I am thrilled to start the new year in this conversation with David Kadavy, an author and thinker who has profoundly shaped my thinking as a creative person over the last ten years since his first book, Design for Hackers, taught me the fundamentals of graphic design when I was a wet behind the ears computer programmer.
David is a prolific author, podcaster, self-publishing coach and speaker who has published 7 books and 281 podcast episodes so far.
This conversation covers a ton of ground, sharing his journey from the midwest to Silicon Valley to Latin America, across four books, multiple startups, and speaking around the world. David’s commitment to following his curiosity inspires me and he shares real wisdom in here about thinking about the impact you want to create with your work and navigating the existential challenges of a creative life.
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- Send episode feedback on Twitter @askotzko , or via email
- David Kadavy: website, Twitter, podcast
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- The Time Paradox, by Philip Zimbardo
- Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport
- The Case Against Education, by Brian Caplan
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- Other resources mentioned
Transcripts may contain typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
[00:01:45] Andrew: Let’s dive in. David, welcome to the show. How are we doing today?
[00:01:48] David: Andrew. Thank you for having me. I’m doing great. How about yourself?
[00:01:53] Andrew: I’m doing awesome. I’m so excited that you and I are getting a chance to have this conversation. I know we’ve been kind of going back and forth on Twitter for a while and, and clearly are engaging a lot of similar concepts. So I was I was very honored that you made some time to sit down and talk.
[00:02:05] David: I’m always honored to be invited on a show and it’s sorry, I missed you while you were in MedImmune too.
[00:02:11] Andrew: You know, it would’ve been fun. Well, we’ll go get together on the next trip. Cause I, as I was saying, I absolutely loved that city and we’ll be coming back for sure. So we’ll do it. We’ll do a round two in person down there next time I’m there and next time you’re in LA hit me up. So you know, I really, I thought it’d be fun to start a little bit more on, on your backstory, how you kind of, you’ve had this very interesting evolutionary path for being a designer to now this, this very prolific author and creativity and, and you know, whole story arc of your own in between there.
And I wanted to try to connect a little bit and understand a little bit more about what connects those dots for you. So, you know, it’s [00:02:45] funny, we were saying right before we hit record here I first came across your work. I, I actually, I realized. I’ve read every single thing you’ve written or not everything written, every book you’ve written.
Rather you’ve read a lot more than that. I’ve read all your books over the years and starting with this one that I’m holding up now, a design for hackers, which a very, very good designer handed me when I first became an engineer and started working on things that involve Judas or interfaces. He’s like, you know, please read this and, you know, educate yourself a little bit.
And one of the things I noticed when I just picked this back up earlier today was that you, you dedicated this one to your parents specifically for encouraging you to follow your curiosity. And I was just, I was wondering what it was, if there’s anything in particular there that clearly that has become a through line of your life is following and exploring your curiosity.
And it’s so interesting to see that manifest. So I was curious if what, what really stands out about that for you?
[00:03:32] David: You know, it’s funny because it’s almost like I tell people I was raised by wolves because I mean, it was a stable home life and everything, but they didn’t, they didn’t really like [00:03:45] people, people will say like, oh, my dad taught me all this. Or my mom taught me all that. And I’m sure there’s a lot of things that my parents taught me that I take for granted, but I don’t, there’s not, I don’t have that.
I don’t, there’s not like go to my parents for advice. I never really did. And I guess kind of like reflecting on that book, I realized, well, but I’m really grateful that I, they didn’t, they weren’t overbearing like that. I mean, I just knew people stay in college or something who maybe they had like a father who said, oh, you’re going to study business because that’s the only thing you’re going to be able to get a job with or whatever.
When I said I was going to study graphic design, my dad said, well, you’re probably never going to make more than $30,000 a year, but if you want to you know, do it it’s. So, so we were, they were overbearing about things and I realized that, oh yeah, they really let me kind of. Follow my curiosity do whatever [00:04:45] it was that I was interested in.
[00:04:48] Andrew: It seems like you’re somebody who’s very much driven by your curiosity, and it seems like that is maybe what has led you on this evolution from being you said you were raised in the Midwest, right. And then kind of making the leap to Silicon valley Elma.
There we go. So Omaha boy, and then makes his way to the valley and San Francisco, but then says, screw it. I’m done with this. I’m going back to Chicago land and how’s it like that that’s such a counterintuitive decision, right? As someone like, I also have spent a lot of time in Silicon valley and in the tech world, that’s not a thing a lot of people do. So can you, I would love to, like, what was it that drove that for you? What, what made you go, you know what, I’m going to walk away from all the, you know, the stock options and the whatever. And I’m gonna go back to Chicago in the winter.
[00:05:29] David: Yeah. Right. So curiosity is number one for me. That’s what I’ve discovered. I have to follow my curiosity. Otherwise I’m just not interested at all in whatever I’m doing and yeah. [00:05:45] To end up in Silicon valley from Omaha, Nebraska. Unusual for, I mean, I, it is probably to anybody who’s an immigrant or something.
It probably sounds ridiculous. Like they come from all over the world to go to Silicon valley, but there just wasn’t, I wasn’t, I didn’t aim to go to Silicon valley. I just wanted to get it out of Nebraska. Okay. And so I somehow got a job offer in Silicon valley and like, yeah, let’s go. I’m going to California.
So I went to California and it was this wonderful experience being surrounded by these people who were tech savvy. And this is like 2005 Silicon valley was, you know, people have heard Silicon valley, they thought they thought a.com bust. Then there was no,
[00:06:34] Andrew: Yeah. Silicon valley. Wasn’t that cool. In 2005,
[00:06:36] David: no, it was, I mean, it was, yeah. If I would argue that it was cooler
[00:06:41] Andrew: in
[00:06:41] David: it is now.
[00:06:43] Andrew: in retrospect, it was very cool to [00:06:45] do that, but it didn’t have the cultural cachet at the
[00:06:47] David: Well, I would say, I mean, I’m just saying like my idea of cool. I would rather be in Silicon valley 2005 than Silicon valley. Now
[00:06:56] Andrew: Hundred percent
[00:06:57] David: I would not
[00:06:57] Andrew: opportunity to connect with people and really like break in and make a mark was so much easier than.
[00:07:02] David: Yeah. And I just you know, I was always super passionate about graphic design. Like that was a thing that I studied and I was active in the graphic design community in Nebraska, and I was just looking for community and there was things like super happy dev house, these all night development parties, or I’d go to different different events and meet various people who were working on all these different apps.
And, and it was very cool and it was it was exciting. And and I, I was surrounded by people that for the first time, just tons of people who I got and who I admired and who I thought had interesting things to say. [00:07:45] And, you know, I worked there for a few years and it just sort of got, I started to relate less and less to it.
I think that was as, as it started to become clear that there was going to be more success or financial success going on, and then people, it started to become a thing where, you know, Your, you went to the Ivy league, you went to an Ivy league school. You were going to go to an Ivy league school since the day you were born.
And instead of going to be an ibanker, you’re gonna like go do a startup in Silicon valley or work for a startup in Silicon valley. And your parents are, are, think that’s crazy type of thing, but there’s there’s money there or whatever. And so it just didn’t feel right to me anymore. And this is a place where like, I, it sounds ridiculous to complain about stuff like this, because I have so many wonderful privileges in my life, but, [00:08:45] but like growing up in Nebraska pre-internet or, you know, pre really interconnected globe, it was like very isolating experience.
Especially if you’re somebody who’s like interested in a lot of different things, other than say, college football
[00:09:01] Andrew: driven by curiosity
[00:09:02] David: driven by curiosity. Like you’re just isolated and they’re there, you know? And, and, and you feel like a bit of a disadvantage because of it, you know, like when I hear somebody say like, oh, I grew up on long island and like, what shut the fuck up, man, you were an hour away from New York city.
Like you have
[00:09:19] Andrew: got to train to be in New York, like, come on.
[00:09:21] David: Are you kidding me? Which I’m sure plenty of people would say the exact same thing to me. I was born in America. Right. I know that because I live in Columbia and but, but that’s the way it felt. And so to be in Silicon valley and for the first time in my life, be around people who, oh, you went to Stanford, you went to Yale, you went to Harvard, you went to like all these schools that I’ve heard of that like only people in movies went to the schools [00:09:45] that wasn’t like a thing that somebody was nobody ever said to me like, Hey, David have you thought about going to Stanford or have you thought about going to Harvard?
