Srini Rao (@unmistakableceo) is the host and founder of the Unmistakable Creative podcast and author of An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake.
What We Discuss with Srini Rao:
- How an ADHD diagnosis in his mid-twenties and the inability to hold down a real job forced Srini to develop his own tools and systems for harnessing creativity and boosting production.
- Why expressing your creativity on a regular basis — even when it’s done without the intention of reaching an audience or being commercially successful — can be incredibly beneficial to every area of your life.
- Research shows that being creative can actually make you happier, help you recover from trauma, and increase your productivity.
- How you can cultivate your own creativity even if you’re the type of person who thinks you don’t have any to begin with.
- Why you don’t have to be a creative genius or successful artist to take advantage of the creativity-happiness connection.
- And much more…
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Creativity is one of those black box topics that sometimes doesn’t even look like a skill. Are you born with it? Can you cultivate it? Why are some people so much more creative than others? What does being creative even mean in the first place?
In this episode, Unmistakable Creative host and An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake author Srini Rao tells us not only how he decided to tackle these questions, but why he was forced to do so as he struggled himself to fit the mold of society’s expectations. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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More About This Show
In his new book, An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake, Srini Rao extols the virtues of creating with the aim of self-satisfaction before all else.
“It is an incredibly counterintuitive message,” says Srini, “particularly when we live in a world where every aspect of our humanity is quantified. We know how many friends we have on Facebook. You know how many likes you get on every post. You know how many followers you have on Twitter. You know how many hearts you get every time you post on Instagram. But when you look at really successful, creative people throughout history, one of the interesting patterns that emerged was that they made themselves the number one priority in their work. They made creating great work the priority and an audience of millions, paradoxically, was the by-product of focusing on an audience of one.
“When we say ‘creating an audience of one,’ we’re not saying create something that’s absolutely lousy that doesn’t deserve an audience — that’s not worthy of an audience’s attention. I think that so often we try really hard to get somebody’s attention, and I think the question we should be asking instead of ‘How do I get somebody’s attention?’ is ‘How do we create something that’s worthy of somebody’s attention?’”
The idea, at its core, is not to produce something of low quality that wouldn’t pass the muster of anyone but its creator, but to focus on creating something that’s so good other people can’t help but pay it heed. Oprah could have pandered to the Jerry Springer crowd for the sake of ratings when she began her talk show, but forging her own path in her own way won the race in longevity and legacy many times over. Being derivative of something that’s already proven successful in the court of public opinion may seem like a sure bet, but it doesn’t usually stand the test of time.
“Let’s say for example that you see a book on the New York Times Best Seller list,” says Srini. “And you basically go through that book, you outline it, you extract it as a formula, and then you try to create that book based on everything that you read about it, you’re not going to end up writing a New York Times Best Seller, because all you’ve created is a pale imitation of something that already exists. And yet that is the sort of default way in which we’ve been taught to do creative work for the last 10 years because of the fact that everybody else’s work is on display.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how Srini himself avoids creating these pale imitations, a unique spin on the interview-style podcast he’d like someone to create, why resisting metrics that rely on the approval of others keeps control in the court of the creator, the accidental path that led Srini to become a prolific content creation machine, how creativity can help you recover from trauma and increase productivity, what David Bowie understood about playing to an audience of one, and much more.
THANKS, SRINI RAO!
If you enjoyed this session with Srini Rao, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
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Resources from This Episode:
- An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake by Srinivas Rao
- Unmistakable Creative
- Srini Rao at Facebook
- Srini Rao at Instagram
- Srini Rao at Twitter
- Shying From Fame’s Spotlight by Alex Hawgood, The New York Times
- Farewell to the Jerry Springer Show: 27 Years of Fights, Bleeps and Outrage by Stuart Heritage, The Guardian
- David Bowie: How Ziggy Stardust Fell to Earth by Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone
- Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts by Ryan Holiday
- Why I Don’t Have Comments by Seth Godin
- Excellence, Mediocrity, and Why You Should Get Another Opinion: In Conversation with BlogCastFM’s Srini Rao, Danielle LaPorte
- Is Facebook the AOL of the 2010s? A Skeptical Examination of Social Media Network Effects by Cal Newport
- How Writing 1000 Words a Day Changed my Life by Srinivas Rao, Medium
- The Small Army Strategy: A Guide for Turning Fans and Followers into Fanatics and Friends for Life by Srinivas Rao
- If You Want to Build an Audience, Focus on Mastery Instead of Metrics by Srinivas Rao, Medium
- TJHS 108: James Clear | Forming Atomic Habits for Astronomic Results
- The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers by Adam Grant, TED 2016
- The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
- Ramit Sethi: The Minute You Turn Vanilla the World Abandons You, CreativeLive
- “The Artist’s Way” in an Age of Self-Promotion by Carrie Battan, The New Yorker
- Humans of New York
- Mars Dorian
- Wine Library TV Episode #1,001
- Designing Your Environment For Optimal Performance and Creativity with Jim Bunch, Unmistakable Creative
- The 9 Environments That Make Up Your Life with Jim Bunch, Unmistakable Creative
- Moleskine Classic Hard Cover Notebook
- The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life by Shawn Achor
- TJHS 21: Benjamin Hardy | What to Do When Willpower Doesn’t Work
Transcript for Srini Rao - Why You Should Reclaim Your Own Creativity (Episode 130)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger and I'm here with my producer, Jason DeFillippo. Creativity is one of those black box topics that sometimes don’t even look like a skill. Are you born with it? Can you cultivate it? Why are some people so much more creative than others? What does being creative even mean in the first place? My friend, Srini Rao, not only decided to tackle these questions for his book, An Audience of One, and show the unmistakable creative. He was forced to tackle them as he struggled himself to fit the mold of society's expectations. Today, we'll see why expressing your creativity on a regular basis, even when it's done without the intention of reaching an audience or of being commercially successful can be incredibly beneficial to every area of your life. We'll also uncover some encouraging social science research, which shows that being creative can actually make you happier, help you recover from trauma and increase your productivity. Of course, we'll also dive into some practical ways you can cultivate your own creativity even, and especially if you're the type of person who thinks you don't have any to begin with. All right, here's Srini Rao. So An Audience of One, I got to admit, if I'm creating something, I don't want an audience of one initially, right? That's a little depressing. Let's call on here.
Srini Rao: [00:01:16] So you're right, it is an incredibly counterintuitive message. Particularly, when we live in a world where every aspect of our humanity is quantified. We know how many friends we have on Facebook. You know how many likes you get on every post. You know how many followers you have on Twitter. You know how many hearts you get every time you post on Instagram. But when you look at really, really successful creative people throughout history, one of the interesting patterns that emerged was that they made themselves the number one priority in their work. They made creating great work the priority and an audience of millions paradoxically, was the byproduct of focusing on an audience of one. Now, when we say creating for an audience of one, we're not saying create something that's absolutely lousy, that doesn't deserve an audience that's not worthy of an audience's attention.
[00:02:00] I think that so often we try really hard to get somebody's attention and I think the question we should be asking instead of ‘how do I get somebody attention’ is ‘how do I create something that's worthy of somebody's attention?’ I think you're a fantastic example of that. The fact that you were able to start the show and in a very short amount of time get a really substantial listener base, partially because of the fact that you have already demonstrated the fact that you're worth of people's attention for the past 10 years. So one of my favorite stories that we opened the book with was the story of Daft Punk. Now, a lot of people might not know this, but there's no way in hell you would probably recognize the two members of Daft Punk if they were walking down the street.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:37] No, they were the masked, the robot stuff.
