Software founder and CEO Allen Gannett shares the critical components of successful ideas–and how to create more of them.
- The two fundamental human desires that come together in winning innovations
- Little things to tweak to make your offering a smashing success
- The four laws of the creative curve
Allen Gannett is the founder and CEO of TrackMaven, a marketing analytics platform whose clients have included Microsoft, Marriott, Saks Fifth Avenue, Home Depot, Aetna, Honda, and GE. He has been on the “30 Under 30” lists for both Inc. and Forbes. He is a contributor for FastCompany.com and author of The Creative Curve, on how anyone can achieve moments of creative genius, from Currency, a division of Penguin Random House. He was also once a very pitiful runner-up on Wheel of Fortune.
Items Mentioned in this Show:
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- Survey on the best episodes
- Allen’s Book: The Creative Curve
- Allen’s Marketing Analytics Software: TrackMaven
- Allen’s Personal website: Allen.xyz
- Book: I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
- Youtube video: Samuel Jackson calling people to see Snakes on a Plane
- Vloggers: Casey Neistat and Connor Franta
- Previous episode: 063: The Optimal Time for Everything with Dr. Michael Breus
- Book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
- Research: The Attitudinal Effects of Mere Exposure
- Application: Boomerang
Allen, thanks for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Thanks man. Thanks for having the best named podcast on the internet.
Oh, I appreciate that. I was kind of inspired by Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich because it’s like, I know exactly what I’m getting from you. I like that clarity.
It’s like that movie Snakes on a Plane. It was about snakes on a plane.
Yes. Oh, and it was a delight. Speaking – well, you’re a marketing guy, I loved what they did with. Samuel Jackson’s voice–calling people and leaving voice mails like, “Hey Allen, you’ve got to get your butt to see Snakes on a Plane.” I just thought that was the coolest thing.
I don’t remember that. That sounds – I need to go look that up. That’s amazing.
I hope it’s still live. It brought me such joy and probably a healthy return on investment that you could measure with TrackMaven.
This is true. This is true.
That’s cool. Let’s get into it a little bit, but first I think we’ve got to hear about your Wheel of Fortune experience.
Oh my God. Yeah, I think this is one of those fun facts in the bio.
Yes, when I was 18 I decided – I had this phase where I was like I want to get cast on game shows. How hard could it be? I basically applied to all these different game shows and I got – there was a local audition for Wheel of Fortune, so I went. I never really watched Wheel of Fortune before. I decided instead of studying the puzzles I would instead study the contestants.
I watched like hours and hours and I played like the web game. I did all this different stuff to get a feel for it. What I realized about all the contestants that were on the show is that they weren’t all that good at puzzles; what they were good at is they were all bubbly and they all like enunciated really well.
Yeah, I went in and I did terrible on the actual like written test part, but when it came to do the audition, I did an Elmo impression, which I will never, ever do again and I think they were like, “Okay, this guy’s sufficiently crazy.” Yeah, I went on and I lost terribly. I lost to Joan from Alexandria, Virginia who won 60,000 dollars. I did not win that.
I wonder where Joan is now and what she’s done with the money.
Joan, if you’re listening, if you’re listening, please send me a DM.
Oh that’s fun. That’s good. All right, cool.
I want to get into your book here, but first to get a little bit of back story, so you are the founder and CEO of TrackMaven, which is marketing analytics software. Can you give us a little bit of a feel for how your experience in that world informed your view of creativity and made you think that you need to write this book?
Yeah, I’ve been running TrackMaven for almost six years now. The thing that’s really interesting is so we work with a lot of really big brands to help them find the patterns in their marketing data, so like what are the things that you’re doing, what are the stories you’re telling, the products you’re focusing on, the messages, the audiences, what are those things that are actually driving results for your business.
What we’ve found is that there’s actually a lot of science behind this sort of marketing creativity. I’ve always had this sort of right brain/left brain sort of overlap view of creativity.
