Aziz Ansari has great advice for people in creative slumps

A palette of paints is shown at Chelsea Restoration Associates, Inc. Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009 in New York.

Learning to accept uninspired periods in our lives is critical to future success. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

When you’re a creatively successful person, people always want to know what you’re working on. The problem is that sometimes the answer is: Nothing much.

Actor and filmmaker Aziz Ansari recently offered a refreshing take on the pressure that creative types feel to produce. In an interview with GQ‘s Mark Anthony, he explains that he’s not feeling particularly inspired right now—and he’s trying to be all right with that. He says:

“I’m not gonna make stuff just for the sake of making stuff. I want to make stuff ’cause I’m inspired. Right now I don’t really feel inspired …

… I hope more people get very successful and then quit. Shouldn’t that be the game? That you make a bunch of money and just move to Italy and live a quiet life? No one does it! You do a bunch of shit and you just want to do more shit. Tom Cruise! Look at that guy! He will not stop. He’s still making these fucking movies. No one who does what I do—or anywhere related in my world—is ever like, I’m done.That’s why I travel so much. I always think about this thing someone once told me. They said, Patterns are the work of the devil. For some reason that stuck in my head.”

Of course, Ansari is speaking from a position of tremendous wealth and privilege. Most people don’t have the option of quitting work and embracing the European lifestyle of our choice. But his skepticism about the idea that successful professionals must always be creating is a useful thing for all of us to consider—because it uproots a very common misunderstanding about creativity.

No one, including the most acclaimed artist, is always inspired, says Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. What’s more, learning to accept uninspired periods in our lives is critical to future success.

“Creativity isn’t a singular personality trait,” says Kaufman. “It’s a way of being that requires being constantly open to spotting and engaging in new ideas and experiences, without the expectation that these experiences will lead to inspiration or immediate creative outcome.”

The most common characteristics of people across all creative fields, as Kaufman previously explained in Quartz, include “an openness to one’s inner life; a preference for complexity and ambiguity; an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray; the ability to extract order from chaos; independence; unconventionality; and a willingness to take risks.” All of these characteristics suggest that true creativity is born out of a drive to relish—or, in Ansari’s case, “chill”—in the unknown.

Acknowledging when the process is not going well can be the difference between a forced (and failed) creative endeavor, and an opportunity for learning and resetting, says Kaufman. This is a reality that prolific creators like Lena Dunham, writer and star of the six-season HBO series Girls, have long internalized:

To become more creative, you should be actively trying to find meaning in things that aren’t going as expected or desired, says Kauffman. “Creativity emerges when you are open to detours, not when you approach life, or a job, or an single experience with a set goal in mind.” Only on such detours—like Ansari’s seemingly aimless travel, or a Saturday spent meandering around your neighborhood—can you recognize the paradoxes worth reconciling and the subtleties overlooked by those too busy, or “inspired” to slow down.

[“Source-qz”]

Why great creative is more important than ever

Every year we all have the opportunity to dive into the creative pool of Cannes Lions, the international festival celebrating creativity in communications, entertainment, design and tech. Like me, most people do it via the festival’s excellent website.

No matter; it’s still an exhilarating splash, and this year’s annual plunge has me convinced that, in the “Engagement Economy,” great creative is more important than ever. Let me explain.

I believe that Apple invented high-tech marketing back in the ’80s. And with Steve Jobs at the helm, it was all about creativity — in messages, design and production. In the early ’90s, I cut my marketing teeth working with Jobs at Next, and then rejoined Apple, where I was manager of consumer advertising.

Over the ensuing years, my faith in great creative to produce something valuable and inspiring has never flagged.

But the marketing game has changed considerably since then, specifically with the advent of online channels and the almost unlimited data that we marketers can now leverage.

In some quarters, this has led to creativity being sidelined, or at least being knocked askew on its pedestal, as the scientific side of marketing has grown in importance.

Bad mistake, because while you need both art and science in marketing, creativity is the killer ingredient that drives marketing effectiveness.

‘Thumb-stopping creativity’

In today’s world of all things digital, the demands on people’s time are more intense than ever. As marketers, we can shout, loudly and often, and hope someone hears us over all the background noise.

Or we can capture people’s attention through truly creative work, and start engaging with them in a meaningful fashion by appealing to their hearts.

It’s a matter of value versus volume. Easy choice, don’t you think?

Cheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, who spoke at Cannes Lions this year, would seem to think so. Here she is, quoted on the festival’s website:

For Sandberg, “Organizations often don’t move quickly enough.” People are spending most of their time on digital — but for creative teams, “usually it’s outdoor, then print, and mobile is often just added in the last 10 minutes.” This is particularly misguided, she explained, since “a natively mobile ad grabs your attention in a couple of seconds. We call it ‘thumb-stopping creativity.’ It communicates the brand very quickly and you measure results, not seconds. Taking advantage of that power is so important.”

What is great creative?

Great creative always starts with strategy. Here’s an area where all that scientific data comes into play as it’s mined for insights into what the customer wants, and what you can provide. Essentially, you need to be relevant to be engaging.

A great example of this is the recent joint campaign of Airbnb and the Art Institute of Chicago, constructed around a meticulous recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom as portrayed in one of his most famous paintings.

Many Airbnb prospects, myself included, are looking for more than just convenient, cost-effective digs. We also want a unique and immersive experience of place. In a splendid display of relevance, the ad speaks beautifully to this desire, while also building interest in the Art Institute’s special Van Gogh exhibit.

In addition to being relevant, a campaign or ad must be bold and take risks to engage most fully. People like the jolt that comes from boldness, bravery and risk. It’s not a data thing; it’s a chemical thing.

You don’t have to look farther than the “Fearless Girl” campaign, produced by State Street Global Advisors to honor International Women’s Day, that captivated so many people earlier this year (and bugged a few, too) with its boldness.

Appearing one night in the middle of Wall Street, the sculpture of a courageous young girl, arms akimbo, staring down the famous Charging Bull statue, became an instant media and internet sensation.

The ad and story around the statue not only went viral faster than a bull market, but the campaign also has some serious legs as the statue continues to be a much-photographed tourist attraction.

And how well did the combo of relevance and boldness work for State Street Global Advisors? The firm’s SHE Fund, which invests in companies with women executives, experienced a 384 percent increase in average daily trading volume in the first three days following the campaign’s launch. Let’s hear it for Girl Power.

Celebrate great work and its impact

You can find many, if not all, 2017 Cannes Lions award winners on YouTube. Viewing these ads is instructive, inspiring and often just plain fun. But don’t let your commitment to creativity stop here. Act on it, consistently.

In the age of martech, do not abandon creativity. It means more than ever

[“Source-martechtoday”]

Things 3 Is Great at Helping You Get the Job Done

Things 3 Is Great at Helping You Get the Job Done

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Things 3 is a “getting things done” app
  • It’s available on iPhone, iPad, and Mac
  • It’s expensive, but the design is excellent and it works very well

Every single day, we find ourselves saddled with countless small tasks to complete, errands to run, mails to send, and in general — things to do. Almost always, we end up forgetting one thing or another and that wastes a lot of time. We’ve tried a lot of different ways to avoid this — a to-do list in a notebook, basic reminder apps, and even a proper “getting things done” (GTD) app in Todoist.

For various reasons, all of these approaches have failed us eventually. We kept forgetting to write things down in our notebook, Apple’s Reminders app was too basic, and we aren’t big fans of Todoist’s design – or its subscription model. Things weren’t looking good, at least until Cultured Code released Things 3.

Cultured Code’s design prowess is well-known and the company has done a stellar job yet again with Things 3. This writer been using the app on iPhone and Mac for over a month and it’s certainly become a vital part of his life.

When you first fire up Things 3 on any platform, you’re going to notice how clean it looks. You’ll see “Today” or “Upcoming” or the title of your project in a large font size right at the top and all of your tasks below. There’s just the right amount of gap between the heading and your tasks, and between different tasks themselves. It doesn’t feel like these are sticking to each other and it definitely doesn’t feel like there’s a massive chasm between these either.

things 3 iphone projects Things 3

The way Cultured Code has used white space is commendable as it keeps the design from feeling cluttered. Ideally, a GTD app should remind you about pending tasks, but if it’s cluttered it starts to feel intimidating and then we feel there’s a high chance of people abandoning the app altogether. Not with Things 3, where every design choice feels deliberate and tastefully executed.

On the iPhone, Things 3 is a pretty straightforward app. It lets you add tasks, create projects, and you can even use the share sheet to add tasks from other apps. If you’re browsing the Web or watching videos online, you can send the link straight to Things 3 via the share sheet. You can even share your tasks and checklists to other apps.

One of the best features of Things 3 on iPhone is its 3D Touch implementation. If you have an iPhone 6S or a newer iPhone, you can hard press the Things 3 icon hard to reveal a neat widget where you can mark up to two tasks as complete. You can also use 3D Touch to create a new task, jump to the Today page, and jump to Quick Find (for searching within the app).

