So, about 4 years ago I discovered this whole genre of life and learning called, “Productivity.” Among many others, the field includes books like Getting Things Done, along with authors and podcasters like Merlin Mann, Todd Henry, and Scott Belsky. You can learn about it on websites like Lifehack.org and 99U.com Essentially the field is about efficiency and creativity: getting your best work out to people with consistency, excellence, and a degree of interest.
However, more recently I’ve noticed an interesting trend: basically I think the field is dividing into two types of thought leaders: those who write about creativity and productivity, and (2) those who have actually done something creative.
I don’t want to name names, but I was listening to a productivity/creativity podcast months ago when it occurred to me that the person was basically a productivity expert because, well, he was a productivity expert.
In other words, he hadn’t really created anything, except more information about being productive.
There were no stories about being “in the trenches” of productivity: He hadn’t written a screenplay, completed a record, led a company or team that was constructing (and delivering) a tangible product.
He was a creative/productivity “consultant”.
… And frankly, I wasn’t that interested.
For this current season of my life, I find myself drawn to people who are practicing creativity and productivity, not merely writing about it. To my mind, they have more to say about the blood and guts part of “getting things done”, like:
* inspiring people over the long-term
* creating a signature style in the midst of a corporate culture
* navigating the scarcity of resources (human and otherwise)
* the pressure of constantly having to come up with “the next big idea”
The list of productivity voices gets a lot shorter when you look for people who are actually getting work done, rather than merely posting about creative theory and interesting life hacks.
In fact, I’m going to recommend starting with a list of three people. These folks have done the work over the long haul, therefore (in my opinion) they have an authority and wisdom that comes from a slightly deeper place.
- James Victore is a NYC-based artist/designer who has been creating posters and visual art since the 90s. His work is provocative and engaging. His YouTube series, “Burning Questions“, answers some of the basic levels of creativity, and does it from the perspective of a guy who has actually done it (he does a year-end reading list, which I love). I’d encourage you to subscribe. (He’s also quite funny.)
- I’ve written about Twyla Tharp before: she is an award-winning, acclaimed choreographer and dancer (who also lives in New York City). Her book The Creative Habit is simply one of the most interesting and thorough works on how to be creative “in the real world”. It is full of lists and suggests (yay!), as well as stories of how this stuff has born itself out in Tharp’s life. She’s done it for a long time, and she speaks with the voice who has seen it all. If you do any type of vital work in the world—leading people, creating, or simply envisioning change and a future that may or may not exist yet—and haven’t read The Creative Habit, you really owe it to yourself to pick it up and read it. Quickly.
- The last name is this list is also a heavy weight. Steven Pressfield is an author and screenwriter, most notable (perhaps) for The Legend of Bagger Vance, starring Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron. He’s also published more than half-a-dozen works of historical fiction. However, in 2002 he published a little (relatively) book called The War of Art that has proven to be a game-changing work for many of us artists, creatives, and folks that just need to get stuff done. Pressfield writes with a directness, vulnerability, and authority that is seldom seen. It’s both practical and conceptual, and is worth reading repeatedly (once a year maybe?)
In my opinion, these three people are great places to start if you want to be challenged about productivity and creativity from people who are actually doing it. They are not consultants; they have seen the battles, and slogged through the frustrations and disappointments of trying to bring something to the world that is new, refreshing and effective.