A few years ago I started noticing that when I would talk to the marketers we work with, they would say something like, “Well, I’m just not that creative.” I was like, “Uh, what?” “I’m not that way. I wasn’t born like Mozart. I’m not Steve Jobs.” I was like, “Um, but creativity is like this skill that you can develop and learn.” They’re like, “No, no, no. You either have it or you don’t.”
I’d always read a lot of autobiographies and I always read a lot of stories of creative genius. When you read the autobiographies and the memoirs and stories from these people, what’s clear is that they don’t feel like they were just born with it. They also don’t feel it was just the result of hard work. They feel like it was a result of a lot of smart work and a lot of intentionality.
I started giving this talk at marketing conferences all about how we need to get rid of this notion of the creative genius just sort of like walking out of the womb with all these talents and that being a reason why you can’t also be creative.
That’s spiraled into a book proposal, which spiraled into broadening the book to all creatives because the thing I realized as I started digging into the topic was that creativity is one of these things that is actually one of the most misunderstood concepts in popular culture. We all think we know what it is, but there’s actually been tons of new fascinating science and research about creativity that people don’t know about.
It’s actually at this point pretty well studied. We have a really good understanding of what causes people to like certain things, dislike other things, what are the underlying things in your brain that actually drive creative thinking. We have a lot of good science on this.
The book was this attempt to both a) debunk this sort of inspiration theory of creativity and 2) to paint a picture of okay, if creativity is something you can nurture and develop, well, how do you do it.
For that half of the book I interviewed about 25 living creative geniuses. These are like billionaires like David Rubenstein, startup people like Alexis Ohanian from Reddit, Kevin Ryan who did MongoDB, Gilt Business Insider, DoubleClick. Oscar winners. I did YouTube vloggers like Casey Neistat. I did Tony award winners, Emmy award winners, all these different people.
I found that there was these consistent things they did to enhance their creativity over and over again. The book I explain what those things are and I explain how you can do them too.
Okay, yes. I want to dig into these practices, absolutely. But first I’m just so intrigued. Can you unpack a little bit some of the key things that are universal like what makes us like stuff and dislike stuff?
Yeah, what I found was really interesting when you dive into the research is that people have studied this question a few different fields. They’ve studied it in psychology, in sociology, in neuroscience. It all sort of converged on this thing where it turns out a big part of our preference is tied around these two urges we have.
The first urge is that as people we crave the familiar. We like things that we’re comfortable with, that we know are safe. This is very much a sort of evolutionary or reptilian effect where part of our job of our brain is to keep us safe.
If we see – if thousands of years ago we saw a cave we had never seen before, we sort of know, “Hm, we should probably avoid that thing.” We have this ability to really seek out the familiar. Like what is – think about your home, think about visiting your grandmother’s home. These places where you feel sort of safe. That’s one thing.
The second type of thing that affects preference, the second urge is that we also are really interested in things that are novel because we like the potential rewards. For example, in the hunter/gatherer days you’re looking for new berries, you’re looking for new sources of food. You’re constantly looking for that next thing.
But the problem is that these two urges, the craving for familiarity because of safety and the seeking of novelty because of potential reward, are in direct contradiction with each other. It almost makes no sense.
The thing is and what scientists found is that this is actually a really elegant way for our brain to balance things because let’s say for example you see a new berry in a field and it looks wildly different than any berry you’ve ever seen before. You should probably not eat it because it’s probably poisonous.
If on the other hand you see a berry that’s basically a bigger blueberry, it’s just a big, fat blueberry, you can probably go, “Okay, it’s probably fine. I’m going to try it out.” Your brain has this really graceful way of balancing familiarity and novelty.
What scientists found is what this relationship looks like is that the more we see something, the more we like it, but only up until a point. Once that point is reached then every time we see it we like it less and less and less. What they found is that there’s this inverse U relationship. There’s this bell curve. There’s this bell curve between exposure and preference.