That was like, oh, that’s for other people. And so to be around those people and have conversations with them and to feel like, okay, I can kind of hang here on some stuff, but then there’s also stuff where I’m like, this person is really boring. I’m like this person is like sheltered or this person like. Yeah, w lacks perspective in certain ways and, and feeling that to it, it was strangely a little alienating in, in, in, in that way. And, but I think that, like one of the great benefits of being from Nebraska was that for me to go to Silicon valley and try it out and work for some companies and meet a lot of people and make connections that have been valuable to me throughout my adult life and career.
And then to say, you know what, this isn’t my thing. I’m going to just head and go headed to Chicago. Oh, why did you have a job [00:10:45] there? No, I’m just going to go there and rent an apartment just so I can screw around with stuff during the middle of the winter and kind of see what I come up with. There was nothing to lose.
Like there wasn’t, you know, nobody, nobody was like, oh my God, you’re throwing your life away. Or, you know, there was no pressure
[00:11:03] Andrew: I would love to hear about that moment, right? Because that, even if you didn’t feel that pressure, there’s still something very interesting to me about that moment where you’re, you’re making this pivot and you’re, you’re giving yourself this space in this time to, as, as you just said to screw around, right.
You’re like, all right, I’m going to go like, get an apartment in Chicago and mess around for an undefined period of time in some direction. That was the plan. And so I’m just curious, like what, at that time, because that clearly began, you know, this, this, the arc you’ve been on since with, you know, exploring exploring creativity for, for, I don’t know how to say it, but maybe if you have a more concise way of like, what’s the through line for you.
[00:11:43] David: whatever I’m curious about. Yeah.[00:11:45]
[00:11:45] Andrew: yeah. So I’m curious, like what, was there a moment where you just like, what was the moment where you said, like, I’ve got to do this, do you remember where you were.
[00:11:54] David: yeah, actually there was, I do remember the, kind of the, it was, it was weird, you know you know, it was 28 wasn’t necessarily like the, you know, the, the, the is it the bastion of, of like of being super well adjusted and, you know, having my stuff together and that’s necessarily, but like, I remember there was this, this, this girl that I had been dating, this woman I had been dating for a few weeks or something.
And, you know, we had a phone conversation. She was like, yeah, this isn’t working out. And it was like, I had had that conversation so many times. And I was like, you know, something’s just not right about. And even like on that conversation, for some reason, I was like, you know, I’m going to probably move to Chicago. Like I just, I just sort of had, had gotten, felt over it over the [00:12:45] California dream, I guess trying to connect with people and realizing that, that I just felt like I, a lot of the people I hung out with it’s like in California and I know you live in California, but it’s almost like the people around you are just like or you feel like you’re a certainly an accessory to whoever is around you in, in their experience rather than like connecting. And this is at 28 years old, right? Like in San Francisco is obviously doesn’t apply to everybody in California. But having grown up in the Midwest where like, you, you, you know, it’s a more of like, there’s more of a connection. There’s not a whole lot going on. So you’re kind of talking to the person that you’re with.
And, and a good example of this might be like, if, if, if I were to have a, a, a friend who I knew in the Midwest or something come and visit me [00:13:45] in California, and we were going to go to dinner and then somebody was like, Hey, can I come? I would probably say, oh, you know, I haven’t seen this person for a long time.
We have a lot to catch up on. And I felt like in California, it sort of felt like everybody was invited all the time. Because nobody was having any real connection. And again, like I say, it’s, it’s 28 years old,
[00:14:07] Andrew: Yeah. In a hyper, hyper ambitious environment, you
[00:14:10] David: ambitious environment. Everybody’s like very selfish and whatever, including myself, but that element was certainly missing.
And I think that part of it was part of the, I talked about it a little bit in their heart to start where I was starting to have. That was kind of a moment where I had this realization that, that, oh, I had rejected this nine to five get a secure job at an insurance company in Omaha sort of template that had been presented to me graduating from college and, and in the process of rejecting that [00:14:45] I had embraced this other template, this sort of Silicon valley the, the, the way to beat the definition of success is to move fast and break things you know, ask for forgiveness, not for permission and raise money from venture capitalists to start a company.
And I had done some I’d started my own company, but I didn’t set up one investor meeting. I didn’t want to do that yet. At the same time, I kind of had that posture of that. I thought it was an entrepreneur. And then I was going to build a big company, but deep down it wasn’t for me. And it wasn’t something that I wanted.
And I didn’t understand the motivations behind people who. Who wanted to do that? And so I guess I sorta came to that realization that there was this, that disconnect between my actual and ideal self. And you know, we often search in relationships for some sort of solution that’s going to oh, this [00:15:45] person’s going to help me become this thing that I aspire to be my ideal self.
And so maybe part of like having the, this cycle of compulsive dating and realizing that it’s not working and it sort of like popped the, that, that, that vacuum between actual and ideal and sort of made me realize like, oh, you know, I’m just going to go totally invest in myself here and, and reconnect with some things about the Midwest that were familiar to me and that felt comfortable.
And so I kind of wanted to be in an environment like that. So I wanted a winter. It’s amazing to me that I now live in the city of the eternal spring and the weather’s always nice and I don’t feel a ton of pressure to be outside when it’s nice, but being in California, coming from Nebraska, where the weather is commonly nice.
When you live, when you grow up in the Midwest, if it’s [00:16:45] nice outside, you better go outside, you better get outside, you better do something. So when it’s like that all the time, it gets a little exhausting. And so I sort of missed just having that winter where you’re just, I’m just going to open up this programming book
[00:16:59] Andrew: yeah,
[00:17:00] David: there’s just snow
[00:17:01] Andrew: I’m going to turtle up for the winter and just like go into some stuff and see what happens.
[00:17:04] David: on projects.
Yeah. And so I just I had already done some journaling where I kind of went through sort of like there’s, I could probably find it even in, in, in a journal from then from 2007 or 2008 of just like a string of moments where I felt connected or where I felt comfortable. And it, there was this sort of vision of a Ferny plant and hardwood floors and some cold Chicago apartment.
Cause I had some friends who I went to college with who lived there. And so I had that vision. And I, I wanted to, to to make that [00:17:45] real. So I do kind of remember that, that, that moment. And then I also remember talking to my roommate about it and he was just like, what, what are you doing? Like don’t people move to from California to Chicago, people move to a cup from Chicago to California.
Like, are you sure you’re all right. Like, this girl just broke up with you, you know, you’re you, you started this business. It’s not necessarily going that well, like, you know, I know our other roommates moving out and I’m going in this other apartment and, and you know, like that stuff’s going on, but like, is this really what you want to do?
And like, yeah.
[00:18:18] Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I, well, first of all, kudos to you for following the impulse, which I feel like is the, almost the precondition for all the really interesting things that are, that, that happen in, in creativity, right? Like being willing to bet on your own impulses matters. It sort of opens the doorway to who knows what, but without that, like the norm, the door never seems to open.
And it reminds me, I had this quote, I pulled out from the, from the heart to start, where you talked about the idea [00:18:45] that art is a self-actualization and the quote that I, I mean, obviously you wrote it, but I’m gonna read it for the listener, which is the “only way to become your true self is to find the art inside you and make it real. Your art is the best expression possible of who you really are. You make art when you take your passions, your interests, and even your compassion for others and combine them to make something uniquely yours. And then , you later on say the doing often it comes first and it’s only later that you realized what it all means.
And so I’m curious, looking back on 10 years of this now, since it’s been 10 years, since your first book came out, you’ve done a lot of doing, when you look back, is there anything that stands out to you about what it all means.
[00:19:19] David: I mean, I think that is kind of what it all means right there is that it’s just the expression of it’s sort of this releasing of built up energy. Like you go through life. And, and you’re building up potential energy all the time. You’re having experiences, you’re experiencing emotions.
You’re, you’re getting to know yourself. You’re getting to know the people around you. You’re getting to know the world around you getting to know what’s important to you. You have experiences, maybe you have traumas and all those [00:19:45] things are stored up in you as potential energy. Just the same way that like, if you throw a bouncy ball on the ground that like it hits the floor and there’s potential energy there and it gets released.