Srini Rao: [00:02:41] Here's the interesting thing, in a culture that allows us to basically put our lives on display, and we have this very artificial sense of celebrity where people who are are famous for being famous. It's really strange that somebody as they become more and more successful would go out of their way to make themselves more and more anonymous. And I think really it's summed up well by something they said, you don't need to have your picture on the cover of magazines to make great music. And so much so that when in this documentary about the two members of Daft Punk, when they were being courted by executives at Virgin Records, the executive showed up to take them to dinner in a limousine and they said, “We don't want to be seen getting into the limousine. We'll see you at the restaurant for dinner.” And they took the subway.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:24] Wow. But the idea of an audience of one is not, like I said, to produce something of low quality that doesn't deserve attention, but rather to focus on creating something that is so good that people can't help but pay attention to it. Another example is Oprah Winfrey. At the very beginning of her career, at the time when Oprah started there were about three daytime talk shows that were really kind of the most popular ones. One was Oprah, the other was Donahue, and if I remember correctly, the third one was Jerry Springer. And of course, anybody who's listening to this knows that Jerry Springer was pretty much the epitome of daytime TV trash.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:59] Are you old enough to remember when he was like really smart and insightful and then went, “Oh, I'm getting ratings the other way of getting killed because nobody wants smart people. They want dumb stuff.” And so he switched.
Srini Rao: [00:04:13] Well, you know what, I'm probably old enough. I bet I probably never saw what you’re talking about.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:17] I used to watch Jerry Springer with my mom and we can get into this a little later, maybe I'm taking this on a tangent, but like he used to do this thing, you know how he had the final thought where he's like, “Take care of yourselves and each other.” Remember that thing? He does that at the end of the show and he used to be really smart and I think he ran for governor or something like that and he was just a really smart, insightful guy. And then I think one show that he had, and somebody's going to hear this and correct me here, but one or two shows he had some ish went down, right? And those shows got crazy ratings. It hit the news, or maybe it was one Geraldo got hit with a chair because of the white supremacists that he had on the show. And then that show started getting all these people watching it. He was like, “Oh, they don't want freaking Charlie Rose. They don't want Larry King. They want professional wrestling, but it's posing as a talk show.” And so he made the switch consciously, which in a way sort of like, “Cool. Know your audience”, but it's also sort of sad, right? Like, “Hey, there's no market for smart people. You're going to make more money if you like, “Here's the knife. Do something with the knife,” right?
Srini Rao: [00:05:26] Well in that case, what he did really is he catered to this idea of sensationalism. Sensationalism drives clicks and eyeballs. You know, you just look at our news right now and it's plenty sensationalist, but sensationalism is not a viable long-term strategy. You can get temporary attention with sensationalism and Oprah, despite the fact that she was not able to compete in the ratings, vowed that she would not stoop down to that level, and instead elevated herself out of trash TV. And I think the results kind of speak for themselves. Now, what has happened, here's the thing, if you cater exclusively to an audience and you're constantly trying to get their attention, let's say for example, that you see a book on the New York Times Bestseller list and you basically go through that book, you outline it, you extract it as a formula, and then you try to create that book based on everything that you read about it.
[00:06:17] You're not going to end up writing in New York Times Bestseller because all you've created is a pale imitation of something that already exists. And yet, that is the sort of default way in which we've been taught to do creative work for the last 10 years because of the fact that everybody else's work is on display. So it takes something like interview-based podcast, right, which in the last two to three years, very popular and at the same time if you look through the iTunes store is often you can feel as if you're just looking at the same show or listening to the same show with the same people over and over again being asked the same exact questions. Nobody has said, you know, “Okay, I'm going to do interviews, but I'm going to bring a different format to it. I'm going to try to test the sort of established practice and challenges.”
[00:06:59] So for example, one thing I want somebody to do because I don't have the skills to do it is, I think an interview show would be really interesting if somebody would not just interview a guest but interview other people in their lives and tell the story through multiple lenses. That takes a whole different skill set, but it also would make you stand out than doing a standard interview-based show. So the thing is that, you could try to cater to an audience and you could try to please them and you could end up watering down your work and when you don't please them, then you're stuck with something you don't like and you fail. Whereas, maybe your work resonates with a handful of people or the right people, but at least you've created something that you're proud to put your signature on and we can get a tactical stuff with I know we will
[00:07:39] but I think that what has happened as a result of the fact that we're obsessed with outcomes is that something that should bring a great deal of joy to our life, expressing our creativity, making things has ended up bringing a great deal of distress to our life. I should know this. I've spent, you know, moments of this entire book launch where I feel like I'd measured my self-esteem in book sales and podcast downloads and email subscribers. And that's ludicrous. But it's a really hard thing to do to separate your effort from the results of your work. But the effort is the one thing that's in your control. The results are very much not in your control.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:15] I like the idea of control and I want to get back into that in a second. First though, I'm curious how you got interested in this. I mean, at some point you must have had a nine-to-five and thought, “To hell with this, I'm not cut out for this.”
Srini Rao: [00:08:28] Well, how I got into this is very much accidental. I think that what's interesting is that if you listened to many of the stories of people who become entrepreneurs or many of the people who run in the same circles that you and I do, it's “Hey, I was successful at my amazing corporate job as a lawyer or an executive where I made six figures and I left it all in search of meaning and purpose and because I was dissatisfied.” Now, no discredit to those people. Plenty of those people have been guests on my show. They're probably been guests on yours and many of them are friends. I am the exact opposite of that. Part of why I ended up here, it was because I was fired from almost every real job that I ever had. So it wasn't more like, ‘a hell of it’ or ‘to hell with this’,
[00:09:08] it was like, “Well this isn't working at all. Clearly, I need to try something different.” But I did this all along the side of a day job that I knew that I was going to leave eventually. I kind of, the very last day job I had, I went into the job with one foot out the door and my boss knew it. And so he actually only hired me to work part time and my job was basically to be the social media strategist for an online travel company. And my first project was to build a blog, which was really convenient considering I had a podcast where I was interviewing bloggers. So I just tapped the entire blog with people that I had been interviewing. So basically my side project actually helped my day job. I think that for people who are in day jobs, I want to share one piece of advice that I thought was really, really spot on.
[00:09:50] And it helped me think about it a lot and I think this is really valuable. I spoke with this woman named Diana Valentine who was a coach and she talked about a bunch of different things and she said, “You should treat your day job as the first angel investor in your business or your side hustle”, which is great because when you have a day job, you're able to do a lot of things without the pressure of figuring out -- How am I going to make a living off of this thing? So when I ran the podcast for the first two years, I wasn't really thinking much about anything other than the fact that I was enjoying this project and I wanted to keep getting better and better as an interviewer. I didn't have the pressure of figuring out, “Okay, how do I use this thing to live off of it?”
