Less is More

No normal person would ever try to write a “Skinny” book… it’s too darn hard.

Our Skinny Books are compilations of perhaps 50 books or articles on one subject.  The objective is to cull from each book/article the most important ideas therein.  Then, to try to weave all these ideas into a story that makes some sense and might even have some entertainment value.

Writing skinny books was a reaction to my belief that no self-improvement book should ever be more than 100 pages.  That is more than enough space to convey the meat of the author’s ideas.  Anything longer and readers don’t engage.

My view is supported by several studies which show that people learn best FROM SUMMARIES.  Give one group a 20-page explanation of a subject or phenomenon.  Then, give another group a 2-page summary.  And, EVERY SINGLE TIME the group receiving the summary will have better comprehension of the subject at hand.

Actually that is not surprising.  We all have a limited amount of “bandwidth” to absorb information.  Our brains are not unlike our stomachs.  We can only fill the brain with so much before it starts to regurgitate.  So, less is DEFINITELY more when it comes to comprehension and learning.

Also, what is a summary but the culling of the important points from a longer exposition?   In other words, the person writing the summary has to do the hard work.  Read the exposition and figure out what is really crucial to know and then convey ONLY THAT. 

That is the theory behind the skinny books.  To give people just the information they need to know on a particular subject.  If a person is so intrigued that they want to learn more, all our books have bibliographies with all the referenced material.

So, why did I start writing Skinny Books?    Well, I thought I would create a series of great, simplified, easy-to-understand content that could be read in one hour and would have the impact of 25 books or articles.  Let me leave you with a story.  One of the greatest judges in US legal history was Oliver Wendell Holmes.  In writing a friend one day, he said “sorry for the length of this letter … it would have been much shorter if I had more time.”  

Jim Randel

In building your creative muscles, it is important to learn to expand your thinking BEYOND the obvious.

When speaking on creativity, I sometimes divide the audience into 3 groups.  I will then ask each group to think of potential uses for a simple household object - say a chair or a piece of paper or a spoon. 

I will ask Group #1 to stop at 3 ideas, Group #2 to stop at 8 ideas, and Group #3 to come up with 13 ideas.   Now, here is what is interesting:  Group #3 often has the best and most creative ideas.

Why?  Well I am sure that they say to themselves (perhaps unconsciously): "Hey, we have to come up with 13 ideas for a spoon … that's nuts … we'd better let our minds go totally crazy."  And the result is often amazingly creative.

When boosting your creativity, you need to break from convention and from what is called convergent thinking.  Convergent thinking is the type of thinking you need to respond to a need or problem with the most logical or reasonable idea.  It is what helps us survive - we have an issue and we deal with it as logically as possible.  But, convergent thinking also stifles creativity.

The opposite of convergent thinking is divergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is when you let your mind flow (go crazy) - giving it license to explore all the nooks and crannies of your imagination.  It is divergent thinking that sometimes leads to super creative ideas.

Our minds are programmed to think by convergent thinking.  That is OK.  We need that.  But, when in a situation where you need to think creatively (13 uses for a spoon??), well then take off the reins and let that bronco in your head run free.  You never know!!

"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea . . .

when it is the only one you have."

                                                           Emile Chartier, French Philosopher

Here’s the thing about creative ideas – they are different and oftentimes threatening to the status quo.  As a result, WHATEVER your idea, there will be naysayers.

                             “At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future,

                            tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past.”

                                              Maurice Maeterlinck, Nobel Prize Winner, Literature

Your job – in improving your creative skills – is to simply learn not to listen.

In subsequent posts we are going to discuss how to boost your creative impulses.  In this post, I want to make the point that you should be careful about when you share your creative works or ideas with others.  If you are too early in the process, you risk hearing a negativity that may be rooted in the status quo.  Only when you are ready to bring your work or idea to life, can you begin to reveal it to others.

I could write 100 blogs about great creative works or inventions or ideas that were rejected over and over before they became huge successes.  My Skinny books are a pedestrian example – I was rejected by every single publisher and agent who I showed them to – in some cases, more than once.  But I was fortunate to get a Chinese publisher to believe in the format and today I am on several best seller lists in China (with U.S. success right around the corner).

Of course not every idea you have or work you produce will be truly creative (have a future).  But, for the moment, the goal is simply to protect your ideas/works until you have done your own deep assessment, in other words, don’t mention or show them too early to others.

There is only one thing worse than never having a good idea or producing a creative work.  And that is to have it before someone else, be deterred in pursuing it, and then watch someone else gain success with “your” concept.                    