And so that’s what I see it as is. That’s what I think ultimately what it’s all about besides the hokey pokey is is yeah. Is, is the building up and releasing of, of that energy. And I think that it took me a little while to figure that out, you know, for example, with, with design for hackers.
Okay. So that was 10 years ago, but that came after three years of personal experimentation. That was, I got fired, said I’m going to experiment, you know, a year later moved to Chicago, two more years of experimenting in that, in that cold apartment, before I get this email, it’s like, Hey, do you want to write this book?
As, , a direct result of the experimentation that I did when I had no idea what was going to come of it. And so when design for hackers was [00:20:45] successful and I was getting flown all over the world to speak and things, and, you know, people would recognize me at any tech conference that I went to and speaking at south by Southwest and all these wonderful things that I had sort of dreamed up, dreamt up.
There was this opportunity to, oh, you should like start a design firm and you should scale that the scale, this brand and, you know, sell these online courses. And I tried some of those things for a while, but I came to realize like, no, it’s the process through which I arrived at that book idea that that’s, that’s what it’s all about for me.
Like, I don’t want to do the scaling up of the brand and let’s have an agency too, and let’s sell a bunch of online courses. I want to go back to the cold apartment in Chicago where I don’t know what’s going to happen and experiment, and then see what the next thing is that appears from that. And [00:21:45] so it’s just been the repetition of that process.
And, you know, it should have been obvious because one of the. Things that I constantly return to during that period when I was first started on my own was watched that Steve jobs, Stanford commencement address from 2005, when he’s like talking about you, can’t connect the dots, moving forward.
You can only connect them in moving in reverse. You have to follow your heart. You have to trust it will all work out in the end. And I watched that, I watched it over, I watched it so much. It just
[00:22:20] Andrew: Like every night before bed,
you watch that
[00:22:22] David: deeply with me. And and, and so that’s what I tried. I tried to listen to it. It’s like, okay, I’m going to follow my curiosity, trust that it will work out in the end.
And then when it did work out I, it took me a while to realize like, oh no, I just, I want to go back and do that again.
[00:22:39] Andrew: you want to explore
[00:22:40] David: thing bigger that I, that, you know, I don’t want to make the hit bigger. I want to go [00:22:45] make another hit. And so that, that, I just loved that process.
[00:22:48] Andrew: So have you, by any chance, read the book by a man named Peter Korn called why we make things and why it matters.
[00:22:56] David: No, it sounds wonderful.
[00:22:58] Andrew: Okay. I think you would really dig this book. Just something about the idea, you know, we’re talking about here, one of his core points and I’m forgetting the words.
This is not quite right, but he talks about he’s a craftsman, so he’s a furniture maker and you know, sort of a senior Sage type person in the woodworking world, I think he’s in his sixties or seventies now. He’s been doing this for a very long time and he really kind of re poured everything he had learned from a career in craft into this one book.
And one of the things he talks a lot about is that whatever the medium, whether it’s wood or clay or words or whatever that ultimately the artist or the maker goes into the studio, trying to make a thing. But really what they’re really making is themselves. Like they go into the studio to come out a different person.
[00:23:42] David: Yes. I totally agree with that. [00:23:45] I mean, it’s just, it’s, it’s a therapy really. It’s like a, it’s a self-development thing. It is, this is self actualization is discovering who you are through taking who you are and turning it into something that you can show to the world and seeing how the world responds.
[00:24:01] Andrew: One of the things I’m curious about is like, when you, when you look back over your, you know, your last 10 years, let’s say since the first book came out you’ve been exploring so many avenues of yourself your ideas, putting them in the world, seeing what happens, take another crack at it and so on and so forth.
People really love the idea of like purpose, right? As this sort of unifying through line that makes it all fit together and make sense? Have you found anything like that for yourself? Or how did you find that idea to actually be helpful?
[00:24:24] David: Yeah. I think it goes in waves for me. And I think I was really interested in, in design. I really dug deep into it. I kind of found sort of my way of, Hey, this is how this works and turn that into a book and put that out in the world and then immediately lost interest in it.
[00:24:42] Andrew: But yeah, I’ve done.
[00:24:43] David: Yeah. And so now the thing that I’m [00:24:45] doing now, I’ve got these, the heart to start mine management, not time management, hoping to add a trilogy an end to the ma make the trilogy so that, you know, we’ll see when that happens.
And I see that as like, okay, well, this is me now looking back on the process through which I arrived and create a design for hackers and the things I’ve created, some of the things I’ve created since then. And just trying to the same way I came up with a framework for here’s how visual design, this thing, this thing that people think is so subjective and that cannot be explained.
Here’s my explanation for it. Here’s my, my mental model of it, my framework for understanding it. And so now I’m trying to figure that out for creativity, for how do you make something when you don’t know what it is that you’re making, when you don’t know whether or not it will work, how what’s the process that you go through to do that.
And as I’m writing, I’m discovering for myself because I want to know for myself. [00:25:45] And and, and I, and I love that that is, that has a purpose. And that purpose is that I just think there’s so many people out there who don’t don’t know how to do that. And they don’t even know that it’s an option and they’re trying to do the right thing.
They’re trying to do what somebody is telling them to do. And what they’ve been told to do, but it’s not going to make them happy. It’s not making them happy and it’s not really how the world is going to work anymore. It’s becoming more and more important to be able to figure out who you are to be able to make that into something that is for other people.
And, and to bring that into the world. And that process is a very unfamiliar and messy process that is incompatible with the way that we think about getting things done in this, [00:26:45] in like, especially the last a hundred years or so, as we’ve had this industrial incredibly productive society where here’s, how you do things, here’s the steps you follow.
You know, and if you don’t, if you can’t follow steps, if you don’t do things on time, then there’s something wrong with you. If you start a project and you get excited about something else and you go start a different project, and then you abandon that old project, there’s something wrong with you. If you are, if you were doodling in class.
Cause you’re curious about something in class is boring. There’s something wrong with you.
[00:27:25] Andrew: Yep.
[00:27:26] David: I don’t think
[00:27:27] Andrew: wrong with that?
[00:27:28] David: nothing wrong with that either. There’s something wrong with that. And I think that it’s, it’s this interesting stage in humanity where we’ve got to figure out how to make stuff how did, how to figure out who we are and put things out into the world.
And so that’s been my [00:27:45] purpose for the last several years now. I do think that once I create that framework and, and put it out there, I’m not just going to bang that drum for the rest of my life. What I think I will do is, is then take that framework, take what I learned along the way and present it to others and use it for myself to keep making things.
Yeah. And, and the purpose. Yeah. I mean, I liked that there’s a purpose to what I’m doing now. I do think that there, I do think that that’s impactful to help people unlock their creative potential. I think that that’s one of the best things that I have to offer the world. You know, that’s, that’s feasible for me to do I’m a big fan of 80,000 hours.
I’m a big fan of I’m doing good, better. And this idea that, you know, you’re going to have an impact on you wouldn’t have an impact in the world, but it might not be the most obvious thing. It might not [00:28:45] be you know, making sure that the coffee shop doesn’t have plastic straws or, you know,
[00:28:51] Andrew: Yeah. The whole idea of
[00:28:52] David: everybody’s talking about.
Yeah. I’m a, I’m, I’m a fan of effective altruism, et cetera.
[00:28:57] Andrew: For anyone who’s interested in the ideas of like 80,000 hours and effective altruism great stuff.
I’m super into it. Go check out episode 49, where I had a whole conversation about that with founders pledge. So if you’re interested in knowing more, go check out that episode.
[00:29:09] David: I think that what I’m doing is for me, probably the right fit for me. But then after that, you know, I, I don’t know. I don’t even know. I don’t, I don’t know if the things I do later have to be impactful. I mean, I think that we’re all so tired from this pandemic.
I think we all have so much moral fatigue thinking constantly about what are the second and third and fourth level impacts of our direct actions that we’re just exhausted and I’m one of those people myself. And I, after this, it might just be whatever the hell it makes me happy.[00:29:45]
[00:29:45] Andrew: I really appreciate you sharing that. David and you probably saw me smiling in a weird way. I was laughing to myself, but trying not to laugh and cut you off because I so resonated with everything you just said. I was just like, holy crap. If you’ve been like reading my journal, because I’ve been journaling a lot of these questions in recent months, and I even literally had the same phrase about unlocking creative potential.