[00:10:24] And as a result, I had a great deal of freedom, which I think made a big difference. You know, there's a guy named Karan Bajaj who wrote a number of different books and Karan is an executive at Discovery Channel. He's a GM there. And prior to that, he worked somewhere else and he wrote novels alongside of this. And his novels had become so popular that they were even option for movies. And he actually said that he thinks that not making his passion, his way of making his living, was one of the best decisions he ever made because he said he thinks that that's why he's been more successful because of the fact that he never writes for his audience. He never caters to two other people, and he's not stuck under this pressure of ‘how am I going to survive off of this thing?’ And so as a result, I think there's this free-flowing self-expression. And it's interesting, even when his third book got optioned for a movie, he still decided not to quit his job. He said, “It's like, I don't feel that this is my Dharma.” He's like, “It's my passion, but I feel that my Dharma is to be in business and the results kind of speak for themselves.” So I think that we tend to underestimate the value of this whole idea of an audience of one.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:11:32] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Srini Rao. We'll be right back.
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Jason DeFillippo: [00:14:44] Hey, don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Srini Rao, that link is in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. Thanks for listening and supporting the show. To learn more about our sponsors and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit JordanHarbinger.com/deals. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to JordanHarbinger.com/subscribe and now back to our show with Srini Rao.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:14] I know that social science and research show that being creative can help make you happier. It can help you recover from trauma, can increase productivity and I want to get into that in a little bit as well. You bring up the example of David Bowie not playing to the gallery of playing for himself. That's kind of the audience of one archetype here. And I'm wondering, how do we avoid trying to fulfill other people's expectations? Because of course when I started The Jordan Harbinger Show, I was already doing something. I already had a clear vision of what my creative output would look like. But I think when someone's new, they're often really focused on what's trending? What's popular? What's going to make me money? What's going to get me followers? What's going to get me an audience? And that you're saying is backwards. We're creating for other people's expectations.
Srini Rao: [00:16:03] Well, that is incredibly backwards one because trends don't last. Okay. You can't build a career by being a one hit wonder. You and I are perfect examples of the fact that our bodies of work don't exist because we followed a trend. We happen to be doing this long before it became trendy. We're just right now the beneficiaries of a very ridiculously long headstart on what is currently a trend. So everything that's a trend eventually comes to an end at some point. And for anybody who hasn't read it, I highly recommend Ryan Holiday's perennial seller because it's really about this idea of creating work that is timeless, that stands the test of time. Anybody can get attention for a moment in time, but if you want to keep people's attention and you want to make an impression on the person who's consumed your art for the rest of their lives, then you have to create something that's going to be timeless and relevant throughout history.
[00:16:56] And that requires a very different approach, that requires creating something that's incredibly good, that takes a lot of practice and a lot of work. And that's not about an audience, that's about the effort that you put into it. That's about the time and energy and effort that you invest into this thing that you're doing. So you're, like I said, a perfect example of this, I mean, I don't know how many episodes of the other show that you did prior to this, but that was basically planting the seeds. If somebody expected to start a podcast but didn't have your back and unexpected to get your results that you got from starting The Jordan Harbinger Show, that would be a very unrealistic expectation and they're trying to do something that they have very little control over. The idea that you want to fulfill other people's expectations when it comes to your art is not only a recipe for profound disappointment, it's ludicrous because how can you control the way that somebody responds to what you’ve done? It's virtually impossible. We both were talking earlier about the fact that we both gotten two star reviews of our shows or one star reviews. And what are we going to do? Say, “Oh, you know, am I going to really consider the feedback of this one 2-star review out of the 400 5-star reviews?” Probably not.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:06] Yeah, just pack it in and quit, Srini. We're done. It's over.
Srini Rao: [00:18:08] Done. It's over. But the thing is, it's like, “Okay, am I going to try to change my show based on this one guy's opinion, who I don't know?” And so there are a couple of things to think about here, Seth Godin once said that, “Anonymous feedback from strangers who I have absolutely no relationship with will cause me to do nothing but hide”-- which is why he doesn't have comments on his blog. And it's so true. And the other thing he once said, he said, “I've never known an author who said, ‘I've read all the one-star reviews of my book. I've taken the feedback to heart, I've incorporated it and I'm a much better writer now.’” So this idea of trying to fulfill other people's expectations is a losing prophecy. Like there's just no way. Your job is to make something and make something for the audience it's intended for because the people who love what you do will go out of their way to tell you. The people who don't, will shit on your work and then they'll go find somebody else's work to shit on.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:03] Yeah, exactly I think. And plus, even if people are not being deliberately kind of aggressive to you because you're on the internet and they can get away with it, and there's other motivations there. I think a lot of people, even if they're really trying to give their honest opinion, it doesn't matter because there's so many people out there consuming content, there's something for pretty much everything. And if you don't believe me, go look at some of the super popular Instagram accounts or ridiculously popular even podcast where you go, “How? Who is listening to this garbage?” And the answer is like, a hundreds of thousands of people. Yeah. Millions of people. And some of the most popular stuff online is also unfortunately some of the dumbest lowbrow stuff. So if you think, “Oh, I'm not smart enough to do this, or I don't have enough of a clever or creative streak to do this”, just remember that some of the most popular things online, no names mentioned, are some of the most basic regurgitated stuff. So if you're doing better than that -- Congratulations! You're already ahead of the game.
Srini Rao: [00:20:05] Yeah, I think that it's a choice. Do you want to cater to the lowest common denominator? Or, do you want to create something that you're proud of? Because I don't necessarily think those two things can co-exist.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:17] No, I agree with you. I agree with you. I think that there's a lot, unless there's a few people I know that they cater to the lowest common denominator and that's because that's where they're at. They just happen to be the king of that domain. And I think, it must be really nice to put some dumb quote where you're standing on a beach looking at the water on Instagram and you're like, “This is great.” And then you get a bunch of likes from 17-year-olds and you're just like, “I'm awesome at this.” And you have no inkling that maybe you should raise the bar a little bit and it doesn't matter because you're getting so much validation. Like I will admit I'm a little jealous of those people sometimes.
Srini Rao: [00:20:51] I want to comment on this. So I said this in a conversation I had with Danielle LaPorte a few weeks ago, I said that, “We've confused attention with affection and we've confused validation in the digital form of hearts and likes and whatever vanity metric your social platform of choice uses. We've conflated that with real value when it's not.” I think that what you do here on the show, the conversations that you have are far more valuable to people than you posting a picture of you and a guest sitting together a microphone.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:19] Oh, of course. Of course. It's easier to post the photo.
Srini Rao: [00:21:23] I don't think people would miss the photos if they were gone. I think they would absolutely miss you if you were.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:28] Well, that's how we rebuilt our fan base. When I had to restart the show from scratch, this actually illustrates your point perfectly. When I had to restart the show from scratch, I didn't have access to our email list. I didn't have access to our social media accounts. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to the audience in the other feed. I didn't have a chance to do anything because I just got locked out of everything. There was no like negotiation. It was actually just an aggressive sort of move, which is why I'm suing my former business partners and they're getting sued by a bunch of people because of behavior like that. And so I thought, “I am screwed. I've got to start over from scratch. I've got to start from the very beginning. What's going to happen?
[00:22:06] I don't have the social media accounts.” And what happened was, everyone moved over because they were like, “What the hell happened to the show? I'm going to go find Jordan.” And then it was really easy to find The Jordan Harbinger Show and everybody came back pretty much. And I thought that was kind of amazing. And the reason that that happened was exactly what you're saying -- Nobody missed the photos on social media. Nobody cared about the Twitter. They just cared about what the heck happened to one of my favorite podcasts. And so they looked for it. If otherwise, if they had just missed the social media, they would've replaced it with something else, or it actually would have been a faster sort of turnaround cycle because it would have just stopped one day and everyone went, “Where's my favorite photo on Instagram?” But nobody does that. They're looking for more.
