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10 Key Insights from 'The Creative Act: A Way of Being'

By practicing to improve, you are fulfilling your ultimate purpose on this planet.

Hi there, welcome to PunchTime 👊 

Today’s edition is a bit different and longer than normal. Last week I read Rick Rubin’s book The Creative Act: A Way of Being. Rick Rubin is a legendary music producer known for working with some of the most renowned artists such as Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jay-Z, and Adele. I was so inspired by the book that I decided to dedicate this week’s newsletter to it.

Below you’ll find 10 key insights as well as some of my favorite quotes. I highly recommend you read the full book, I can only offer a glimpse into the overall experience.

I hope you enjoy.

The Creative Act: A Way of Being - 10 Key Insights

1. Everyone Is a Creator

We often discard creativity as something for the artsy people. But in reality, creativity is a way of being, it’s about bringing something into existence that did not exist in that exact way before, an act we all engage with on a daily basis. Whether that is a note to a friend, making your bed, finding a solution to a problem, or even rearranging furniture. So by this definition, we are all living artists.

Rick Rubin argues that “by the mere fact of being alive, we are active participants in the ongoing process of creation”. 

But it can be hard to see your creative self, because we all have different versions of ourselves and some are more dominant than others: the work version, the family version, the friends version, the you by yourself version, etc.

As Rick puts it, the self is like a prism where a single beam of light enters and is broken into an array of colors. Neutral events enter and are transformed into a spectrum of feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and sensations that are sometimes inconsistent and contradictory. When we accept this, we trust and accept ourselves the way we are. We become free to create our life with our unique array of colors, choice by choice.

SELECTED QUOTES:

We’re already creators in the most profound way, creating our experience of reality and composing the world we perceive.

At any moment you should be prepared to stop what you’re doing to make a note or a drawing, or capture a fleeting thought.

Commit to stay open to what’s around you. Search for beauty, seek stories, notice what you find interesting, what makes you lean forward. There is no telling where that next great story, painting, recipe, or business idea is going to come from. Just as a surfer can’t control the waves, artists are at the mercy of the creative rhythms of nature. This is why it’s of such great importance to remain aware and present at all times. Watching and waiting.

2. Nature Is the Most Profound Source of Creative Inspiration

When we look for inspiration we don’t need to do anything, we simply need to pay attention. There is never nothing going on. As we practice a way of being that allows us to see the beauty in the mundane, we find inspiration everywhere.

Nevertheless, the most profound source of inspiration is nature. There’s no need to understand nature to appreciate it, we can simply take it all in. Science shows that exposure to nature not only inspires but also heals. A meta study found that across 39 studies, 92% demonstrated consistent improvements across any health outcome where individuals engaged with natural outdoor environments.

Or as Rick puts it: “Deepening our connection with nature will serve our spirit, and what serves our spirit invariably serves our artistic output.”

SELECTED QUOTES:

Our point of reference for beauty is nature. The universe holds a sense of harmony, a beautifully deep interdependent system. Of all the great works that we can experience, nature is the most absolute and enduring.

The closer we can get to the natural world, the sooner we realize we are not separate. We are all translators for the message the universe is broadcasting.

Awareness is not a state you force, it is a presence with, and acceptance of, what is happening in the eternal now.

3. The Essence of Art Is to Express Ourselves

The essence of art is in the process itself, it’s about expressing ourselves, creating something for no other purpose than to create our version of the beautiful, bringing our full self to every project. These projects can be large or small, sometimes the most ordinary small things create the most extraordinary pieces of art. It is our job to see the beauty in the mundane and translate our lens, so everyone can see it, like a universal message that travels through space and time.

It’s important to detach from the outcome, as you cannot control commercial success. You are simply creating with your full self in the here and now, making something you love, to the best of your abilities. The energy you put in will be transformed and come back to you in one way or the other, or to quote Rick Each mindset evokes a universal rule: whatever we concentrate on, we get.” He argues that the only variables you can control are doing your best work without being attached to the outcome, sharing it, starting the next, and not looking back.