Because I think for similar reasons as you I personally find it very meaningful that like to have that experience, but also when I think about the, the effects of helping more people do that, right? Like the world, the whole world gets better. The more people are bringing their interesting creative, good contributive ideas forward.
I’m like, yeah, that, that makes sense to me. So anything I can do to move that forward, you know, hell
[00:30:26] David: And beyond and beyond the value of the, you know, w world-changing things that they create. I think that there’s, it, it’s a great alternative to a lot of the ways that people spend their time and energy. Just simply not doing the things that they would normally be doing. And [00:30:45] instead, trying to create create things that alone is a huge net positive
to me It is a, it is a great journey.
I feel like it’s, it’s, it’s hard to not come out a better person. There’s certainly some selfish elements to it, but I think that is if you, once you create something and put it out into the world and you want to actually get the truth about whether people like it or not, you’re going to have to face some really uncomfortable things about yourself in, in that in that journey.
And that’s one of the only ways to even do that, I think is like, because it’s such an important goal, it’s so important to you to succeed at this thing that some of this stuff that you’re going to hear and learn about yourself along the way you probably would most of us would be likely to reject or ignore if it weren’t, if we didn’t find a reason for it to be important to us.
[00:31:39] Andrew: That’s, that’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought of it. I hadn’t thought of it in that specific way, but going back to the idea, we were jamming about a few [00:31:45] minutes ago of like creative work as a, as a means of self-development self-actualization right. Like every developmental, every human developmental pathway I’m aware of, certainly on the spiritual side, That goes into these sort of questions, you know, a huge piece in all of them is sort of the transcending of the lower ego.
And I don’t know anything that will force you to deal with your ego, like putting stuff in the world that you made, because that can, that can be quite brutal. And
it just seems like it can be absolutely retching. Yeah. You’re like, holy crap. This is my baby. And they might hate it.
[00:32:19] David: Does that mean to have a podcast? You know, the first two years of having a podcast, I really felt like I was getting punched in the stomach every
time that I looked at my like, download stats
of just like, how, what
what am I doing wrong? Like how, like, how crazy am I, then I’m like spending all this time and energy on this thing.
And, and, and if [00:32:45] it’s, if it’s not resonating or is it, you know, what am I doing wrong? And is it, you know, you, you, you find yourself wanting to come up with all these scapegoats that, oh, you know, such and such, or this other podcast, or they’re cheating, or you know, what else am I come up with? Oh, I can’t, can’t get this, this person didn’t want to be on my podcast or, oh, I can’t believe this guest, you know didn’t share it on Twitter or something,
or you try to come up with some sort of thing, but really it’s just, it’s just, it’s it all comes down to, you have to be so good that they can’t ignore you. And it, it, you know, and you can be Cal Newport, right. And that’s, that’s from a Steve Martin. That’s a Steve Martin quote. Right. And if you read his book, born, standing up there’s and that’s a great journey that he went on and I’ve been doing stand up comedy. It’s just, it’s amazing to hear those stories that that’s just such a, that’s such a brutal, like get up there.
You’re like a fish on a cutting board [00:33:45] and you’re just terrible for if you’ve been doing it for 10 years, you’re kind of just starting out like it. You just have to constantly be like, well, I’m just not good enough and not, and, and at the same time, you have to also be like, I am enough
as a person. I am enough.
This does not make me a bad person, or there’s nothing wrong with me as a person. But my work, my work is not good enough. And even though there’s a, there’s certainly a lot of chance to it. There’s a huge element of luck but you can totally be good and, and, and be toiling away in obscurity for, for quite some time, probably not forever.
If you’re good enough, like you’re going to get noticed eventually if you’re, if you’re presenting the right thing. And so that’s just such a, it’s such a satisfying. Sort of challenge and, and thing to, to go back to over and over again, it’s like, all right, well, this is as good as I can get. This is as good as I can make it.
I’m exhausted. I can’t make it any [00:34:45] better. And then you just take a breather and you’re like, all right, I can make it better. What do I
[00:34:50] Andrew: take a nap.
[00:34:51] David: Let’s just try this. Yeah. And you know, just doing that over and over again is, is, is is quite the self-development tool, I think. And I think that it’s something that I, I wish that more people could experience.
[00:35:06] Andrew: yeah. A hundred percent. You, you know, it’s funny, you just gave a whole bunch of illumination to a statement that I’ve been thinking about for awhile . So way back in the podcast, I had this conversation with a woman named Amy Edmondson who is a global expert in the topic of psychological safety. And how do you build the kind of culture within a team or an organization that really brings forward the best in people?
And she’s, she’s amazing. I think it was episode number nine and we’ll link to all the stuff in show notes. My point is there was something that just kind of came out organically in that conversation that I think you just gave a beautiful, like, you just put some meat on the bones and it was this idea where we, we got into this conversation about like, what is work for, [00:35:45] and we were talking about this in the context of like, just work generally speaking, but I think it’s, it’s more interesting to look at it in the lens of what you and I are here of like, what is creative work for?
And the answer that kind of organically spontaneously came through me that I, I I’ve been sticking with ever since is that it’s, it’s a, it’s a platform to develop and express who we are in service of something bigger than ourselves. And as I listened to you talk about this, I’m like, yeah, that feels right.
[00:36:08] David: But I also, I don’t know if it has to be bigger than ourselves, ultimately.
[00:36:12] Andrew: Okay, cool.
[00:36:13] David: I, I mean, I think that’s nice. It’s, it’s good if it is. I try not to make that the aim, I guess I worry so much about, I, I really do think that social desirability bias is like a really dangerous thing and it, and it causes a lot of damage and And I, I
[00:36:33] Andrew: Knew more
about that. I’m not, I’m not familiar with that.
[00:36:36] David: Yeah. So it’s just the idea that, like, for example I think I learned it from
Who he wrote the case against education, Brian, Brian [00:36:45] Kaplan, and which is like, what case against education, what are you kidding me? You read the book and it’s like, it’s a really well-formed argument that like, Hey, we’re spending a ton of money and this actually education doesn’t necessarily work.
And all the, all the stories that we have are, have been proven otherwise. And so he talks about social desirability bias and that’s, that’s that knee jerk reaction, right? They’re like what, no, EDU education is a waste of time and money. Like how could that possibly be? And you know, I don’t know how much damage it does, but I guess it, you know, it goes back to this you know, it’s such a, it’s such a, a loaded word, but this idea of like a virtue signal, which you know, is, is, is weaponized by, by people who, you know, don’t have necessarily good intent, but it’s actually, I think there’s actually some damage to, to that idea, I guess.
Look at the damage that Elizabeth Holmes you know, Defrauded people from tons of money sent like harmed people with the you know, [00:37:45] false blood test, et cetera.
[00:37:48] Andrew: This is the fair enough story,
[00:37:49] David: Right. And part of the reason, part of what made her look successful was, was social desirability, I think was that she was, it was just such a, a, an appealing story to the media. And I think that she, you know, while also being aggressor of, it was also part victim of, of this idea, like, oh, here’s this young woman in stem who is doing great things to, you know, help the world.
And like, let’s just put her on the cover of every single magazine and like, feed that monster and not ask ever, like, is this real, like, is this legit? Like, we just liked the story. It’s going to sell magazines. It’s going to get eyeballs.
That’s just one example. So I, I don’t, I don’t know I to get a sense that social desirability bias.
Is is damaging. I think that that’s part of, part of what’s [00:38:45] behind affective altruism and something that they tried to sort of cut through is like, all right, this feels this, cause that I’m into like, oh, I’m going to build a school or I’m going to you know, send kids choose so they can walk to school or whatever, like, okay, well, is that why they’re not going to, is that why they’re not getting learning?
maybe it’s because they have diarrhea, maybe it’s because they have like you know they have intestinal worms that you could cure for like half a cent, if you would just send them these pills or something, you know, like things like that. It’s like not sexy at all. And, and so I worry about that for myself sometimes.
Like if I feel really good about, if I tell myself this story, that I’m having an impact on people, and I know I just started sort of did that a little bit, but like I say, I try not to make it like a main focus for me. If I tell myself too much of that story, then it, at some point it becomes a little dangerous, perhaps that like maybe, you know, maybe I’m telling myself I’m making an impact and I’m actually not, or maybe I’m actually hurting somebody.