Srini Rao: [00:22:52] The idea that social media is this important is ludicrous. It's one of the most disposable parts of many of our creative lives and creative businesses. Like Cal Newport wrote a really interesting post a couple of weeks ago where he set up all the sort of billion dollar companies, he said, “Facebook is the most dispensable one of all.” And the reason being, he said, “Think about it.” He said, “If Amazon disappeared from your life, it would be fairly inconvenient, right? Like it would be kind of annoying. You will want to stop. If Apple disappeared from your life, we'd be pretty annoyed. For most of us who are, you know, iOS and Apple users. If Google disappeared from your life, life would be very complicated. If Facebook disappeared from your life, it would be like, ‘Okay. You know what, I mean? I know how to get in touch with who I need to get in touch with. Not the end of the world’, like I don't think your life would be significantly worse if one day you woke up and Facebook was out of business.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:39] I think that I would save a lot of time.
Srini Rao: [00:23:42] You and everybody else listening to this -- myself included.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:45] Exactly. Yeah, that does make sense. You're absolutely right. And we're onto something here. I do want to get back to the idea and the question, which is why is creating for yourself more likely to be successful in getting a huge audience counter-intuitively than trying to play to the audiences’ expectations in the first place?
Srini Rao: [00:24:04] Well, I think that when you look at this idea of creating for yourself, the biggest thing that we're talking about here is what you control. You control your actions. You control your behavior. You control your effort. You control whether you decide to show up or not. And I'll give you an example for my own life, sometime in 2013, I came to the conclusion that probably I was never going to get a book deal, that it had been long enough that I had been trying, that nobody was coming to knock on my door, to hell with it. And I interviewed Julien Smith for that Unmistakable Creative or what was not then Unmistakable Creative, but at that time, BlogCastFM. And he told me about this idea of writing a thousand words a day. And I thought, “Okay, you know what? I can do that
[00:24:44] whether a publisher pays me to do it or not. I can do that whether anybody wants to read my writing or not. I can do that and I can do it every day. And it's still something I do to this day.” So I started doing it. I did it for six months. In those six months, I self-published a book that became a Wall Street Journal bestseller through a series of freakish coincidences. I sold out an event and we planted the seeds for what would become Unmistakable Creative. I didn't stop writing a thousand words a day from that point forward. Nobody was ready to offer me a book deal despite having a self-published book that became a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Two years later, after continuing to write a thousand words a day, every week I was posting a new article on Medium. An editor at Penguin found something that I wrote.
[00:25:25] I couldn't have controlled her doing that. The one part of that I controlled is the fact that I showed up and I kept putting in the work. And as a result, I also got better. It stopped being just going through the motions of writing a thousand words a day, but bit by bit, my practice became much more deliberate. It went from, “Okay, I can hit a thousand words a day.” How about, “Let's see if we can make some of it good.” And with that, I got better and better. I became much clearer as a writer. I became much more crisp. I could articulate my ideas better. And the best part of it was that because of the fact that not only was it something I controlled, it was an incredibly clear goal. It led to a lot of flow and I would be in the zone and I could do it for hours on end and I would feel happy because I’m not only committed, honored the commitment I've made to myself, I did something that was in my control.
[00:26:13] And I got to experience the joy of the creative process and I wasn't doing that for anybody. Here's the thing, I finished two books with the publisher. I don't currently have a contract for a third one. I still woke up and wrote a thousand words this morning. Why would I do that? Like if the only intention, if the only benefit from it was external results, there'd be no reason to do that every day. Whereas, I have found that that process has been instrumental to a number of different things. I can basically say that every single positive thing that has happened in my life since I started that habit is probably the result of that habit because of what are known as Keystone habits. And the fact that one habit creates a ripple effect and leads to all these other ones.
[00:26:53] I think it's because of that habit, I'm a much more avid reader than I was before. I read hundreds of books every year now. And I think it's largely due to that habit because I realized I wanted to be a better writer and I realized the way to become a better writer was to read good writing. And so I read a ton and I enjoy reading. It's also taught me how to manage my attention. So I got all these benefits from it that I would have never expected from this one simple habit. And the thing is that so much of that is in your control. So another example, like you said you were talking about your social media, the fact that you didn't have access to all this stuff, the one thing you could do was you could say, “You know what,
[00:27:33] what is in my control here is the ability to get to work and to start producing a kickass podcast again because I know how to do that and social media or no social media, assets or no assets that the one thing that is in my control. I wrote this actually very recently, my most recent media in pieces said, “If you want to build an audience, you should focus on mastery instead of metrics.” Now, I'm not saying that metrics aren't important. If you're running a business, metrics are important. If you don't measure how much money you're making and spending, you're going to go bankrupt. But there's a fine line. People often get so obsessed with metrics that they do stupid things like they spend all day checking their Google Analytics or website traffic, but that doesn't make your traffic to go, that's not what's going to cause your traffic to go up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:19] That's what I've been doing wrong. Okay, got you. You mean clicking reload on my website, my podcast host and watching it tick upwards every 15 minutes is not how I increased my podcast traffic?
Srini Rao: [00:28:30] No, it's not at all how you use your podcast traffic. Okay. One, let's be honest, iTunes is like this black box. I mean iTunes is like the Bermuda triangle.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:40] Well, it's Apple podcast now, excuse me.
Srini Rao: [00:28:43] Yeah, right. Yeah. Well, because it's Apple, it's the Bermuda triangle of information. They don't want to share anything even with all of us who have, you know, put our shows on their platform. But that's a whole…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:52] Yeah, that's a whole rant show that no one really wants to hear right now probably.
Srini Rao: [00:28:56] Here's the thing, so you're right, refreshing your analytics on your website is not going to cause your traffic go up. What's going to cause your traffic to go up is to go write something that's worth reading, and that's in your control. You can do that every single day. James Clear is another perfect example of this. So most of your listeners probably already know who James Clear is, if not, definitely worth checking out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:15] Yeah. He was on the show a couple of times. He's on this show as well with Atomic Habits.
Srini Rao: [00:29:19] Yeah. And everybody knows, I mean, he's like, if you look at what he's done, I remember when I asked him, because James Clear's readership isn't that hundreds of thousands of subscribers. And he told me, he basically decided that he would write two articles a week. And that was the solution to his hundreds of thousands of subscribers. And he said, he's like, “Think about it. That's the one thing that was in his control.” I think as if you're doing eight pieces a week or eight pieces a month, you don't need all of them to be amazing. One of them could be incredible and it will compensate for how bad the rest of them are.
[00:29:50] And all the research shows us as well. So Adam Grant, who probably also has been a guest here, he's talked about the fact that originals, he said, you know, “What actually led to the highest quality of creative output, was the highest volume of creative output.” And that makes complete sense if you think about it, because if you're producing a high volume of creative output, you're getting a lot of opportunities to practice your craft and get better at it. And the other thing that happens when you do that is it takes the pressure off of you for everything to be good. So if I'm writing a thousand words every day, 7,000 words a week, I need a thousand of those 7,000 words a week to be usable. So imagine, I write a book that's 50,000 words and I write a thousand words a day, all year, 365,000 words.