SELECTED QUOTES:

We create art in service to art, not for what we can get from it.

Art is choosing to do something skillfully, caring about the details, bringing all of yourself to make the finest work you can. It is beyond ego, vanity, self-glorification, and need for approval.

As human beings, we come and go quickly, and we get to make works that stand as monuments to our time here. Enduring affirmations of existence. Michelangelo’s David, the first cave paintings, a child’s finger-paint landscapes - they all echo the same human cry, like graffiti scrawled in a bathroom stall: I was here.

It doesn’t matter if you become the best in your field. By practicing to improve, you are fulfilling your ultimate purpose on this planet. Every work, no matter how trivial it may seem, plays a role in this greater cycle.

4. If Inspiration Does not Come to Lead the Way, We Show up Anyway

Sometimes it’s not required to put in great effort to create great art, but without putting in the effort, you’ll never know. This can also mean submerging yourself into the great works of others. Not to learn to mimic those works, but rather to gain an understanding of what great work looks and feels like.

It’s important to remember that the only person you will ever compete against is yourself. When you or others share their work, the work can recirculate and become source material for others.

You need to show up and practice awareness every day. Start that painting, start that book, even if it’s just one sentence per hour. It’s not enough to just create in your mind, you need to see, hear, taste, or touch your ideas to judge them and for the ideas to create a spark that might lead to the next.

SELECTED QUOTES:

Broadening our practice of awareness is a choice we can make at any moment. A hunger to see beautiful things, hear beautiful sounds, feel deeper sensations. To learn, and to be fascinated and surprised on a continual basis.

If you make the choice of reading classic literature every day for a year, rather than reading the news, by the end of that time period you’ll have a more honed sensitivity for recognizing greatness from the books than from the media. This applies to every choice we make. Not just with art, but with friends we choose, the conversations we have, even thoughts we reflect on. All of these aspects affect our ability to distinguish good from very good, very good from great. They help us determine what’s worthy of our time and what’s not.

Being made happy by someone else’s best work, and then letting it inspire you to rise to the occasion, is not competition. It’s collaboration.

If you have an idea you’re excited about and you don’t bring it to life, it’s not uncommon for the idea to find its voice through another maker

5. To Listen Impatiently Is to Hear Nothing at All

When we truly want to listen we need to be fully in the now. We actually listen with the whole body. Have you ever been to a concert next to a speaker and felt the vibrations in your body? These vibrations can’t be replicated when just listening with our ears through headphones. So in order to truly listen, we need to be fully present. If you believe that the information that enters your ears is enough to listen, you’re missing the subtler vibrations.

Often our critical mind kicks in to think about what we agree with and what we don’t agree with. All based on beliefs that may have been learned before we had a choice in what we were taught.

If you’re thinking of your opinion, you’re not listening. If you’re preparing a response or defending your position, you’re not listening. The only goal of listening is to be fully present, understanding fully and clearly what is being transmitted. Let everything in and just listen, whatever it is, let it be what it is.

SELECTED QUOTES:

Listening is not just awareness. It’s freedom from accepted limitations.

When the listener is totally present, the speaker often communicates differently.

Listening is suspending disbelief. Paying attention without pre-conceived ideas. Listening opens possibilities.

Listening without prejudice is how we grow and learn as people. More often than not, there are no right answers, just different perspectives. The more perspectives we can learn, the greater our understanding becomes.

6. There Are no Shortcuts. We Need Patience

We want more information in shorter time and we’ve become increasingly impatient. However, we need time and presence to capture the full essence of life. A summary or shortcut is never a substitute for the full story and the full experience. That’s also true for this book, which is why I suggest you get the full experience!

As Rick puts it: “it’s through deliberate action and repetition that we gain deeper insight.” We need to show up every day, extending an open invitation and wait patiently for greatness to arrive. You may never see it, but at the very least, others will see the greatness of you showing up every day.

Like most physical activities, we can either participate on autopilot or fully immerse. While there’s things that can be combined like listening to a podcast while driving, we always compromise on both experiences, the question is whether that compromise is acceptable.