In the book I call it the creative curve. It’s this relationship where your job as a marketer, as an entrepreneur, as someone who’s tasked with creating anything is to create ideas that have that right blend of familiarity and novelty.
Star Wars was literally a Western in space. It was familiar, but it was also novel. Harry Potter was a traditional rags to riches, orphan rises to greatness story, but it was told in this whole world around witches and wizards and magic in a way which many children’s books had never done before.
That combination of familiarity and novelty, that was the thing that really stuck out as one of these findings that has been so well researched, so well founded, so well supported, but we don’t really talk about that when we talk about creativity.
Intriguing. An inverse U, I guess I’m thinking of a lower case n, if you will, then how that unfolds. I don’t know who it was, a comedian or just one of my buddies who said, “Oh, that looks like something that I already know and love and yet is slightly different. I will try this new flavor of beef jerky.”
Yes. “I already like this brand of beef jerky and yet this is mesquite, so I am intrigued.” That connects and relates certainty to our experience.
I’m thinking about sort of like I guess startups that are really hits like Uber. It’s like, “You’re familiar with a cab? Okay. Well, hey, how about we just do that a little bit differently in a way that you find to be more convenient.”
When you think about – I think food trends are a great example of this. You saw, for example when Pink Berry rose to prominence. It was ice cream but it wasn’t. It was a little tangy. It was a little different. It was kind of healthy I guess. Now, obviously, it’s fallen from prominence.
Right now there’s that big trend going around of sort of the sushi burrito, like these giant, oversized sushi rolls. It’s something familiar. It’s sushi. It’s also something familiar. It’s a burrito. But it’s different. It’s a sushi burrito.
That’s one of those things that it was interesting because there’s all this science about it, but in the book I have a bunch of – have some quotes from some of the interviews and a lot of these creatives, they know this. They acknowledge this.
In fact I talk about this really fascinating study that this one professor did. He’s a professor of empirical musicology, which is a study of the math behind music. He did this study looking at how The Beatles used experimental song features over their career and it follows this U shape, where they use it more and more and as their audience started getting fatigued, they started using it less and less.
They always balanced the right balance of familiarity and novelty. They weren’t doing stuff that was too new. They weren’t doing stuff that was too old.
I’m also thinking about music there in terms of like if there’s a hit song on the radio or always just popping up again and again wherever you go. At first it’s like, “What is this? Oh no, eh.” Then it kind of grows on you, like, “Yeah, I dig this.” Then it’s like, “I’m sick of this. It’s everywhere. It’s just got to go. ”
Oh exactly. There’s actually a study in the book that literally did that in a scientific setting where they just played the same song over and over again. Again, there’s this U shaped relationship.
The first time you hear a new Drake song, you’re like, “Oh, okay.” The third time you’re like, “Oh, this is great.” The tenth time you’re like, “Please stop playing Hotline Bling” Then the twentieth time you’re like, “Why is this playing?”
You see this over and over again is that there’s this relationship. Things fall in and out of favor. If you’re going to master creativity, you have to first master that. You first have to master this curve.
I guess I’m wondering then, so let’s say you’re a professional. You are in an environment working with your folks, your colleagues day and day out. You need to come up with the big idea that’s going to, I don’t know, improve a process or be a new opportunity that we should chase after. How does one apply this principle in the trenches?
I think the biggest thing that you can apply from really sort of a micro-perspective is I think too often in business environments we focus on the novel. We focus on – we use words like innovation, brainstorming. We’re constantly trying to find these new, out-of-the-box ideas.
I think some of the most valuable innovation, especially in corporate America, actually comes from taking what’s already working and just updating, just doing those little tweaks, those little changes.
I think we have to get away from this idea that sort of originality and innovation are the key to success because that’s not actually what the science shows us. That’s not actually what history shows us. The things that are successful are actually oftentimes the things that are somewhat familiar. I think making that mind shift change is really important. I hate the word brainstorming. It’s like my least favorite word.
Is ideation also a no-no for you?
