Yesterday, walking in my neighborhood, I came across a sheet of paper on the ground that looked like an elementary school assignment. At the top was a headline “I Can Write 100 Words” and below, 4 columns with 25 blanks in each column. There’s no organization to how answers should be listed, it’s simply a container for listing 100 words. Sadly, only 38 words were filled in, which I’m guessing is the reason why it was hanging out here with me by the curb.
I see two different lessons here:
First, when we sit in meetings, or are engaged in conversation, or just thinking alone, this is how creative work often feels. Another to-do list to fill in. If we don’t make it to the goal, we label that s a failure. But this type of exercise — a “challenge” — isn’t designed to be completed as much as a tool for progress. The point isn’t to have 100, it’s to gain a better understanding of what we already know and what else we could discover.
Second, we need to balance the stockpile of knowledge with the ability to figure things out along the way. As this kid develops his grasp of language, they’ll hopefully move beyond learning words to figuring out different forms of words from a similar root. This is similar to creative exercises where anything — everything — can be a stepping stone to something newer, better, weirder, or different.
Committing to a challenges unlocks so much more than the actual work: focus, habits, systematic thinking, resilience, and maybe most importantly, self-expression. By using a very simple framework and working inside that challenge to explore everything that is possible, you create a very simple shift, from getting to giving. You give as much as you can to the challenge, as opposed to trying to get something from it. That’s a “self-expressive habit”, as Adam Grant labelled it in a recent discussion on my post in Next Big Idea Club. You don’t win by winning, you win by playing.
This issue is the 100th edition of The Idea Enthusiast Weekly newsletter. I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve achieved some big subscription goal, or that I’ve been able to “monetize the list”. That was never the point. I tried a monthly newsletter once before and think I got to maybe 5 issues and gave it up.
This time around, I’ve done this newsletter, first for myself, to lead me down a path to figure out what I want to talk about for the rest of my life, and second for anyone who wants to read it. It hasn’t made me famous. It has allowed me to fill in the sheet. But more importantly, I’ve exercised the ability to do a newsletter over and over again. That’s the accomplishment.
Find the challenge, focus on taking action, give what you can, then give again.
Founder, The Idea Enthusiast. Speaker, Trainer, Facilitator, and writer about all things creative consulting. DC-based consultant to individuals who want to be more creative, teams who want to collaborate without fear, and anyone who wants to deliver the best pitches and presentations.