And so you know, not that [00:39:45] you can measure everything, but I just try not to make that too much of a. Of of the equation, which is, you know, makes me sound like a terrible person. Right. Because social desirability bias. And so anyway, I don’t want to, I don’t want to shit on your idea of like, having an impact on people or, or, or anything like that.
But I’m just saying that that’s a thing that I try to check myself on every once in a while.
[00:40:06] Andrew: There’s a very legitimate risk. And I say this as somebody who spent a fair amount of time in and around the world of social impact, social impact technology, there was a very legitimate risk of deluding yourself into like, I’m doing something actually.
Good. And then in reality, what you’re doing is telling yourself a story that feels good and you’re not actually doing anything. That’s a totally legitimate
[00:40:26] David: and that was the last, that was the last startup that I worked at actually was a, was a green startup. It was like a green Yelp. And it was sort of one of my last, like, after working at a different startup, that was kind of like a meaningless that wasn’t totally me. It was like, we help people get jobs.
Right. That’s that’s not, that’s actually [00:40:45] probably more impactful than whatever we were trying to do it, this other one where we’re like, okay, this is, you know, product reviews for all these eco-friendly products and stuff. But like, the more that I like hung around with that crowd, the more like events or whatever I went to.
And I just like, what? Like, this is just consumerism dressed up as greenwashing, right? Is it just consumerism dressed, not even greenwashing. Greenwashing is like an intentional kind of thing, but this is just delusion. This is just not doing the math on. Like whether the thing that you’re doing is having the impact that you purport it to now my, my feeble solution to that is to just not proport that there’s an impact at all, I guess, but but yeah, so so yeah, I was in that world too, and I, I got, I got a little, I got a little jaded from
[00:41:39] Andrew: totally understandable type. I have direct experience with , exactly what you were talking about in terms of like, you look at [00:41:45] it, you’re like, is this all bullshit? I’m not sure. I totally get that.
[00:41:49] David: I want to tell you though, and so hopefully this won’t get us too far off, but you know, have you seen the book work by James Susan?
[00:41:56] Andrew: No.
[00:41:57] David: So I’m just sort of beginning to read it. And there was a great conversation with him on Ezra Klein as your client’s podcasts.
And he’s this anthropologist who has spent a lot of time with, I guess they were called the bushmen, but they’re the June quasi. I don’t know how to say it the way that he did it, it’s the way it’s written is like, there’s a slash and there’s a comma. And, but that’s the way he was kind of saying it on the podcast.
And, and, and like realizing that these hunter gatherer tribes there used to be this story that these hunter gatherer tribes, they’re like, oh, they’re like on the edge of death all the time. They’re on the edge of starvation. And now it turns out, you know, they, they work like 15 hours a week getting all the food that they need.
And then like another 25 hours a week, maybe, you know working on [00:42:45] their house or stuff like that. And they actually have quite a bit, a bit of leisure time and they have a very a very laid back lifestyle and that this whole idea of scarcity that our market economy, capitalist economy is built around is, is not you know, an economic necessity necessarily.
And that th that there it is possible to, to not operate under that under that calculus and still and still gain sustain. And, and but one of the more interesting things is like way earlier in the book, it’s quite esoteric where he starts talking about entropy, this idea that everything will eventually become level. Like it’ll just be all a chaos. Right. And that, and that work isn’t necessarily us trying to gain any sort of sustenance or, or meaning, or even in the animal kingdom like that this bird just keeps on making these nests and is, and supposedly it’s for a mating advantage, but it turns out that no, [00:43:45] actually it doesn’t like these nests don’t actually make a difference in their, in their reproductive success that maybe it’s really just, they have the extra calories.
And so they’re kind of re configuring. Uh, to help the process of entropy that is taking place in the universe. That’s a fight entropy, but to be part of the process of entropy.
[00:44:09] Andrew: Oh, that’s interesting. Because as I was listening to you two ideas from other places sort of fused in my mind, so I’ll offer them up and I’ll see where they take us I’m thinking of the book flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyiand his, all of his work.
And then at the same time, I’m thinking about a book I’m reading right now, which is The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and where those smashed together for me, relevant to what you just said is this idea that in this may not be what you’re saying, but I’m not sure is this idea that there is a sort of inherent unstructuredness or chaoticness to the reality in which we live.
We seem to have an innate drive [00:44:45] or we feel better when we are able to impose order on that chaos. And like, she sent me, hi, it talks a lot about providing order to consciousness.
That reminded me of the Phillips and Barto time paradox thing, because he was just talking about how the, one of the essential functions of work for people is to provide structure to the day, .
[00:45:05] David: Right. Yes. . It provides structure to the day. I guess there’s still this part of me, that’s like a little nihilist That’s a little bit like, you know, life doesn’t really have meaning and you, you know, you’re in humans. We think that we’re great, but we’re all human. So obviously we think we’re great.
And we think that more humans is good. And we think that what we’re doing here is good. And maybe we were wrong about all that too. So, so I, this is probably frustrating to listen to. These are the thoughts that I have. So while I, I do try to, you know, have some purpose to my life and work and, and I feel a sense of purpose about it is part of me is also like, well, but [00:45:45] also maybe none of it matters.
[00:45:47] Andrew: Yeah, I think it’s a valid duality to hold in our minds. For me, the, the purpose thing is, is all ultimately more of an intention, right? It’s something you hope. But we never can be totally sure, frankly.
[00:45:58] David: yeah.
[00:45:59] Andrew: So that’s kinda how I settle out with it. . I want to switch gears here and talk a little bit more about your book. I want to explore more of your book, mind management, not time management I really, really resonated with this book and one of the things that so made sense to me was, and I think you mentioned this already in this conversation was this idea that we come out of, you know, a society that’s steeped in a hundred years of Taylorism and scientific management and, you know, there’s a right way to do everything and just follow the steps and blah, blah, blah.
And that system kind of breaks when we’re talking about creative work, right. It is a non-linear unpredictable, it just doesn’t work. And so I, when I, when I like that seemed when I resonated, when I saw that as the premise of your book, it just so resonated with me. And I was just, I’d love to [00:46:45] have you talk a little bit more about how this transition is happening, because it seems like you’re on the, like, I feel like you’re on the front wave of something with this, because I feel like I’m seeing the core point you’re pointing to in many places at once.
So it’s curious, like, how did this emerge for you? And, and like, how did this one come into being for you.
[00:47:06] David: It came into being from me from a writing design for hackers. That was, I got this chance to write, to write a book and I never had considered myself a writer. But as I was experimenting, that was sort of a thing that was in my mind. Like maybe someday I’ll write a book. I think everybody thinks that probably, but I got the opportunity.
And so it was, I signed a contract. You have to write this book in six months and I didn’t know how to write a book, but I figured I could do it. I’ve been through creative agony before as a designer plenty of times. And so I figured I could, I could, I could handle it, but it turned out to be much harder than I [00:47:45] expected.
And it was frustrating to me that I would spend an, it took over my life. I cut out my social life. I locked myself in my apartment. Probably none of that stuff was good for me. In fact, I think that it, I think it was harmful. But that’s kind of what I needed to do to make progress on the book was sit in front of the keyboard and really feel agony and feel sort of doubled over in an actual pain trying to get some writing done.
And then every once in a while there would just be this moment where I would hit that flow. I would just start typing. And 15 minutes later I’d have an entire chapter drafted. And I say, well, why, why did I have to bang my head against the wall for 12 hours a day to write for 15 minutes? And like, that’s all the writing.
I think about it. Like most of us can type pretty quickly. These days you can type an entire [00:48:45] novel in a day, ask anybody who’s tried NaNoWriMo and has written a novel in a month. Like that’s hard to do. It’s hard to write a novel in a month and it usually doesn’t even turn out that good, but you could type the whole thing in a day.
So where’s the value
here. The value is in the eye, in the ideas. Right. And so, and we, and a lot of us have had those moments too, where we just have that. Aha. And we, we see everything, we have this clarity and there’s been wonderful inventions done that way. Or there’s just something appears in somebody’s mind, a Paul McCartney writing yesterday, or Goodyear coming up with the galvanization of galvanized rubber, just these happy accidents the discovery of penicillin, the creation of the microwave, these things that just happen you know, in a moment’s notice.