Ah, ah, you’re killing me Pete. Don’t say this. Stop.
Well, I guess I’m thinking in terms of products. I guess you always think of Apple design and innovation and all those words. At the same time though the iPhone is kind of like, well, hey, it’s a phone and a music player and some internet goodies sort of in one.
It’s like you’ve got a thing in your pocket, maybe you have multiple things in your pocket, but you sort of put them all into one convenient package that looks great.
100%. You see this a lot – basically what you’re talking about is form factors. Form factors are a really common form of innovation because it’s the same actual functionality but in a different form factor.
Now we sort of joke about Tide pods because of the viral meme about people eating them, but before that they were a really successful product line because it was just taking detergent and making it easier to deal with.
It’s crazy because it’s literally just that – people I guess didn’t want to pour the detergent, but Tide pods were hugely successful just by changing the form factor. That’s all the change they made was. It wasn’t like some huge crazy innovation. It was just let’s put it in a little plastic dissolvable bag.
That’s true. That’s intriguing how you can also think about it in terms of a Tide pen, a Tide wipe.
Oh yeah, all these things. A Clorox wipe, it’s really the same thing.
A travel size or a jumbo size. That’s intriguing.
I’m almost sort of imagining sort of like a matrix or a spider diagram in terms of hey, form factor is one thing you can tweak a little bit on one axis or dimension. What are some others in terms of hey, form factor is one variable, size is another, what else?
It really depends on the creative field obviously. With consumer packaged goods, form factor is obviously one that’s pretty common. Brand’s another one that’s pretty common.
Oftentimes you’ll see this for example when people are writing novels, they oftentimes will use really traditional story arcs. There’s actually all this interesting research about story arcs. There’s like these six recurring story arcs that people always use. People will take that same story arc and then they’ll add their own characters, their own genre.
Sometimes people will innovate on the actual story arc and add like a weird twist or a sort of a surprise ending, but actually more traditionally successful types of art are taking the standard structures and formulas and they’re working off of that. Much more common is you see people using the standard sort of structure of formula in art and working off that.
Most successful radio songs are three minutes. There are the occasional songs, I guess like Bohemian Rhapsody that’s like forever and that are successful from a sort of popular perspective, but those are the exception, not the norm. Typically you actually have to really focus on what are going to be the things you do that are similar to the baseline not wildly different.
Okay. Now, one of the key pieces in your book is coming up with the right idea at the right time. You talked about this curve. Any thoughts in terms of the timing? Do you play the game a little bit different if it’s played out in super familiar versus, oh, it seems more novel?
Yeah, I think the thing you need to recognize is you need to learn how to listen to your audience to identify where your idea is and whether or not you can change it or pivot it to the right place because you need to be at that blend of familiar and novel, that right perfect blend to really take off.
In the book I talk about these four things these highly successful, creative people do. One of them that I was surprised by is that they all engage in a highly data driven iterative process. I don’t mean data necessarily purely in the data way, although some do, but I mean some sort of systematic rigorous process of creating, testing, editing, reediting, recreating, sort of doing that over and over and over again.
For example, I talk about how I spent a day with the Ben & Jerry’s flavor development, which was like a really fun, delicious day for lots of reasons.
One of the things that I thought was so interesting was you have these people who are like experts in ice cream, they’re experts in flavor, they’re former chefs, they’re food scientists, but the biggest thing, the most important thing for them that they do is every year they come up with a list of 200 flavor ideas and they survey their audience.
They literally send – they have an email newsletter. They send a survey to a subset of the people in the email newsletter. They just ask two questions. The two questions are 1) how likely are you to buy this flavor and 2) how unique is this flavor. They’re basically asking how familiar is it and how novel is it.
The reason why that’s so important is because what they want to do is if they create too many things that are too familiar, that are – people say, “Oh, I love that,” that are similar to things they already like, well, you’ll end up with a whole line of brownie and cookie flavors, which sounds good, but will eventually make the brand feel stale.