Things 3 for Mac

We love using Things 3 on iPhone, but the Mac app is where it really shines. Not only have the developers used the extra screen space very well, but they’ve also added a bunch of small features that wouldn’t be possible on iPhone. For instance, pressing Ctrl + option + space in certain apps such as Safari or Mail, opens a Things 3 pop-up with a link to the website or email added. You can quickly add webpages or emails to your to-do list via this shortcut.

things 3 mac logbook Things 3

Similarly, you can use the Ctrl + space shortcut in any app to add a task manually to Things 3. When you set a reminder for a task, the notification stays on your Mac’s screen until you either snooze or dismiss it. We feel any good GTD app should be good at nagging you until you get the job done, and based on our experience of using it to manage work tasks, Things 3 is good at this.

The developers have created neat tutorial projects to familiarise new users with the app and all its features. We found these extremely useful and learned about several advanced features that have now become a part of our daily workflow.

When you mark a task complete, it changes the font colour from black to grey for a couple of seconds, before moving to the the Logbook (where all completed tasks go). This allows you time to uncheck the task if you’ve accidentally marked it complete. When you create a project, the icon is a circle which slowly fills up like a pie chart as you complete tasks under that project. Lots of small touches like this make Things 3’s design feel tastefully designed.

Cultured Code uses its own Things Cloud to sync your tasks across devices. It works just fine and we had no issues whatsoever with syncing tasks and projects across devices.

things 3 mac quick entry Things 3

At the moment, Things 3 doesn’t let you attach images or other files to your tasks. This feature would allow us to attach screenshots or important documents to our tasks, which would help a lot while researching for stories.

It also doesn’t allow you to create repeating reminders on an hourly basis. You can create daily, weekly, or monthly repeating reminders but not hourly ones. That makes it less useful if you want to set reminders for drinking water or to remind yourself to stop working nonstop and take a break.

Things 3 is not for everyone. It’s available only on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac. You need to buy it separately on iPhone (Rs. 800), iPad (Rs. 1,600), and Mac (Rs. 4,000), so it’s definitely not cheap. But if you value good design and you need a GTD app for your Apple devices, Things 3 is an absolute must-have.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Insights from statistical analysis of great (and not-great) literature

Ben Blatt’s Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing takes advantage of the fact that so much literature has been digitized, allowing him to run statistical analyses on writers, old and new, and make both fun and meaningful inferences about the empirical nature of writing.

Blatt’s book covers everything from James Joyce’s use of exclamation points (1,105 !’s per 100,000 words) to the most distinctive words appearing in erotica whose authors hail from New York City (“subway, popsicle, senator, butthole, museum, landlord, thrusted, Jacuzzi, sin, and shrugs”).

Dan Piepenbring’s review of Mauve highlights the implicit social insights that can be gleaned from this sort of analysis (“Male authors are far likelier to write ‘she interrupted’ than ‘he interrupted'”), and also the way that the book made him feel about his writing.

“The written word and the world of numbers should not be kept apart,” Blatt writes, and I think he’s right; what’s frustrating is that no one has yet figured out how they might productively collaborate. Like last year’s “The Bestseller Code,” which described an algorithm that predicted the plots of popular novels, “Mauve” wagers that the “digital humanities,” as they’ve uneasily come to be known, can instruct audiences outside of the academy. The book’s finest moments prove that they can—but to what end? Blatt argues that his work is “not an attempt to ‘engineer’ art as much as a way to understand it”: “If you were a band in the 1960s you would want to know how the Beatles were recording their songs.” Maybe so, but is that really what this book professes to teach? Knowing the rate at which Ringo hits his snare drum does not a Beatle make.

Reading “Mauve,” I began to imagine two duelling schools of authorship, both motivated by statistics. In one, writers would cultivate their tics, inhabiting themselves so thoroughly that to encounter them on the page would be like finding their footprints in wet cement. In the other, writers would aspire to defy the data, styling their prose with such intricate, chameleonic grace that no statistician could betray their identity. A few decades ago, the advent of the word processor made it easier than ever to revise on the fly; it also made it easy to dwell on one sentence ad infinitum, gilding the lily where once one would’ve advanced to the next thought. The glut of data is another mixed blessing—past a certain point, writers would do better in a state of blissful ignorance. Otherwise, they might end up with work like my ninth-grade term papers, mannered and overwrought.

Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing [Ben Blatt/Simon & Schuster]

The Heretical Things Statistics Tell Us About Fiction [Dan Piepenbring/New Yorker]

[“Source-boingboing”]