And so can you, does that, does that process, do you have to just wait for randomness to come? [00:49:45] Or can you kind of engineer things arrange things around? So it comes, starts coming a little bit easier. So for me with writing that book, I started to experiment and I started to, by the time I was done writing that book, have the. The beginnings of this sort of perpetual creativity machine, where like I was doing research and getting certain things in place in preparation for a writing session, and then sitting down at that writing session and then actually having the writing come to me because it was, it was ready. I had done the proper steps ahead of time to be ready for, for that th those insights to come.
And so when the smoke cleared on that process, I really started to dig into the neuroscience, the behavioral science, and I wrote a blog post in 2012. Mind management, not time management and sort of outlined my beginnings of this [00:50:45] idea that okay. Time, isn’t the thing that we’re struggling with when we’re, when we’re trying to be creative, what’s difficult is getting ourselves in the state of mind to actually create things, to paraphrase Constantine Brancusi, and and actually then maybe like a year later Dan Arielli, the behavioral scientist reached out to me and he was working on an app called timeful.
And I advised that app and I learned a lot through that process as well. And then that app sold to Google and they’ve integrated some of that technology in their calendar. And, and so that’s kind of how it began and that’s been sort of the evolution of the process. And I started working on the book you know I mean, depends on what you want to solve is, is, is starting to work on the book.
But I’d say the last couple of couple of years ago but it’s, it’s been an ongoing journey of discovery to actually get to the point where there started to be a cohesive something that I could communicate to people about how to manage their creative energy in a [00:51:45] way that can help them make those insights happen when they want them to,
[00:51:50] Andrew: Yeah. Do you, one of the things I’ve been wondering about, so, and just to set the context, there’s seven there’s seven mind states that you cover in, in the book in depth and, and the acronym you use as per golf par. And see if I can rattle these off hold on. I’ve been working on this one lately.
Let me see if I can get these right. It was prioritize, explore research, generate Polish, administrate and regenerate. Is that right?
[00:52:12] David: Last, last one is Recharge
just be charged so you can do it, do it over again.
[00:52:17] Andrew: Got it. There we go. So and I actually wouldn’t really appreciate it. That was that you actually kind of gave, I don’t know, I love framework. So it helped me to start to think, oh, here’s a framework for how to manage my energy over time.
And so I found that really useful. One of the questions I’ve been wondering about, so I just finished this book recently and one of the first things I did was start changing how I structured my weeks and sort of batching everything and tagging everything by what mental state it was in.
And then trying to like, okay, well, how can I batch all the like Polish [00:52:45] things near each other? And then like, where do I physically want to be? And how do I mentally get myself in the right mind state for that? So I started doing, doing that. I’m like, holy, holy shit, this works. And so a for people like don’t buy the book, read the book, do what he says, because it actually works.
I can tell you that from direct experience. Now my question that I’m wondering about now that I’m actually like living with this a little bit is I totally see how this, how this maps perfectly to any, you know, what we’ll call a stereotypically creative work, right? Like composition or writing or music or whatever.
How much do you find that this applies to like knowledge work? Does it transfer directly? Is it the same or is.
[00:53:22] David: I got it. I don’t, I’m not even sure if I know what knowledge work is anymore. I know. Like I gave you, I like the idea of knowledge work is it sounds like, okay, you have some knowledge. Well, but knowledge. All free now everywhere. Like, I feel like does anybody a knowledge worker anymore or are we all being creative?
I think, I mean, what does it mean to you?
[00:53:44] Andrew: fair, [00:53:45] fair question.
[00:53:45] David: you?
[00:53:46] Andrew: I don’t know that I have a good one. I mean, I guess I was thinking about just more of a cognitively driven job. But I work in creative technology, like your background as well. And so I was, you know, the first things that come to mind for me, my background is as an an engineer and then a product person.
And so I think about like engineering or product work or design work or marketing, those kinds of things. Those are sort of where my mind goes with it. I’m like, okay, what would be a lot of the states make
[00:54:09] David: totally. I’ve done some development work myself, and I know the feeling of you know, working on a bug and you don’t know if you’re going to fix this in 10 minutes or if it’s going to happen. And it’s one of these things where you can sit there and you’re staring at the code and you’re wondering, is this saying what I think it says, and I’ve had those times where you do that and you’re like, oh, you have to go to the bathroom. You get up, you come back and then now it says something different than what you thought it said, because you were so. Tight at that [00:54:45] moment. And you weren’t able to, I don’t know if you’ve experienced that. That’s, what’s been my experience before. We’re like, okay. I thought the code said that,
but there’s clearly a misspelling here or I’m using the wrong method or whatever.
[00:54:57] Andrew: sure.
[00:54:58] David: And so that’s something that, you know, people can intentionally do.
And I don’t think, you know, it’s sort of a cop out. People were like, oh yeah, just go for a walk or whatever, but you can be intentional about those, about those things where you can say, okay, well I’m gonna, you know, go for a walk, clear my mind. And then I’m going to sit down and I’m gonna write in pseudo code what I think this does or what it says, or like in plain English, here’s the things that are going on and you’re away from that.
And then maybe if you have a chance, if you can sleep on it, that’s great because like using sleep to solve your problems for you that didn’t sound right, but you’re using sleep. As they say, in, in, in Spanish that you hear the, you hear the expression, [00:55:45] sleep on it, as they say in Spanish consult tower, alarm, water consults, the pillow, consult your pillow.
It’s an extremely powerful thing. Or even taking a nap napping on a problem, like actually being intentional about these things. I think a lot of these elements that are. You know, there, this is great for creative work, but you can use it for all sorts of things. And I have some examples in the book, even when I talk about using it for, for decision-making, I use it for planning trips.
So planning trips is, I don’t know what it’s like for other people, but it’s, I find it very difficult. You’re trying to figure out what are the right routes to fly? Which airline should I fly? Where am I going to stay? And then there’s all these different moving parts. Well, if I fly on this airline, then I’m not going to stay in that hotel because it’s not in that city or the one that’s in that city.
Isn’t, isn’t good. If that’s where my layover is and I have an overnight layover, there’s so many other moving parts there and just sit down and try to plan all of that at once is [00:56:45] totally exhausting. And so it’s one of these things that I allow to incubate what I’ll sit down and, and, and like type out, you know, a few different itinerary possibilities, just like broad strokes.
And then kind of say, all right, well, you’re looking for, you’re looking for a reward flight for this flight, so it isn’t available right now. So here’s an action item for next time. You look at this to look at this reward flight to, to, to conduct this particular search. And when you step away from it, you let some time pass.
You, come back to it. That’s stuff, incubator. There’s that passive genius that somehow, like, it’s all just more clear. And so if, instead of trying to fight your way through any sort of decision or very complex thing that you have a lot of different moving parts for that you need to reconcile with one another, instead of like trying to power your way [00:57:45] through those things, just kind of giving yourself the minimum creative dose of it was the, the expression that I use of like, okay, what are the basics here?
I’m not trying to solve the problem. I’m just trying to like, feed my mind with it and then step away from it for like, and you don’t always have this luxury, but, you know, great. If you had to have a couple of days, if you can have, if you can have weeks in between, that’s why you would do a trip planning oftentimes and planning trips, like weeks in advance.
And so it’s like every Sunday I’ll spend like 15 minutes on this trip and it’s just so much easier, so much less exhausting. And you let you let your, your, your subconscious take care of a lot of it. Language learning. I use it I have used it for learning Spanish. I continue to use it for, for learning Spanish.
When I first started learning Spanish I watched the first 20 minutes of eating mama , with breakfast every morning, viewer discretion is advised and and. It, wasn’t trying to like understand it because if you’re sitting down, if you want to sit down and like, watch the [00:58:45] movie and try to understand it every single time, like it’s going to be exhausting, but it’s just like letting it play, like while I’m eating.
And then eventually there starts to be these bites, the sound bites, and you’re in your, in your head. And then you run into situations. You’re like, well, in the movie, they said this way. So they, maybe I say this this way. And then you can start to get this grab bag of pieces to to fit together. My, my partner and I, she doesn’t really speak she’s not a native English speaker.
