they still need a story.  For me, I have found it’s best if they will receive the same story so that I don’t have to remember what I said to which person. And even more importantly, then, I don’t have to remember what to say to myself.

Shakespeare said that life was a stage, and if so, there is a time when the curtain goes up, and the performance begins. Of course, this can be a metaphysical curtain, and it does not have to be an actual curtain. But there is a time when you have to begin your narrative, and sometimes you can delay this, perhaps of your entire life, or just for a minute. But curtain time always comes, and it’s best if you are ready for it.  And as in all performances, practice is helpful. Not practicing a script for you all comes off as canned and inauthentic. You do not want to memorize the presentation. It is not like playing a piece by Chopin or any of the great classical composers, where all the notes are expected to be in the correct order at the right intensity and at the right tempo. It is more like singing the blues using easy chords, but the notes are hard, and the feelings are harder.

By the way, you can practice in your mind. You do not have to speak out loud or play an actual instrument in order to prepare your brain for the patterns that it will go through. I know that some musicians memorize their solos constructed from multiple takes and patiently glued together, like cutting and pasting, but that’s not my style. I think that life is a gigantic improvisation and that if you just cut and paste everything together in the same order all the time, it is too dull for me.  I know people construct performances so that they will look like they are extemporaneous. Still, I’m actually a believer in the real extemporaneous because life impinges upon you in unpredictable ways. You have to be prepared no matter what happens, and you do not know what is going to happen.

Creative Compartmentalization

Day 323 Week 44 Q4 Monday, November 20, 2023

All creative outliers have too many things going on in their life. They generally have more ideas than time to pursue them. Therefore, they generally have strategies to cope with the incoming wave of stimulus requiring their attention. Sometimes, they resort to alcohol, drugs, or sex to cope with the flow. But this doesn’t work very well for most of the world. For most of us, we cannot wholly distract ourselves, but we can learn to compartmentalize.

We can break the flow up into different types of inputs, and we can break up our responses into different types of responses, and all of this requires contextualization. Creative compartmentalization is simply an act of contextualization that works. 

One way to do this is to contextualize by consciously partitioning our different life roles. We each play many roles. None of these rules require 100% of our attention 100% of the time. Whether you call it interleaving, multitasking, or juggling, they are all the same. They are taking segments of time when your complete conscious attention is not required and putting it on some other task.

If I am driving my car on a familiar route with little or no traffic, there’s certainly time to think about something else.  Not to think so hard about something else that you miss your exit or get into an accident, but you still have to maintain a peripheral awareness of the situation you are primarily involved in.

There can be a lot of creativity in how a person compartmentalizes their life.  Additionally, some lives let themselves much more to compartmentalization than others. Each person has to determine their own recipe for separating the inputs and outputs and what happens between them. No one can tell someone else which compartments they need and how much energy they need to spend on each one, but the need to compartmentalize and the power it brings to an active life is enormous.

This is especially important for creative outliers because they generally need more compartments than a normal person. And yes, I am saying a creative outlier is not a normal person. I cannot define what a normal person is, but when someone is different, then the consensus concept of normal becomes a parent sooner or later. It may become apparent instantly, or it may take some time.

The ability for a creative outlier to appear to be normal is an essential function of compartmentalization. The act of compartmentalizing not only helps you deal with your life, but it also helps everyone else deal with it.

I have found from experience that if you try to expose most people to the number of thoughts I am having at the same time, it does not go well for me because it does not go well for them. Creative compartmentalization is a terrific tool to help a creative outlier better fit into the world outside of them and inside of them.

Selling Time

Day 320 Week 44 Q4 Thursday, November 16, 2023

Have you ever finally completed a work, which could be a product that represents who you are in the world and what you want to be, and that you are proud enough of the result to go out and really sell it? And to also have the understanding that you are also selling yourself with this product.

It is a glorious feeling. All creative outliers have to earn a living along with everyone else unless they have inherited wealth or have a patron. I prefer the stakeholder path, where a group of people helps you, and you also try to make sure they get something in return for helping you. Just as I do not want to receive money without turning it in, which is why I am no longer interested in running a nonprofit. I am not comfortable asking for money, but I am comfortable earning money.

This is not so simple. I am not comfortable earning money doing something that I either do not want to do or do not think is producing any value in the world. I had no problem going out and selling the acoustic wave piano because I knew that it would positively change people’s lives, and it did. It also created a brand new mark for the self-contained electro-acoustical piano, which to this day sells at least in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, if not billions internationally.

That product came into being almost 40 years ago, and it was the last product. I was really excited about selling. I was also excited about bringing audio to the computer world and selling it while working at Apple.  But this is a different feeling. This time, I am not working for a large company. I am working for myself. I own all of the intellectual property, rights, and credit; although I had a lot of help, it is indisputably my work, and I can finally say that to the world, and this will not be the last one. This is the first of many.

This is clearly the path for me. I do want to have a me-sized company with a single person; although there could be contractors, there will not be people with equity. There is a single person in charge, and it is me. I very much like this feeling, and I am very much up to accepting the responsibility to make it succeed or fail.

The democratization of technology has reduced the barriers to entry to commence new enterprises. You do not necessarily need to have a manufacturing plant or a laboratory, or even a studio. You can have an idea and some skills and judgment and some capital and a lot of hours of work, and you can make something happen.

And as my father-in-law says, Go Forth Mightily!

Record & Review R&R

Day 313 Week 44 Q4 Friday, November 10, 2023

R&R is a common phrase you hear everywhere, from offices to locker rooms. The traditional definition of R&R originally came from the military slang for rest and recovery, rest and relaxation, rest and recreation, or rest and rehabilitation. It is an abbreviation used for the free time of a soldier or international UN staff serving in unaccompanied (no family) duty stations.

I want to propose a different meaning for creative outliers – record and review. For musicians or anyone who speaks, the benefits should be obvious, but everyone who creates can benefit from writing down what happened and what they learned from it. When you are in the middle of a creative process, hopefully, perhaps even in a state of flow, where many details can escape your conscious mind. Some of these hover between the unconscious and the conscious, and the act of attempting to capture them is usually illuminating.

I have often been surprised by the difference between my perceptions of performance while it is occurring and when reviewed later.  It seems that during a performance, both flaws and wonderful moments can be either magnified or diminished. Additionally, putting the recording away for weeks, months, or years can also change your perception of what you previously did. We are not always very reliable observers and may be incredibly unreliable when observing ourselves due to what else is going on in our lives at that time.

There is a great deal that can be learned by reviewing what you recorded if you did manage to record what occurred. Every time you do not record or capture in some way what actually transpired, you are passing up a tremendous opportunity for growth. Of course, it can be immensely difficult to try to capture either during or right after you have done something because your mind is usually in a very different place. 

We and our creations all have flaws, and the best way to address them begins with recording and reviewing. I once performed with a band on a day that we all thought sounded terrific. The next day, when we listened to the recording, we discovered, to our great embarrassment, that we had evidently forgotten to tune up our instruments. We were horrified that our judgment and perception could be so dramatically altered.  

I am sure you must occasionally have replayed a conversation after the fact to attempt to better understand why things did not necessarily go the way you expected.  Or why they did go the way you expected. The point is review is incredibly important and powerful and if you did not capture anything, it is tough to do.

Try to think about R&R.