                            Good-humored inflexibility when the whole cry of voices in on the

                            other  side.  Else, tomorrow a stranger may say with masterly good

                            sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we

                             shall be forced to take with shame our opinion from another.”

                                             Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lesson #1 may sound counter-intuitive.  With most things in life, the harder you try, the better you do.  But, there are exceptions.  Ever TRIED really really hard to fall asleep?  You can't force it - you just have to let sleep happen.  Creativity is not dissimilar.

Creative ideas are there in your head.  They just need to surface.  But, sometimes they surface on their own schedule.  In fact, and here is the counter-intuitive part, sometimes your creativity is heightened when you are totally disconnected from your need to be creative. 

This is not just my opinion.  There have been studies proving that ideas often flow best when people are engaged in non-creative activities.

One research project done in Australia divided 90 psychology students into three groups and asked each group to come up with as many ideas as possible (called an alternative uses test) for a piece of paper.  The number of original ideas was a measure of divergent thinking (important to creativity). 

The first group worked straight on the task for four minutes.  The second group was interrupted after two minutes - given another task that required creative thinking - and then another two minutes back on the sheet of paper challenge.  The third group was interrupted after two minutes - given another task that did not require creative thinking - and then two more minutes on the sheet of paper challenge.

Who had the most creative ideas?  Group three! 

The conclusion from this study (and many others) is that freeing your mind from THE NEED TO BE CREATIVE can sometimes produce a heightened creative state.  You may be taking a shower, worried about which shampoo to use - and then BAM - out of nowhere, a solution to a creative roadblock.

The point is that you CANNOT always force creative thinking.  Create a good environment for creative thought - a routine when you need to be productive and a spot free of distractions - BUT sometimes you need to let your mind roam to unrelated thoughts and activities - AND you may be surprised by what creative thoughts surface.

I have studied the process of creativity for many years.  I have concluded that everyone has a large reservoir of creativity.  Some people may know how to access it better than others.  But,  here is the headline: 

                                  EVERYONE CAN IMPROVE THEIR CREATIVITY. 

I do not believe that some people are creative geniuses and that the rest of us are on Earth to be their admirers. 

I do not believe that Benjamin Franklin had a Eureka moment and discovered electricity when he was flying a kite with a key on it.  Or, that Isaac Newton finally figured out gravity when he got hit on the head with an apple.   Or, that Marie Curie would never have discovered penicillin but for mold growing on a culture.

I believe that in all these cases - and thousands more - the discovery was the result of years of incubation during which Franklin, Newton, and Curie had been thinking about their subjects. 

Great ideas are like a piece of sand in an oyster.  The sand irritates the oyster (Newton - "this damn gravity problem is driving me nuts") so the oyster applies a coating against the sand.  This coating (called nacre) is applied layer after layer, year after year.  And then one day, WOW, a beautiful pearl.  That, in my view, is how great ideas arise.

I am going to use the next 20 weeks of my blog to teach you how to improve your creativity.  I am not interested in world-changing ideas (although that would be OK) but rather to help you develop your own creative talents in your particular field of expertise.  Every one of us can benefit from unlocking our creative juices.  That is what my blog will be about for the next twenty weeks.

We are reviewing the ten most important factors that will determine your success (or not) as an entrepreneur. 

#10.  Luck???

OK, we have come to the last of our ten factors for predicting your success, or not, as an entrepreneur.  And now we are up to an intangible - LUCK.

What role does luck play in the success of an entrepreneur?   Well, let me start by saying that any successful person who does not attribute some part of their success to luck is not being honest with him/herself.  Luck is a broad category of things that can go right or wrong - over which no one has total control.  The fact is that you could be doing everything right, and then WHAM some unforeseen factor (economy goes south, you have a health issue, a loved one needs your help) WHACKS you right between the eyes.

True, the mark of an entrepreneur is an ability to recover from any setback - and most do.  But, there is always that big bang kind of issue that would floor any of us. 

So how do we maximize our chances that luck will be on our side?  We keep doing all the right things, all the time, and while we keep our eyes open to the intangible, we don't change our playbook hoping for good luck or worrying about bad luck.

Movie producer Samuel Goldwyn is supposedly the author of a very famous quote about luck:

"The harder I worked, the luckier I got."

And Abraham Lincoln said:

"I will study and get ready and perhaps my chance will come."  In other words, Abe was preparing for the possibility that things would break his way.  And, if they did, he would be ready!

So, the best you can do - and in fact you should do anyway - is work as hard as you can, prepare for your success, and not think about luck.  It will find you one way or another - and you just need to be ready.