I’m not a native Spanish speaker. So every day we read one page of a book, me and in Spanish, her in English. And we read each page like three times. And so, and it’s really interesting how, especially if we have like a couple days break, for some reason that we don’t get to get the reading, we like go on vacation or something like that.
And we come back. It’s amazing. How like, oh, that was so hard to read that two days ago or a few days ago. And now I’m just like,
you know, [00:59:45] and the fluency just starts, starts to come. And so instead of just trying to power through things, giving yourself that little tiny bit of the minimum creative dose, what. Minimum thing that you need and allowing the passive genius, allowing the incubation to take over, we just don’t do enough of that. I don’t think. And I think that that’s something that applies to all sorts of sort of cognitive activities that are happening in knowledge work, when it comes to solving problems, understanding a situation really well, a skill acquisition, things like that.
[01:00:17] Andrew: In the book, you talk about. Trying to match, let’s say you have a task or some, some bit of work you want to do, and you you’ve identified it’s in a certain mental state. And then, then the game is a little bit of like, how do I get myself in that mental state?
Some of that is time of day. Some of that is location. Some of it is just biology. And I’m curious, like beyond, you know, you talk in the book about changing your physical environment, right? You talked about going to the 95th floor in Chicago with this great view for like really kind of expansive thinking and [01:00:45] so forth, which makes total sense.
And I think everyone’s had that experience of like, wow, I just had this, you know, my mind opened up and I’m curious beyond the I think the physical environment one is great and people should definitely listen to the interview you did with Donald Ratner. We’ll link to that in the show notes.
His book is fantastic. Super cool stuff about environmental psychology. I had never heard of it until your book. And I totally enjoyed that, but I’m curious beyond, yeah, it’s super cool. And his writing by the way is hilarious. I really enjoy his writing. Just like the phrase, there’s a phrase in there.
Optimal curvaceous Snus. I remember that I can’t get it out of my head about this. Like he’s talking about rooms anyways. My question is beyond the beyond changing one’s physical environment, what are some of the ways you have found to be either for yourself or maybe from readers or people you talk to ways of getting ourselves in the, the appropriate mental state for the task at hand, the generate one, most of all, since that’s like kind of the, that’s where the gold
[01:01:39] David: I mean, really there are ways to get to some of the ways that I get myself into states, but [01:01:45] really the best is, is to have is to plan your week or plan your schedule in a way that allows you to work in a certain mental state at the same time, very often. And going along with your, whatever, your sort of natural energy fluctuations are.
So for a lot of people, for creativity, for generate or actually especially explore as a, another mental state where you’re not necessarily. Trying to create a finished product, but you were trying to explore the various avenues there. They’re not trying to arrive at the solution, but that’s a great time for the morning is a great time for that.
You know, when you’re groggy, haven’t had coffee, you know, you feel like you can’t think you know, part of that is maybe people trying to having too high of expectations of what’s possible from them. And you can get some amazing ideas from, from those sorts of situations for actually getting into a state when you’re not in [01:02:45] it.
I often try to just recall a time that I was in that state that I, that I want to get into and just having, like, just taking a moment to concentrate in imagine and visualize what that was like to be in that state. If, if, if you’re somebody who is maybe struggling to get into a certain state during a certain activity, that’s something that you can sort of reverse engineer.
There’s a story. I tell this from Josh, Waitzkin his book. The art of learning. Where there was an executive who was having trouble focusing during meetings. And so he asked the executive, well, when is it that you feel. The, the way that you would like to feel in those meetings or the sense of flow.
And he’s like, well, when I play catch with my son, that’s when I feel the most flow. So then, then he started to set up this recurring habit of, okay eat this snack, listen to this song, do these stretches play catch with your son? And then that started to bind those things as stimuli, that, that the, [01:03:45] your brain associates with that mental state.
So it became to the point where he could just think of the song and then he would get himself into that state. And he’d do that before before he would go into a meeting.
[01:04:00] Andrew: So it seems like a lot of this is predicated on the idea on the sort of associative links, right? The idea that we get into a rhythm and we start to associate certain things with certain states which is that makes sense to me, although I had been thinking of it a little bit differently. I think I’d been assuming that there were, you know, certain times of the day, at least speak for myself that we’re just going to be better for certain types of things.
[01:04:21] David: mean, that’s true.
I mean, it’s not like, well, I think there’s, there’s certain times a day that are going to be better, or we’re not optimal for things, but sometimes you have these non-negotiable. It happens like, you know, for me to have a podcast interview for me to speak on a podcast or have a conversation like this, we’re having it in the afternoon on a Thursday, a perfect [01:04:45] time for me.
But sometimes there’s somebody on the other side of the world and like, it’s, it’s going to have to either choose to do it late at night when I might be starting to wind down or it’s going to have to be early in the morning. And then those are situations where I’m somebody who drinks very little caffeine.
I can’t remember the last time I had caffeine to be honest. But I’m sure it was sometime in the last six months, but you know, if I’m in a situation like that, I might take a half a cup of green tea and I save it for those moments when I really want it. Or I might take some theanine or something that I do before every podcast, a conversation or a recording that I even did before.
This one is I have a specific set of warmups that I do for my voice and for my mind as well, it’s like improvisational things. And that’s something that you have to sort of customize for whatever for every situation is what are these, what are the steps we’re going to do to get into that state?
Like you might do it if you’re [01:05:45] playing a sport, like there’s these exercises or these things that you practice before you, every, every single. These are the things that you want to get a feel for, like before. And I’ll, I’ll, I’ll change my warmup before a podcast, for example I have the vocal warmups from voice lessons that I took when I was in Chicago.
And and so I have recordings, I might listen to there, but it will depend upon like, okay, I might have a little few tests sounds that I do. And I’m like, all right, well, is that working? I have a, like a little rap that I’ll that I’ll do like, am I stumbling over the words here? Do I need to stretch out my jaw or, or whatever?
Like just like any anybody would, who was serious about doing anything would get themselves ready for it. And that’s a funny thing about, about the way that we operate. You know, I’m somebody who just have a to-do list and it’s just this nondescript list of things that are so different from one another.
And we just treat it like [01:06:45] we could just do any of those things at any time, but now I’m like an Olympic athlete before they do an event, they’re going to have some kind of warm up. They’re going to get into state to do that. Like you can’t expect to just roll out of bed and be able to do whatever. So if there are any things that on a repeated basis you need to get into state to do.
And then It’s something that you need to experiment with and take note of what is this, what are these processes that I’m using to get to get there? You know, myself for writing, for example, like I just would have a whiteboards that I will sometimes, you know, I don’t even have anything to actually type with and I just have the whiteboards and it just what’s on my mind right now.
I’ll just write a right. Exactly whatever it is and change the sentence mid-sentence and just try to get a grasp on what’s here today. What am I working with? And there’s where I want to go. There’s what I actually have. There’s [01:07:45] how does, how do things feel today and then maybe I’m changing where I want to, what I’m actually going to do based upon what I’m working with today.
[01:07:55] Andrew: I really liked that analogy. Because like I played so many sports growing up, like, but this idea of being a creative athlete almost right. We were like, cool, how do I get myself in the right zone for what I need to do? And that makes a lot of sense to
[01:08:05] David: Yeah, for example one I’ll, I’ll do an exercise sometimes where if I really want to, you know, punch up my writing where I, I want more contrast to it. I might actually sit there and, and just write words that are opposite. Just like ice fire, hot, cold, wet, dry, you know, just, and it has nothing to do with anything that I’m writing.
It’s just me going through that exercise of contrasts. And this might be something that I do not because I’m trying to get into a certain state even, but because I know that if I do that, if I sit down at a cafe and I do that, [01:08:45] that is going to seep into my writing in the coming days. And
[01:08:48] Andrew: Yeah.
[01:08:49] David: drills.
[01:08:50] Andrew: , you talk a little bit about like this idea that there’s kind of fuzzy borders between the states.
They’re not all like, so cut and dry from each other. And the ones that I find myself sort of fumbling between when I’m, when I’m, as I’m exploring this in my own work is sort of the explore state, the, and the the generate state, like I understand generate versus polished, like Polish I’m coming back and I’m really cleaning this thing, editing, tightening it up, et cetera, but explore and generate and research to me, feel all kind of real overlapping.