The funny thing is that the perceived benefit of impatience is speed, but usually this impatience comes at a loss of experience and information, which leads to us having to put in more time and energy down the line. Therefore, impatience is wasted effort.

SELECTED QUOTES:

The home built hastily rarely survives the storm. The artist actively works to experience life slowly, and to re-experience the same thing anew.

Every phase of an artist’s work and life benefits from cultivating this achievable habit. But patience does not mean just waiting, effort is required and invitations are to be extended.

Shortcuts avoid the discomfort of challenging our prevailing beliefs, so our worldview continues to shrink

Patience is developed much like awareness. Through an acceptance of what is. Impatience is an argument with reality, the desire for something to be different from what we are experiencing in the here and now. A wish for time to speed up, tomorrow to come sooner, to relive yesterday.

Trust in the process. If we are willing to take each step into the unknown with grit and determination, carrying with us all of our collected knowledge, we will ultimately get to where we’re going.

After all, how can we offer the art what it needs without blind trust? We are required to believe in something that doesn’t exist in order to allow it to come into being.

7. There’s a Great Power in Having a Beginner’s Mind and Not Knowing

When AlphaGo beat a grandmaster in Go, the computer was faced with a decision that would determine how the rest of the game would be played. There were two apparent choices, choice A was offensive, choice B was defensive. The computer decided to make a choice C, a move that no one had ever made in thousands of years of play. Most thought it was a mistake, but the computer won. In hindsight, the never before seen move was the turning point.

What was it that allowed the machine to make that move? The computer did not follow accepted cultural norms, it didn’t take into account thousands of years of traditions and conventions, it simply followed the rules. It didn’t accept the narrative of how to properly play the game. It wasn’t held back by limiting beliefs.

Experience provides wisdom to draw from, but it also tempers the power of naiveté. Sometimes it’s best to strip away all labels, to simply play freely like a child. Sometimes we do and succeed because we didn’t know how big of a challenge it would be.

SELECTED QUOTES:

The beginner’s mind is one of the most difficult states to dwell in, precisely because it involves letting go of what our experience has taught us.

For the lungs to draw in air, they must first be emptied. For the mind to draw inspiration, it wants space to welcome the new.

Any preconceived ideas and accepted conventions limit what’s possible.

The impossible only becomes accessible when experience has not taught us limits.

These childlike superpowers include being in the moment, valuing play above all else, having no regard for consequences, being radically honest without consideration, and having the ability to freely move from one emotion to the next without holding on to the story.

8. It’s the Daily Habits that Make the Big Things Come About

Creating effective habits can make all the difference between mediocrity and greatness. Each habit may seem small, but the culmination can have an exponential effect. We need to create an environment to thrive in and find sustainable rituals that support our best work.

The goal is to create a structure that can evolve into a life of its own, without us having to force the habit. If we can reduce our daily life-maintenance choices and tasks, we can free up time for creative decisions. Sustainable habits also means to include recovery. When timed in the right order, stepping away to recover body and mind can cause greater leaps in improvement the next time, that’s the cycle of multifaceted growth.

SELECTED QUOTES:

Good habits create good art. The way we do anything is the way we do everything. Create an environment where you’re free to express what you’re afraid to express.

It is often the case that the more set in your personal regimen, the more freedom you have within that structure to express yourself. Discipline and freedom seem like opposites. In reality, they are partners. It’s helpful to set scheduled office hours, or uninterrupted periods of joyful play that allow your imagination to soar.

Living life as an artist is a practice. You are either engaging in the practice or you’re not. It makes no sense to say you’re not good at it. It’s like saying, “I’m not good at being a monk.” You are either living as a monk or you’re not. What ultimately makes a work great is the sum total of the tiniest details.

9. The Creative Process Has Three Acts: Collecting Seeds, Experimentation, and Crafting

Rick argues that the creative process is structured in three phases, (i) collecting seeds, (ii) experimentation, and (iii) crafting. While the first two are all about letting in as many ideas and experimenting in all directions to see which ones will grow, the third is about crafting and finishing the work. As the boundaries and lines have been drawn through experimentation, we’re now following instructions to create something beautiful. We’re now looking for the puzzle piece that fits, whereas before we were just looking for puzzle pieces.