[00:30:31] Not a lot of it has to be good, just enough to get into books. And as a result of the fact that I'm doing it so consistently, inevitably, some of it is going to be high quality. And so if you focus on mastery instead of metrics and instead of looking at your podcast downloads, what would be a better use of your time, in my opinion and this is something I do, would be to go back and to listen to your episodes and to say, “Okay, what did I do well in this episode? What did I do poorly? And what could I have done better? What are the questions I should have asked that I didn't?” And it's amazing to me how much insight that that will give you into just getting to be a better interviewer.
[00:31:12] And I'm still doing this after 10 years. There was a period where I used to edit my own interviews. I actually thought that was one of the biggest blessings in disguise ever because, you know, it goes counter to all the sort of E-Myth efficiency stuff. But the fact that I was editing my own interviews forced me to go back and listen to every single thing that I did. And as a result I was learning a ton about my own interview process. All those things are in your control. I can't control whether a 100,000 people download a particular episode of a podcast. What I can control is, do I put the most amount of effort into creating the most kickass conversation that I possibly can? So you have no control over how many people are going to listen to this particular episode or if they've even chosen to stop playing it at this point. But what you do have control over is the questions that you asked me and the effort that you put into preparing for this. One of the things that you and I both do, I know for a fact because I filled out your intake form, is we read everybody's books before we interview them so that we can have insightful conversations -- that's in your control. Refreshing your stupid analytics, complete waste of time. It's not that you shouldn't know them, but I think that you shouldn't put as much time into them as most people do.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:32:21] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Srini Rao. We'll be right back after this. Support for The Jordan Harbinger Show comes from our friends at Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans -- America's premier home purchase lender.
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Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:19] We do have outcome dependency, which is a recipe for disappointment. Ryan Holiday has talked about this as well. When we try to control how our work is received, you know, we just set ourselves up for disappointment because if you're like, he told me this personally too, because I was like, “Oh, I only want to do a book if I'm going to hit New York Times.” And he's like, “You'll sell enough copies to hit New York Times,
[00:35:42] but they could just editorialize the list, which they do, which they are by the way, not supposed to do. And just go, “Well, we have too many self-help books on the list right now. So we're just going to knock off this Jordan Harbinger guy.” Or like, “I don't like the word Harbinger, so I'm going to remove him.” -- However that list works, you don't even know, because they don't tell anyone and they can editorialize the list and they can edit you right out. And that's happened to friends of mine who sold tons and tons of books. They're just like, “Nah, we don't like this book. It's about public speaking. We're going to cut it.”
Srini Rao: [00:36:11] I mean, even with me in this book is a perfect example, right? So I hired a really high-end marketing firm to help with the launch. They did a phenomenal job doing it. They delivered everything that they said they would, but there are a lot of things that didn't turn out the way that they needed to in order for the book to even come close. Like, you know, we crossed the thousand-copy threshold just a few days ago and I was like, “Okay, you know what? I think it's time that I appreciate it.” So for example, a lot of friends who interviewed me for their podcasts couldn't do it though the week the book came out. And of course that means that I'm not going to sell the same volume of sales that I could if every bit of media that I had done had dropped at the same time.
[00:36:45] You know, our email list, thanks to a switch to Ontraport caused us problems where we were seeing lower open rates. Those are things that you can't control. And I remember I was driving myself crazy and I finally just, you know, made the shift mentally and said, “You know what? Like what has this done? It's done nothing but cause me unhappiness. And the entire message of my book is the opposite of this.” And I remember logging into Amazon's Author Central and saying, “Okay, you know what? We moved 40 to 50 copies this week. Clearly, we're not going to make the New York Times bestseller list because that ship has sailed. I think what I'm much more interested in now is how do I create a perennial seller, something that's going to last?” And instead of thinking, “How do I sell a million copies as soon as possible?” I'm like, “How do I ensure that this book keeps selling every week
[00:37:26] so it becomes something that people want to keep reading long after it's come out? And how do I start playing the long game? So the shift really is making your shift to the long game, which is, it's interesting because we're coming full circle to some of the things that we're talking about at the very beginning of our conversation. But Sam Altman, who is a venture capitalist, resident of Y Combinator, he tells founders that the biggest competitive advantage that you have as a founder, which is just as relevant here even if you're doing a side hustle, or you're doing creative project is a long-term view. And he defined a long-term view as 10 years. Now, what happens is most people when they come to the world of startups, because they see the sort of unicorns and the Facebooks of the world or whatever, they think, “I'm going to do this thing for a year, maybe three. Sell my first business, become a millionaire, and then, you know, do whatever it is. Count my cash on the beach or go, you know, be a VC or whatever it is.” And you see the same thing with online projects. Like, so most people who start podcast, vlogs, whatever, the attrition rate is really real high. They stop after about 90 days. I think I remember meeting Seth, he's saying once, “90 days is about the point at which most people quit.” And I had a friend who contacted me yesterday and he was looking at starting a podcast and I said, “Well, I'll give you one simple piece of advice. I said, if you're not going to spend at least a year of doing this, don't start it.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:45] Yeah. My bit of advice is if you don't care if anyone listens and you're totally comfortable doing it only for yourself, literally, well that proves your whole point, right? My whole point is, do it for yourself. And if you're comfortable with no one listening, then do it. The problem is people go, “I am.” And then secretly though, they're like refreshing that Libsyn hosting.
Srini Rao: [00:39:05] Oh, I barely looked at my Amazon rankings. When, you know, one of my friends asked me at a book signing, I was like, “I don't know.” I had to be honest, I hadn't checked for the first two weeks. I was like, “This is just a recipe for anxiety.” And I finally asked my editor, I said, “Where are we at?” And she said, “We've just crossed 1100”, and you know, most traditionally published books don't sell more than a thousand copies. So I was like, “Okay, cool. You know what? We hit the first thousand copies and you know what? We're going to play the long game.” I'm going to basically cater to the people who really love my work and I'm going to focus on, you know, let me move, it's not like a publishers wet dream, but who cares? I'd rather have a book that's selling hundreds of copies every week, a year from now. Then a book that sells several thousand copies at the beginning of the launch and hardly sells any ever again.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:48] Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, so making the shift is diversifying the number of things we derive meaning from, not leaning on selling that certain number of copies, not trying to be, “I'm an iTunes top 50 show. Oh, wait a minute. That was only for a day. I hate podcasting now”, et cetera, right? Okay.
Srini Rao: [00:40:05] Here's the thing. Everything when it comes to reviews and rankings and everything we're talking about, all of those things fluctuate and all of them are impermanent. So today's viral sensation is an afterthought tomorrow. Do you remember any of the videos on YouTube that went viral last week?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:21] Yeah, of course not. No.
Srini Rao: [00:40:21] Exactly. And you'll probably won't remember them a year from now because they're not relevant, but there's a good chance that you remember a book that had a really big impression on you that a friend shared with you because it's remained timeless. And I think that that was one thing we aim for with Unmistakable Creative is to make the conversations as timeless as possible. To say that we could air an interview that, you know, was recorded four or five years ago as a best of one Friday and people will still listen to it because it's still relevant.
[00:40:49] We've made the content timeless. I think that we tend to get caught up in things, like I said, these things are not only out of control, but they're almost all impermanent. I know from having hit the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list, the buzz from having some sort of moment in the spotlight is incredibly temporary. It doesn't last. Not only that, if that's all you're about, you're going to be severely disappointed because for every person you see in that spotlight, whether it's somebody who wins a Grammy Award for their music album, whether it's somebody who wins an Oscar for the film that they were in, or whether it's an author who hits the New York Times Bestsellers for that one moment in the spotlight, they're spending hundreds of hours basically doing labor. Actors spend hundreds of days on set so that people can watch their movie for two hours in a theater.