And I was wondering if you could kind of help me kind of unpack that for
[01:09:21] David: yeah, those have kind of the fuzziest borders of all. I think. So I think it’s really all about intention. Like what do I want to, and I’ll, and I’ll switch sometimes based upon like what I’m working with. Like I say where you’re like, Ooh, You know, if I’m sitting down writing a whole bunch of different email newsletters, I might even come like, oh, this one, this idea, boom, I’ve got this.
And then I get to, I got [01:09:45] to one the other day and I was like, oh, I just don’t, don’t have it for this one. And so that’s where I go from. All right. I’m not doing generate some more, so much. I’m more doing Explorer. And that’s like doing more of like a barf draft.
I’m putting it in brackets and I’m just like writing whatever comes to mind. free-riding getting stuff on the page and I know I’m not going to come up with anything, but I know I’m going to come back to this a few days later and then maybe think those things are going to be a little bit more clear, clear to me.
And that can happen with, with, with Reese. Like you said, research and explore research is very often, like I’m trying to find the answer to a question. I know what it is that I want to figure out. Like maybe there’s some sort of fact that I’m trying to decide or what year something happened, et cetera.
Yeah. Very targeted.
Or there’s, there’s like I’m reading a book about Henry Ford right now, and I know there’s stuff in there that I’m going to use. But it’s more of an explore mental state. Cause if I, if I get, like, I know there’s going to be stuff I’m gonna use about Henry Ford, but if I open [01:10:45] this book and I’m like, okay, where’s this. That’s not, it’s not going to work. My mind is not going to be open and ready to receive it. And so I just have to do the hard work of like, let’s just read this whole fricking book and you know, see what I find there. And that’s an explore state there versus, oh wait maybe I’m doing a follow-up on it.
Then I’m doing research where we say, oh wait, who was the guy that he raised with that car? What year was that? You know, how did he raise that money? Like, what are the ant specific answers to these questions? Like, that’s more of a research and it can, it can also, it can depend also on just whether what you’re trying to do is working or not.
And that’s where I find just telling myself mentally changing that intention of, okay, wait, you know, you’re, you’re trying too hard to be in generate right now. You’d be more an Explorer. You’re trying too hard to be in research right now. You get you pick up the book, you’re impatient and they go, where’s the stuff.
Where’s the interesting nuggets here. Like, no, you’re [01:11:45] not in research here. You’re not, you don’t know how to find the thing that you’re looking for because you don’t even know what you’re looking for, but you know, there’s something here.
[01:11:52] Andrew: Yup.
[01:11:52] David: Even if you don’t know, there’s something there, even if you’re just, and that’s where, like there can be a fuzzy border between explore and recharge.
Like I enjoy reading nonfiction. I enjoy reading the book about Henry Ford. It’s recharging for me. But at the same time, it’s, it’s, it’s exploratory. And so
[01:12:08] Andrew: Yeah.
[01:12:08] David: some flexibility.
[01:12:10] Andrew: I think I had been a little too narrow or rigid with my framing around it where I was thinking certain of these states are divergent, certain are convergent, but it seems like it’s actually not that simple where, cause I’m thinking about generate like, but generate could be either one, right?
Like you could be in a more divergent state of generativity where you’re, it seems like you could be a little more divergent or you’re, you know, you’re saying, all right, I have, I have explored all my stuff and I have all the Lego blocks on the table and I am now putting this thing together and generating something with it that I’ll I’ll, you know, I’ll edit it and Polish it.
Does that stack up without your experiences of
[01:12:41] David: some of it sort of depends. There’s a lot of this stuff depends [01:12:45] on all right. How complex of a creative problem. This is how big of a project is this? How familiar am I with this? Have I created this type of project before many, many times. So my love Mondays emails my newsletter, and it has like a certain format to it.
They’re not all the exact same, but I’ve, I’ve created a number of those. And it’s not a long, long project necessarily, but a book like it takes a long time. And then it might even, I might even be in generate where I’m creating just articles in generate, and then eventually. And that sort of serves as explore for the book.
Like, what are you doing? The smaller project and in the context of that project, it’s generate, but in the context of some larger project that it becomes a part of later it’s Explorer. But that doesn’t necessarily, it doesn’t necessarily have to influence your mental state because [01:13:45] the mental state is really just there to help smooth the path for you to do the work that you’re doing in the moment.
[01:13:54] Andrew: And as you work your way with these states week over week, over week, you can kind of have faith that your, your overall project is making its way through the sort of larger four stages of of control or creativity.
[01:14:05] David: Yeah. And it’s you know, it’s, it’s like automatic for me now. I, I tag my tasks with the mental states. So many of the things that I do in my business, whether it’s podcast episodes or the, the newsletters, like a lot of those things are in creative systems, which I also talk about in the book where it’s just like, they’re just repeating on certain cycles, like on a monthly cycles.
And there are certain weeks during the month that I’m in different stages for these things. And it’s just sort of happen automatically. They show up the tasks, show up in my to-do list and they already have the tags on it. And then outside of that is, is I’ve got larger [01:14:45] projects that I work on and I kind of already have my rhythm figured out for the week where there’s certain things I’m, I’m going to do during certain times of the week, because I’m going to be in certain mental states.
And then there’s certain things that I’m going to try to avoid doing during other parts of the week, because it’s going to be very hard for me to get into the right mental state to do those things. And it’s one of these things you just iterate on and keep doing and you get better and better at.
[01:15:12] Andrew: Totally. Well, we go and close out here with a couple really quick, rapid fire questions, short questions. Your answers can be as long or short as you find. Interesting. So the first one is what would you say? You know, best.
[01:15:24] David: No, I, I guess I, I would have to say my own curiosity. I have a I feel like it’s a horse that you’ve got to tame. You know, I think that I don’t really know know much. I don’t know anything about taming horses or horses. Horses scare me. Quite frankly, they killed a horse killed Superman. But yeah, so, but, but I, I do think it is something [01:15:45] that you’ve got to, you know, people get shiny object syndrome and they feel bad about themselves and they beat themselves up over it.
And I certainly did stuff like that for many years, but now I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with my, with my curiosity where if I’m curious about something, I can figure out how to satisfy it. And at the same time, turn it into at least the seed of something that might possibly someday become useful and feel good and okay.
With the fact that it might not become anything.
[01:16:17] Andrew: Alright. There we go. And then what is a quote or a saying a phrase that is important to you and that maybe you return to often. And what about it speaks to you?
[01:16:27] David: Yeah. I think, I think one that I like a lot is a Maya Angelo. I remember the exact words, but I believe it is do as well as you can until you know, better. And when you know, better do better. Because I think that’s one of the biggest enemies of, of creating [01:16:45] anything is that you don’t think that it’s any good.
And so you don’t get finished with it. You don’t ship it and you go on to the next distraction. And there’s also a paradox to when you work on a project and you get to the end of the project and you’re ready to ship it. By definition, you can already do better than what you are, but then what you’re about to ship, because you learned while doing the project.
And so there’s a paradox there and you have to learn how to get over. You have to learn how to ship things and, and, and some part of you is says, oh, this sucks.
[01:17:24] Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I operate off is that it’s the questions we ask ourselves that shape a lot of how our lives go. And I’m curious if there is a question that you would have the listener start asking themselves on a regular basis that you think would help them.
[01:17:40] David: Yeah. I think the question is this what I really want? [01:17:45] I think I. I have forgotten to ask myself that so many times. And often when I do ask myself that I realize, oh, it’s actually not what I want. I want something different. And so when I find that thing and pursue it I’m, I’m much happier. And I find myself in a more interesting place, I think.
[01:18:08] Andrew: Awesome. All right. Well, David, just in closing out, first of all, thank you for your work. I obviously without even realizing it until we were getting ready for this conversation, you’ve, you’ve been an input in my process for almost a decade now. So thanks for all your work and keep it up. And, and much gratitude to you for that.
Is, is there anything you’d like to just to leave the listener with it just in closing out,
[01:18:29] David: No well, Andrew, thank you so much for having me. It’s been an honor. It’s been an enjoyable conversation. I encourage any listeners. Who’ve enjoyed this to listen to my podcast. Love your work.
[01:18:42] Andrew: boom done. We will link to all that in the show notes. Well, David, thanks [01:18:45] again and keep up the great work.
[01:18:46] David: Thank you.