If you just focus on novelty, you’ll just get a bunch of flavors that are like crazy, but no one will actually buy them when they see them on the shelf, even if they taste good. They use data to winnow down those initial gut ideas into ideas that they feel have a high degree of success based on listening to their audience.
So much of creativity, so much about doing anything creative is about nailing that for your audience. I think it’s amazing how little we actually listen to our audience.
That was one of the things I thought was most surprising was we have this vision of these great creatives like going off into a cabin in the woods and creating these things and then returning with a finished product. In reality creatives interviewed, they love getting audience feedback because they’re creating for the audience.
Absolutely. I’m intrigued. Those two questions then is it like a 400 item survey then if there’s 200 flavors and oh dang.
Yeah, it’s like a whole production.
Those are the committed ice cream-
Yeah. No I think they split it up, but yeah people get into Ben & Jerry’s. They have a big email list. You’d be shocked.
That’s very intriguing. I remember one of the first times I had this ah-ha was when I was – I don’t know how it happened. I was with my buddy, Conner, shut up. We were watching The Simpsons movie DVD commentary. I don’t know. It just happened that day.
What occurred again and again in the commentary was the creators would talk about, “Oh, hey before in this scene we did this joke, but that didn’t work. Originally we did this, but that didn’t work.”
“We tried it out,” and this and that. I was like wait a second. From my perspective as a consumer, okay this is just a silly cartoon movie, but from behind the curtain with the creative folk going after it, it’s like test it, test it, test it. It’s like, yeah.
Comedy is so fascinating. Standup comedy, I profile a standup comedian in the book. Standup comedy I think is one of the most interesting examples of this because they literally get on stage and their whole shtick is they’re supposed to look like they’re organic and jokey.
But literally if you ever watch the new Seinfeld special on Netflix, they have this scene where he’s sitting in the middle of a park and they took out all of his yellow legal pads of jokes that he’s written throughout his entire career and it fills the entire park.
Because the whole thing in standup comedy is what they actually do is they’re constantly writing down little ideas and then all these standup comedians, even the big ones are constantly going to small comedy shows to – they call it working out a joke because they want to get the every little pause and facial expression, they want to get that all nailed.
By the time it’s going in their comedy special a year from now, they’ve been practicing and testing and getting that joke just right for them to deliver it on air recorded. Then they mostly throw out the jokes they’ve done for their special and they do the whole thing over again.
Standup comedy is actually one of the most practiced, rehearsed, written types of creativity, but we think of it as this organic thing. It’s like, no, that’s not how it works. These people don’t just come up and start cracking jokes.
Certainly. I remember I always wondered when I was watching standup comedy, it’s like that joke is not at all connected to the previous joke. It feels like if this were a conversation, there would be a segue or whatever. It’s like, “Well, what can I tell you. I’ve got a bunch of jokes that are winning and they didn’t happen to be connected to each other, so this is what you got.”
Yeah, have fun.
Well, so that’s one great process there in terms of the laws of creative success and you share a couple others. Can you reveal them for us?
Yeah, of course. In the book there’s these four laws of the creative curve. One I already mentioned obviously is iterations and these highly iterative processes, so all these creators do that. The other three, the first one is consumption.
One of the things I thought was so interesting is that we think of creators as constantly doing, as constantly putting stuff out there, but all the creators I interviewed actually spend a lot of time consuming information in their vertical.
I explain in the book why. I explain why they do that. But that was one of the things I thought was so fascinating. There’s a huge amount of time consuming information in their vertical.
The second thing is that, again, we talk about this sort of originality myth, but every single one I interviewed talked about at some level how they spend time imitating the greats. Imitation is a huge part of the creative process. The second law is imitation.
The reason why is that there’s these common structures, these common ways in which creative products are presented to an audience. When you have to balance familiarity and novelty, knowing those structures is very, very important to create the familiar.