[00:41:39] I spent two years writing a book. People are going to spend two days reading it. That's kind of how it goes with all of these things. So if that's where your meaning is coming from and your source of joy is, you're only not only putting yourself in a position to be potentially very disciplined because of the fact that you don't control that, but you also are putting yourself in a position where the thing that you're going to derive joy from is incredibly temporary and the work itself is something that you can actually derive joy from on a daily basis, should you choose to do it that way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:09] Yeah, that definitely creates a long-term level of happiness that's required to get through the hard time, to get through the downtimes that aren't fun.
Srini Rao: [00:42:18] Yeah, everybody has downtimes, man. Like I was super stressed two weeks ago about the book not selling as many copies as I want. My business partner and I just parted ways on really good terms. I mean, you and I have been through similar changes this year and that's stressful. That's super stressful, especially when I invested a lot of money in a book marketing firm. And then, I finally came to the realization that, you know what? It's time for me to surrender and let this go and I'm going to play the long game and that's the way I'm going to do this. And so be it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:45] You reminded me of something that our probably mutual friend Ramit Sethi said a while ago, and I don't know if he got this from someone else. He said, “The world wants you to be vanilla. And then once you get there, the market punishes you for it.” Something like that. So basically, when you're catering to other people's expectations or you're trying to get to do something for some certain metric, you really do have to, going back to what we were talking about with the lowest common denominator, make yourself vanilla, but then you get there and everyone goes, “Nah, there's nothing special about this person.” You know, and you end up really pigeonholed. And I wonder if some of the people that you and I have discussed offline are going to run into that wall, right? Where they just end up being internet marketer who has a YouTube show number 750.
Srini Rao: [00:43:31] Yeah, it's happening already. I think that like the way it was when blogs first started, we're seeing with podcasting, all media creation, especially when you've democratized creativity, everybody has the ability to create. Eventually, we'll see attrition. I know this because during my book launch, there were people that I emailed who, I'd been on their podcasts before and these are people who are big platforms who have done really respectable things that have great bodies of work. I've got a number of emails back saying the podcast is on temporary hiatus. And what I realized was, “Okay, I think you guys have just gotten the wakeup call that this is not as easy as it seems.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:03] Yeah, I think that that's very true. And I think that a lot of us, unfortunately people are selling this dream, but that's a whole nother rant, right? That people are selling this online. You can be some sort of internet celebrity or something like that. And that's a whole different industry that's the problem.
Srini Rao: [00:44:20] So, there's also a conflict of interest that people need to think about where you're getting your advice from. Notice that all of the people who go on these rants about the fact that everybody should start a podcast, many of them also happen to sell courses on how to start a podcast.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:35] Right. Yep. Can't beat that. I personally, look, I'm happy to help people if they want to start a podcast, but I will also be the first one to say, “If you are doing it because you feel like you have to have it because you have a book -- you should not have one.”
Srini Rao: [00:44:50] Yeah, exactly. It's the same thing with writing a book, right? Is that if you think that you should do this thing because it's going to make you rich and famous and successful in whatever you're going to be in for severe disappointment because if it doesn't meet that expectation, you're going to feel as if the whole thing was a wasted effort. So that would be like me saying that it wasn't worth writing An Audience of One just because I didn't hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Like think about how much I deny myself the joy that could come from the fact that, “Hey, you know what, I've accomplished something that is worth being proud of just, because it's not a New York Times Bestseller that I didn't hit the list, I shouldn't downplay that.” Or you know, say, “Okay, well that's the only way this is going to be meaningful to me”, because that's just a recipe for disappointment.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:34] Yeah, I agree with you there. I think people do set themselves up for failure and we see that even if you're already successful and you have to start again at some point, you really do need the creative process. You can't just rely on the external reward. And that dovetails nicely with the idea that I think a lot of people want to turn their creative outlet into their job, into a profession when it's like nobody's comfortable being a hobbyist anymore. It's like somehow it's sort of frowned upon. There's this stigma to being somebody who's got a hobby. Everybody's got to make it their job. There's no more. Have you ever heard anybody even say hobby anymore? I think the new word is side hustle, and you have to monetize it, otherwise you're wasting your time.
Srini Rao: [00:46:19] Absolutely. We actually opened the book with an excerpt from an article by Carrie Battan, who was a writer for the New York Times and you can link this up in the show notes, but it's titled “The Artist’s Way” in an Age of Self-Promotion. She said exactly that, she said, “You know, if you have a nice voice, you have to start a podcast. If you have a subject that you're interested in, you must start a newsletter and monetize it or grow the subscription to it.” We don't do anything for the sake of doing it anymore. And what's interesting about that is if you look at the sort of outlier, really out there, like totally, you know, leaps and bounds more famous than you and I are projects on the internet, things like Post Secret by Frank Warren or Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton.
[00:47:03] None of those started out with that kind of an intention. The funny thing is you read those stories and you're like, “This is how this started?” So Brandon apparently had this weird idea that he wanted to photograph 10,000 strangers on the streets of New York and just plot them out on a map. Strange. Like what on earth would possess somebody to do that? Like there's literally nothing in any guidebook or online course that would say, “Yeah, if you do this, you're going to end up with an Instagram account that's going to make you one of the most influential on the internet.” Frank Warren handed out 3000 self-addressed stamped postcards to strangers on the streets of Washington, DC. Like there's no online course that would tell you, “By the way, go do this and you'll end up building a popular blog and an audience.” If any of those people had said, “You know, this isn't worth doing if I can't reach an audience of a million people.” Those projects wouldn't even exist today.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:51] Yeah, that's for sure. True. That's for sure true. Because there was no benefit. I'm sure that guy who did Humans of New York, he probably had a day job for a really, really long time.
Srini Rao: [00:48:01] Yeah, he was a day trader and he left the day job. But yeah, it was kind of like, okay, there's no way you could have predicted that that was going to lead to that. And even in my own life, I'll give you another example from Unmistakable Creative. So we have this very, very visual brand where we do custom album covers for every guest that we interview. That resulted from a month where I decided that I was going to teach myself how to draw for 30 days. And I ironically documented that on Instagram, despite the fact that I've talked about the power of doing this for yourself. But at that point, there was literally nothing to be gained for me drawing in any way at all. And what I came to the conclusion was that I couldn't draw were shit after 40 days or 30 days.
[00:48:41] Like I just wasn't a good visual artist. But then when we were re-designing Unmistakable Creative and I saw the stock photography on the website for the first time, I thought, this doesn't look good. I think I know how to fix it. Let's have our friend Mars draw in and custom design all the icons. I wouldn't have had that insight if it hadn't been for those 30 days of drawing. And you've seen our website, you've seen our brand. That has had a huge impact on the way that I think about everything. A project that seemed like it had absolutely no purpose was one of the most instrumental things that I did in creating the Unmistakable Creative brand.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:15] Now even this show started off as me talking with a friend in a basement. And I was a lawyer. It was 11 years ago, nobody was thinking, “This is my key to the top.” There weren't even internet celebrities. Gary Vaynerchuck was a friend of mine back in New York and I used to go to his co-working space, which wasn't even that. It was just like a rented office where he used to work with him and his brother and a bunch of, I guess, intern-type folks. And he used to make videos about wine before YouTube was a thing.
