Zingful Tenets

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1. Don’t stop with the first idea you spot. Even if it’s a good idea, it’s probably the same one everyone else would spot. And the good is often the enemy of the best. Put the first three ideas aside and dig deeper. You can always go back to one of those earlier ideas if it turns out to be the pick of the litter.

2. Laugh. A common trait of most creative people is the ability to laugh at themselves and their circumstances.  Don’t take yourself too damn seriously.

3. Be passionate. Watch any person possessing creative zing, and you’ll see passion.  Want it with all your being.

4. Work hard. Wanting it with all your being isn’t enough. You’ve got to do the work.  Stay up late. Get up early.  Take responsibility.

5. Be childlike.  Not childish, but childlike.  Wide eyes.  “How come” questions.  Playful.  Giddy.  Eager.

6. Keep a notebook. Creativity seldom happens in front of a computer.  We spot ideas while walking down the street, sitting in Starbucks, stuck in traffic. Find a notebook that feels good in your hand.  Use it.

7. Build on mistakes. Know the difference between good mistakes (strong effort, bad result) and bad mistakes (sloppy effort, bad result).

8. Stop, look and listen. Slow down. Open wide.  Ask stupid questions. Hear what’s being said.

9. Don’t be a fool. Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, said Carnegie. And most fools do.

10. Don’t gossip. Remember that bright people talk about ideas. Mediocre people talk about things. Small people talk about other people.

11. When you’re walking through hell, don’t pitch a tent.  Keep walking.

12. Process is more important than outcome. I borrowed this one from Bruce Mau.  When outcome drives the process, we’ll only go where we’ve already been. Process lets us take on new challenges and travel to new places.

13. People have never been bored into buying anything. We have to entertain. Craft compelling stories. Dramatize the truth. Create dreams.

14. Speak to the heart as well as to the head. People buy on emotion.  They rationalize their buying with logic.

15. Read. Reading is the mental income we can spend when we write, brainstorm, create.

16. Be curious. Curiosity is jet fuel for creativity — and for a joyful, robust life. Show me someone who is truly alive and in love with life, and I’ll show you a person overflowing with curiosity.

17. Learn not to be careful. Diane Arbus, the photographer, told her students this. Don’t be careless, but be willing to take risks. Have you ever known a highly creative person who always played it safe?

18. Enjoy yourself. We will be held accountable, says the Talmud Yerushalmi, for all the permitted pleasures we failed to enjoy. The idea is to meet responsibilities while enjoying life.  In that world, work and fun are seamless.

19. Be nice. Central Casting has enough jerks without more of us auditioning for the role.  Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

20. Do little things for people.  Anything we do will seem insignificant, said Gandhi, but it’s important that we do it.

21. Jam. Improvise. Break it up. Pass it around. Put it together. Take it apart. Turn it over. Run backwards. Fly forward.

22. Stay in the solution. When things go wrong, don’t go with them.

23. Be grateful. Make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes.

24. Get out. All the answers aren’t on the Internet or in a book. Life outside of the four walls delivers answers and surprises.

25. Avoid contempt prior to investigation. “I was a critic,” wrote Dave Eggers, “and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one and do not dismiss a person until you have met them.  It’s work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.”

26. Be a team player. Collaboration is a lot like improvisation, and with an improv company, there is no star.  If the team doesn’t win in improv, neither does the individual.  Likewise with a creative team.

27. Notice things. The advertising guru Howard Gossage said that the start of the creative process is telling the difference between one thing and another. It’s seeing a hundred horses run by and saying, “Hey, that one’s a zebra!”

28. Change things. Losers make excuses. Winners make alterations.

29. Create an atmosphere of generosity. A space where people generously give and receive ideas.

30. Always notice when you’re happy. Kurt Vonnegut gave that advice. Don’t just enjoy life — catch yourself enjoying life. Creativity is a joyful process.