The third one and the one that I think is probably the most important and the one that’s often underappreciated and misunderstood is creative communities. We have this sort of myth of the solo genius. The idea that there’s these creatives like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and they’re doing these things all by themselves.
This is so far from the truth. It’s so destructive because so much of creativity is a social phenomenon. You have to create work that other people recognize as creative. They have to tell people about it. People have to agree that it’s creative.
When you actually look at these stories, like look Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, he had investors. He had employees who worked for him. There’s all these people involved. In the book I break down the different types of people you need to have in your creative community.
But one of the ones that people always sort of forget about is all the creative geniuses I interviewed have what I call prominent promoter, someone who gives them and lends them credibility because if you are creative and no one ever hears about your work, sure your work may be technically proficient, but from an academic perspective, it’s actually not creative.
Creative work by definition has to be recognized as creative. People have to see it in order for it to be labeled as such. Having people who lend you credibility, who lend you air time, who do that is actually incredibly important.
The sort of social construct around creativity is one of the things that I thought was really interesting when you dive into creativity because if I asked you, “Hey Pete, is that painting creative?” It’s actually a hard question to answer because if you’re looking at a painting of the Mona Lisa, well if you’re looking at a new one today that’s an exact reproduction well, you’d say, “Well, it’s not creative.”
Okay, but what makes the original one creative? There’s other paintings from a similar time period that are just as well painted and just as interesting. There’s actually a really big social phenomenon aspect around creativity that really is actually an important sort of nuance to understand.
I like that turn of phrase prominent promoter. I’m just imagining sort of like a … man like, “Yeah dog. What he said. Oh, that’s so good.” What are a couple other key roles?
A couple other ones are – the other one is a master teacher. All the creatives I interviewed had someone who is a world-class expert as a teacher not just sort of middling level.
The prominent promoter and the master teacher, sometimes people find them in one as like a mentor but I think it’s important to break those two because they’re actually two separate roles. For a lot of people those came from two separate people.
The other one is what I call conflicting collaborators. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs are a great example of this, where Steve Jobs didn’t want to design his computers. Steve Wozniak did not want to go around selling them.
Oftentimes we talk about these people as okay, they’re the face of it, they’re the name, they’re the genus, but they also have all done a good job of acknowledging their weaknesses and bringing other people in who conflict with them, who have those different talents to actually get to where they want to go.
That is so, so, so important because if you buy this myth that it’s all about you, it’s just about this one person and you have to do it by yourself, you’re never going to get there. You’re never going to get there and frankly, you probably shouldn’t because you’re going to need to learn how to engage with other people to really once you have a great product to actually get distribution.
The final one of the four types of people in a creative community is what I call a modern muse. What you find with these creative people is that they often surround themselves with people who inspire and motivate them. They’re not necessarily like a teacher or a mentor.
But for example, I interviewed a couple of really popular YouTube vloggers. I interviewed Casey Neistat and Connor Franta, who probably combined have like 20 or 25 million subscribers, like a lot.
What was interesting was that all of them would surround themselves, their friends, their friend group with other creators, other YouTube creators, other people and would keep them motivated, to keep them pushing, to give them that energy and it also gave them that friendly competition. It gave them that push of saying, “Okay, he or she did that, so I want to do that too.” They inspired each other. They did that.
Those four elements were incredibly important to have. Even missing one of those can be fatal to creative success.
Okay, cool. Thank you. I also want to dig in a little bit. You talk a bit about neuroscience and what it has to say about inspiration and ah-ha moments. What are some tidbits there?
Yeah, one of the most amazing things is that ah-ha moments, these flashes of genius we have that we think of as so magical are actually really well studied, Pete. People know, we know a lot about why they happen and all of that stuff.
The thing is that as people we can’t explain it. Oftentimes for things we can’t explain ourselves we ascribe sort of like magic, like it’s unexplainable. It’s not unexplainable. It’s actually pretty simple.
We have two different types of processing that go on in our brain. One is logical processing the other is sudden insight.