Srini Rao: [00:49:49] Yeah. I mean, dude, when we started, you know what was originally, BlogCastFM, this was in 2009. Most people were saying podcasts were dead.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:58] Oh yeah. Remember when podcasting was dead every single year, including this year probably? Yeah. It's always dead and it's always not dead at all. Yeah. So how do we become more creative? What sort of systems can we use to become more creative? We already know creativity. We already know creativity makes us happy. We don't have to be some creative genius or successful artists to take advantage of the creativity, happiness, connection. So we want to increase creative momentum. We want to shape or increase our creativity. Where do we begin?
Srini Rao: [00:50:33] So I think that, for the sake of the fact that I know where we're taking this conversation, I want to reverse the way we're going to approach this. I think we should start with talking about environments because of the fact that environments have such a profound impact on behavior and all of the systems we're talking about, or going to talk about to increase your creativity all based around behavior. So most people don't realize just how powerful the environment around them is in shaping their behavior. We had a guest on Unmistakable Creative who really kind of turned me on to this idea. A guy named Jim Bunch and he said that, “Everything that you hear, see, smell, taste, or touch is an environment that's either adding energy to your life or draining energy from your life.
[00:51:12] It's either inspiring you or it's expiring you.” That means the food that you eat, the people that you surround yourself with, the podcasts you listen to, the blogs you read, the books you read, the car you drive, the desk that you work at, the clothes you wear, all of that has an impact on not only your behavior but also your emotions. So let's take something very simple, like the way that we dress and the reason this is fresh on my mind is it's something that I've gotten lazy about and I made a decision to start doing more frequently after hanging out with my friend Joseph, who's 50 years old and looks like he's 30. And I saw that, “Okay, wait a minute. There's a reason he's dressing this way. He looks the way he does. And yeah, he's complimented regularly for how he looks.” But if you've ever dressed up, to go out somewhere or if you ever just dress a little bit better and you get yourself cleaned up, it doesn't matter whether you're guy or girl, you know, when you're getting ready for a date, you look your best.
[00:52:05] And when you look in the mirror and you feel very different, you feel very confident, you carry yourself differently -- all because of one simple thing. So instead of wearing, you know, a hoodie and a tee shirt, I might choose to wear, you know, a white Oxford, which is something that I just ordered from Everlane and nice jeans and a nice shirt. And I know for a fact that just making that simple change, the way that I'm going to come to my work is going to be very different because I feel like what a successful person should look like. So the thing is, what you're doing is you're actually designing environments that are not based on who you are today, but that are conducive to the person that you want to become. You don't want your physical environment to be reflective of who you are today, but who you want to be in your future.
[00:52:43] Because if you do that, you will eventually become that person. I'll give you another example. In my bedroom at home, one of the things I told one of my friends was, if I had $1 million recording studio, I would hang up frame prints of all the Unmistakable Creative guests that I've interviewed on my wall.” And she said, honey, “You don't need $1 million recording studio for that. You need some framed Ikea frames and some pictures printed out.” And so I did that. And so every morning, I have a reminder of the most important and inspiring messages from the Unmistakable Creative. And so this idea of environments goes even further, the reason we're starting with the physical spaces and clothes and stuff like that is because it's the most basic one and it's the most obvious one. So if you have a desk that's immaculate or a desk that inspires you, a space that you work in that inspires you, you're going to inevitably do better work in that space.
[00:53:31] For example, it might be the pen you write with that you like or the types of notebooks that you have. So I use a moleskin notebook because my brain is at this point condition to the fact that, “Okay, when I open up a moleskin, it means it's time to write.” So there's a certain point at which also your environment and your behavior will get linked. I don't have to think about writing a thousand words every day any morning because it's literally what I've done when I sit down at my desk for so many days in a row that it's almost like not brushing my teeth. Something feels awful. I feel that's not how I start the day. So you look at your physical spaces, you know the chair you work at, the chair you sit and all of that. Like those things matter. The equipment that you use --
[00:54:07] Perfect example, you and I were talking about the fact that I had run out and get a podcasting mic this morning. People, yourself included, would be pissed off if I tried to record this with a shitty mic because the sound quality would suffer and the quality of the work would suffer. That's a perfect example of equipment being a part of your environment that influences the outcome. So when you start to change your environments, as a result, your behavior will naturally change. And this applies, like I said, to the food that you eat, to the information that you consume, to the people that you surround yourself with. A Medium post where there's an actual diagram. If you do a Google search for the nine environments that make up your life, you'll see this diagram that came from Jim Budge’s company, the ultimate game of life.
[00:54:43] And it shows what the various nine environments are. And you can do an audit of where you stand in each of those environments. Like what are your relationships like? What is your finances like? You know, what is your physical space like? The physical space is kind of the, the sort of lowest common denominator. And if you start there, a lot of other things change. So let's say that you want to, for example, we'll use the writing habit because it's the one that I'm most familiar with. But for those of you listening, just think about this as a framework, not necessarily a tactic. This I'm applying specifically to the tactic of writing, but it's a framework that can be applied to anything. So in his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor had this idea of activation energy. And it was funny because he was trying to teach himself how to play guitar.
[00:55:25] And as a positive psychologist who couldn't maintain a habit that he wanted to develop. He thought, “What a failure of an experiment, I can't even include this in my book.” But then when he started to realize was that just the act of putting the guitars somewhere where he would see it, increased the likelihood that he practiced dramatically. So much to the point that he actually ended up picking the habit and learning how to play. So in my life, what I do is I actually put out a book, I put out a notebook and I put out a pen all the night before so that when I sit down at my desk, I don't have to go through the hassle of getting a pen, getting a notebook, and getting some, getting out a moleskin. And what that does is it reduces what is known as the activation energy, the number of steps that are between you and the behavior or habit that you want to act on.
[00:56:11] So for me that's writing and it seems like not a big deal to say, “Okay, well, what's the big deal if I don't have to get out my notebook or get out a pen or, find a book to read.” But it is a big deal because what you're doing is one, you're eliminating three decisions from your morning, which means that you're preserving your willpower. And if you know anything about willpower, every decision you make from the links that you click on, to the emails that you check, to the phone calls that you respond to -- all the little things that you do, not just the clothes that you're going to wear that morning, not what you're going to eat -- all those little things add up to hundreds of decisions. And what you're doing is you're eliminating those decisions, you’re preserving or willpower, and you're preserving your cognitive bandwidth for what is most important to you, which is your highest quality creative work.
[00:56:55] And the fact that you didn't have to go through the act of getting all that stuff, has reduced the activation energy and increase the likelihood that you're going to follow through on this thing. Now, you could do this for things that you want to avoid as well because again, like we said, your environment, your behavior is largely a byproduct of your environment. So let's say for example that you have a hard time resisting distraction, which all of us do in the world that we live in because we have Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and all this other shit that comes out us all day long. Well, if you choose to work with six browser tabs open, have Instant Messenger open, and have your email open -- you've effectively designed in an environment that's not conducive to focus. But if you did something as simple as install rescue time and say, “Okay, I'm going to block all of these websites”, then what you've done is you've increased the activation energy for the thing that you want to avoid.