During the entire process you need to allow yourself to be wrong, playing like a child without any regard for any consequences. Take it all in and experience the joy of being surprised. Taking a wrong turn allows you to see something that you would have otherwise missed. Failure is the information that guides you to greatness, the greatness that you see through your lens.

Don’t make too much of what others think, if you’ve truly created something great and innovative, it’s likely to alienate as many people as it attracts. The best art divides the audience. If everyone likes it, you probably haven’t pushed the limits far enough.

SELECTED QUOTES:

Collecting seeds is best approached with active awareness and boundless curiosity. As the seeds arrive, forming conclusions about their value or fate can get in the way of their natural potential. Until we are further along in the process and the idea has been developed, it’s impossible to assess these germs of an idea accurately.

The only way to truly know if any idea works is to test it. There are countless directions to explore, and we never know which will guide us to a dead end and which will lead to new realms until we test it. Do not let the scale of your imagination get in the way of executing a more practical version of your project.

The heart of experiment is mystery. We cannot predict where a seed will lead or if it will take root. Allow the seed to follow its own path toward the sun. The time to discriminate will come later. For now, allow space for magic to enter.

The artist thinks of timeless excellence. To create our best work, we are patient and avoid rushing the process, while at the same time we work quickly without delay. Because art is a reflection of the artist’s inner and outer world during the period of creation. Extending the period complicates the artist’s ability to capture a state of being. The result can be a loss of connection and enthusiasm for the work over time.

Unless actively working to make something better, avoid listening to it, reading it, playing it, looking at it, or showing it to friends. Work as far forward as you can while crafting and then step away, without repetitively consuming the unfinished work. By not accepting the work-in-progress as the standard version, we leave room for growth, change, and development to continue.

10. Incorporate What’s Useful and Let Go of the Rest

To understand and navigate a complex world, our mind often reduces everything to simple heuristics. We develop beliefs that give us a coherent framework of reduced options and false sense of certainty.

But to grow we need to actively stretch our point of view and invite opinions and views that go beyond our own beliefs. We can purposefully go beyond our limitations and ask ourselves: What can I learn from these extremes? What are the unexpected surprises?

Instead of getting defensive when faced with feedback or different views, we can reframe it as an exciting opportunity to put our ego aside and see from their perspective, understand their point of view.

But always remember, everyone shares from their unique experiences. What worked for them might not work for you. Take all the feedback, understand it, and see what fits to your unique situation. Incorporate what’s useful and let go of the rest.

SELECTED QUOTES:

When on the receiving end of feedback, our task is to set ego aside and work to fully understand the critique offered. Ask questions to gain clarity. When sharing observations, specificity creates space.

Established artists generally draw from their personal experience and recommend the solutions that worked for them. These tend to be specific to their journey, not yours. It’s worth remembering that their way is not “the” way. Your path is unique, for only you to follow. There is no single route to great art. This doesn’t mean to ignore the wisdom of others. Receive wisdom skillfully. Try it on for size and see how it fits. Incorporate what’s useful. Let go of the rest. And no matter how credible the source, test and tune in to yourself to discover what works for you.

Competition serves the ego. Cooperation serves the highest outcome. Believing an idea is best because it’s ours is an error of inexperience. We all benefit when the best idea is chosen, regardless of whether it’s ours or not.

If you never see eye to eye with a collaborator, then it might not be the right match. However, if you and your collaborator agree on everything, then one of you may be unnecessary.

Sometimes the most valuable touch a collaborator can have is no touch at all.

When the work has five mistakes, it’s not yet completed. When it has eight mistakes, it might be.

That’s it for today. As always, I’m looking forward to feedback, thoughts, and ways to improve.

Also, please connect if you want to brainstorm, create a company, or want help with strategy, GTM, financial modeling, and innovation projects. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks & Rock on!

-Andrea

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