Logical processing happens in our left hemisphere. It’s very step-by-step. It’s like when you solve a math problem or work out a word puzzle letter by letter. It’s all conscious. You’re aware as the steps are going through. You know it’s happening.
The other type of processing is sudden insight. This happens in your right hemisphere. This type of processing is all subconscious. This is more connecting dissonant ideas together. Only once the answer comes together and three’s sort of like the left hemisphere is quiet enough, only then do you actually consciously experience these things.
That’s why we have this idea of sudden insight because these ideas suddenly pop out of consciousness but that doesn’t mean they’re magical. They’re in your right hemisphere and in fact this is why you have these so much when you’re in the shower or a lot of these stories people were in bed or they’re on a train or they’re on a commute is because in these moments your left hemisphere has sort of quieted down.
You kind of think about your left hemisphere and your right hemisphere as your left hemisphere is your noisy lab partner who won’t shut up about working through the problem and your right hemisphere is your quiet, smart lab partner who’s like working through and they say like, “Hey, I got the answer. I got the answer,” but you can’t actually hear them say it until your noisy lab partner kind of shuts up.
The thing is that since it’s really just a different type of processing, we actually have pretty good insight into how to have more of them. It’s more complicated than this and I explain in the book. But the short version is that if you want to have more sudden insight, you need to do two things.
One, obviously, you need to have the time, the sort of quiet time for your left hemisphere to sort of be settled. The second thing, the thing most people miss, this is why consumptions were in the laws, is you need to consume a large amount of information. You have to have the raw ingredients in your right hemisphere to actually connect.
I experienced this in the book where I’m reading thousands and thousands of pages of peer-reviewed research on creativity and so when I have ah-ha moments in the shower or whatever, I’m having ah-ha moments about these really dorky creativity concepts. If I hadn’t been reading all that, I wouldn’t have had those moments.
People are like, “Well, J.K. Rowling had these ideas for Harry Potter,” but she also spent her entire childhood reading because she had this chaotic household and she wanted to get away from it. Yeah, those are the raw ingredients in her brain. Those are the things that were percolating around.
I like that notion in terms of the quiet. I’m finding – we had a great podcast conversation with Dr. Michael Breus talk about optimal timing and our ultradian rhythms and neurotransmitters and goodies kind of internally biochemically you’re kind of predisposed to functioning in one or the other place better.
For me, I see it all the time, I actively sort of schedule my workday around it, sudden insights, creative goodies happen in the earlier part of the morning and then logical processing happens when I am kind of more fully woken up, breakfast and cruising.
I kind of deliberately try to schedule, “Oh, I’m going to write something for the early morning and then I’m going to categorize all these tax transactions in the later part of the day.” My brain is happier having the task match up what is required from it in the state that it happens to be in.
Well this is so cool, so good. Allen, tell me anything you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things.
No, that was great. I think that the one thing that I worry about is that the book is saying that there is science and a path towards creative success. Pete, I’m not saying it’s easy. I think that’s a really important thing. In fact, I think it’s incredibly hard.
I think oftentimes we sort of think because it’s like a luck-based thing that, “Well, I don’t have it so I have an excuse not to try.” I actually want to challenge people. I think you can do it but you do have to try, you do have to lean in, you do have to really, really push yourself if you want to achieve that.
It’s not that I’m saying it’s easy. Actually, it’s really, really hard, but there is a path. That I think is an important thing to know.
Okay, cool. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Oh my God. I have so many. I love Ben Horowitz book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. I mean there’s like 500 quotes in there that I just think are – speak to me so much because I think at the end of the day if you haven’t read that book, it’s a book by Ben Horowitz, who’s one of the early employees of Netscape and he went on to found Andreessen Horowitz.
He talks about sort of the – he talks about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur in a way that I think is very authentic and real. The big point he makes is that the stuff isn’t easy. It’s not simple. It’s not straightforward. There aren’t silver bullets. I just think that message really resonates with me.
Oh beautiful. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?
Oh, I think anyone who gets into creativity will tell you that the study Robert Zajonc did the mere exposure effect study a long, long time ago. It has such a big influence in marketing and neuroscience and creativity research.
Basically the finding was that people’s exposure actually has a pretty big relationship on whether or not they like something. From there we’ve sort of gone down the rabbit hole and there’s been all this fascinating research around preference and likeability. That study started the whole thing.
Basically it’s kind of cute. He showed people these fake Chinese characters. They didn’t mean anything. Then he showed it to people different numbers of times and would ask them a) how positive or negative they thought it was and how much they liked it.
It’s really funny because people are like – people actually have opinions on it. “Oh, that’s a positive meaning word.” It turns out how that often people see it does affect it.
How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?
Oh my God. I love Boomerang. I’m one of those people who tends to write emails at like 1 AM in the morning. I don’t want to be that obnoxious person or obnoxious boss who’s sending emails at 1 AM, so scheduling stuff for 9 AM is like – keeps me sane and makes people think I’m sane, which is good. We want people to think that.
But you just ousted yourself. We all know that you’re not sane.
Yeah, I know. Everyone’s like why do these emails come right at 9 AM.
How about a favorite habit?
For me every Saturday I take an incredibly long walk with the dog. It’s one of those times where it’s just like – I just think. I have that moment. I have that breath. I have that pause sort of in life. It gives me a chance to check in with my body. I can sort of feel is something wrong. Am I anxious? Am I tense? Usually we may stop and get a doughnut along the way. It’s a delicious habit.
How about a key nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks when you say it?
I think the biggest think I’ve realized just in running a business is that everyone you work with is so human, people on my board, the people we sell to, the people who work here. Everyone is so human with flaws and contradictions and messy feelings.
I think as you come to realize that it really opens up your mind to how to interact with the world, how to interact with other companies and customers, and prospects, and all these different people because you realize that you need to treat people with the sort of respect and dignity that you treat any new friend or any new human you meet.
That for me has been a really powerful experience personally and something that I think has benefited other people.
I’m intrigued. Dig into that a bit in terms of have you shifted your behavior in terms of how you’re interacting with folks based upon this kind of core premise?
Yeah, I mean the thing is I tend to treat people with respect but as peers and I think it tends to be the biggest impact, especially for someone who is younger, is not overly formalizing things. I think you realize as you sort grow in your career that if you make everything overly formal, people don’t really want to work with you or interact with you. I think that’s a very common mistake that people make early in their careers.
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
My website is Allen.xyz. That’s A-L-L-E-N-.-X-Y-Z. You can check out the book at TheCreativeCurve.com. It comes out June 12th everywhere books are sold.
Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their job?
My call to action for all of you is that every single day when you walk in, know that if you are responsive, if you are responsible and you get done what you say you’re going to get done, you will outpace, outshine 95% of the people you work with.
If you’re building a team, you want to build a team of people who are all performing at that level and that’s where the magic happens. That’s where you get the lift. That’s where you can really step back and see a team grow.
Usually that’s the final word for that, I must know more. Tell me then, it seems like that seems foundational, “Yes, but of course I should do the things that I say I’m going to do.” Can you unpack a little bit in terms of common practice versus what you’re saying is an exceptional practice that makes an exceptional difference?
Yeah, the thing is that as people we’re busy. We get tired. We generally have a tendency towards homeostasis. We don’t actually always want to put in that extra incremental 10% effort. I know for me sometimes I’m tired. I don’t want to respond that email. I don’t want to do these things.
Those little actions, those actions that seem so small and inconsequential that you can write them off, that’s actually where the magic happens. That’s actually where high-performing teams happen because when the basics, when the foundations are taken for granted, when they’re assumed that you got that done, that’s when you can focus on the big stuff.
Beautiful. Well, Allen, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you and TrackMaven and The Creative Curve tons of luck and success here.
Thanks man, I appreciate it.