[00:57:45] Because in order to actually get back to those distracting websites, you have to either reboot your computer or you have to go and change some setting. It takes so much effort that you're more likely to say, “Okay, well good, now this is going to take way too much effort. It's going to take more effort to do that than to do the thing that I actually want to focus on.” So that's an increase in activation energy. And the more that you do this, the more that you get very deliberate about the environments that make up your life. You know, one of the other things I tell people is it's worth keeping your car really clean. Like getting a car wash every week, because if you've ever gotten into a car after car wash, you know exactly how you feel. You feel very different.
[00:58:22] You feel clear, you feel confident. Like you just feel better every time you get into a clean car after a car wash. Same thing for cleaning your house. And if you do this on a consistent basis, eventually what will happen is your behavior will start to change as a byproduct of the environment and the environment will do the work for you and you will become the next best version of yourself as a result of the environment. So that, I think, takes us into a sort of natural segway of, “Okay, how do you develop the systems that allow all of this to happen?”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:54] Yeah. I love the idea of setting up the environment to be our friend in a way, right? We talked about this with Benjamin Hardy on the show as well, and the idea that there's activation energy, it just goes hand in hand with me trying to get to the gym and being like, “All right, I need to go to the gym today. I don't have that much time. There's not a lot. I have so many things going on.” And I'm like, “Alright, instead of just getting in the shower and getting dressed, I'm just going to get into my gym clothes and I'll work all day in my gym clothes. Then when it's time to go to the gym, I'm not like, ‘Oh, I got to change.’ And I'm like, I just have to walk out the door.”
Srini Rao: [00:59:26] Yeah, exactly. That's a perfect example of activation energy at work.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:30] So we've got our environments set up and there's plenty more in An Audience of One about setting up your environment and different habits you can do to build creative momentum. I am interested though also, I think a lot of people think I'm not creative, so this isn't really something that's going to apply to me. You have this concept of the creative autobiography. Can you tell us about this?
Srini Rao: [00:59:49] Yeah. So the idea behind the creative autobiography is to go back and look at your life from I think as old enough as you are to remember your life experience, which might be three or four for some people, to the time that you are or to the age that you are now. Like what are the things that you have done that were creative acts? Because we were all very creative when we were in kindergarten. We were all very creative when we were in first and second grade. What happens is that creativity gets drilled out of us because of the fact that we don't really have a lot of opportunity to express our creativity. School becomes much more rigid and logical unless you happen to have been somebody who played a musical instrument or happened to be an artist. You get into these very linear and logical sort of thought patterns and ways of learning.
[01:00:31] And so you start to believe that you're not creative, which is nonsense. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are think they're not, is that people who are creative express their creativity on an ongoing basis. And so if you go through and you do this creative autobiography and you look at it, what's interesting is that you'll actually start to find that, “Wait a minute, I, absolutely, am creative. I've done all these creative things in my life.” Every one of us have projects. And here's the thing, it doesn't need to be something that, you know, as a massive audience approved of all it needs to be is, “Hey, you know what? I drew a cartoon strip once.” We had a listener recently who heard one of our recent guests talk about making your childhood dreams come true as an adult. And after he heard the episode, he sent us a tweet saying, “Hey, I've had 30 years worth of cartoons stashed in my drawer that I've never gotten out.” And I was like, “Publish them somewhere.” And he immediately sent me a picture of one of them on Instagram. I was like, “It's awesome.” And that is the kind of thing that we're talking about with a creative autobiography because I think that all of us have moments in which we were creative. We just failed to recognize them.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:28] Yeah, I think that's probably true and I think even the most uncreative sort of, I don’t know, what is it -- right brain, left brain, I know it’s a myth anyway. Engineer will be like, “Oh, I'm not creative.” And then you ask your mom or you ask some relatives around you, “When have I been creative? I've got to jumpstart my memory”, and they're like, “Remember we built that thing in the backyard?” “Oh yeah.” “Remember we used to solder things together as a kid? Remember we used to deconstruct things and draw diagrams of them and cran.” You know that stuff I did and I never thought of it as creativity at that time.
Srini Rao: [01:01:57] Absolutely. I think that that's the other thing that we have to be really mindful of is not to limit the definition of creativity to the things that we typically think of as creative acts, like making music and writing books and painting and that kind of stuff. Because creativity goes far beyond that. So in my mind, creativity is simply an impulse to express something that's out of the ordinary or acting on an impulse to express something that you can't help but say, or do.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:22] You've got this concept of deliberate consumption and this caught my ear towards the end of listening to An Audience of One. Leave us with this, because I think this is a great final concept for people to apply to their lives.
Srini Rao: [01:02:36] Yeah. Well, it's a perfect segue for environment. So remember when I said that the information that you consume is one of the environments that has an impact on your life and the concept of deliberate consumption is basically that your information consumption, along with all your other consumption should be a deliberate choice. And for most of us, it's not. Mostly we scroll through the Facebook news feed and we just click on whatever strikes our fancy. We're often subscribed to newsletters and podcasts, hundreds of them that we subscribe to many years ago, but that we don't even read it. I can't tell you the amount of emails that I delete every day that have nothing to do with what I'm interested in now. And I don't think I'm alone. Lots of people have that. And so there are two approaches that you can take to deliberate consumption. So let's say that you're working on a particular project, you can take what I call the content approach to deliberate consumption.
[01:03:22] So when Judd Apatow was on his high school newspaper, one of the things that he did was he interviewed a number of different comedians at that time who weren't as well known as they are like Jerry Seinfeld and a bunch of others. So he got to interview all these really iconic comedians as a part of this high school newspaper. And coincidentally, Judd Apatow has written some of the most iconic comedies of the last decade, or last two decades. He's an incredible comedy writer. That's deliberate consumption. Then there's a process approach, which is I'm going to, for example, read a hundred pages every day, and the idea is that rather than just by default, clicking on whatever shows up in your inbox or consuming news that is on the news or just picking things on TV or flip channel surfing, every one of your consumption choices is deliberate. Like you read books on purpose, you have a certain set of topics that you choose to follow on a website like Medium.
[01:04:16] You follow a certain group of people on Twitter, mainly because you want to be exposed to a specific set of ideas. So listening to this podcast is an example of a deliberate consumption choice. So you could go and you could listen to news. So for example, let's say that your consumption choices aren't deliberate. You're basically taking in so much noise that you can hardly, not only hear your own voice, but you're also missing out on what might be really valuable and what might be really significant because of the fact that your consumption choices are not deliberate.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:47] I love this. I think most of us are surrounded by, “Hey, this is just what I'm getting thrown into my face. It's the TV model”, right? Or we just turn it on and we're scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, social media, YouTube. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and he's like, “Yeah, I just watch whatever YouTube suggests I watch next”, and I'm just like, “That's the whole point of having internet is to not do that.”
Srini Rao: [01:05:11] Yeah, it does. And that is the antithesis of deliberate consumption.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:15] Right. Like how are you watching just what they're suggesting? Look, “Okay, fine. It's related or something”, but talk about a waste of time. Just going and looking at low quality programming that has the right keywords. It's like, “Oh my gosh, you're killing me.” Again, so much in An Audience of One, including things like expanding your creative capacity through collaboration, creative cross-training, and creative momentum flow. Srini, thank you so much.
Srini Rao: [01:05:40] My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:44] Great big thank you to Srini Rao. The book title is An Audience of One. We'll link to that in the show notes of course, and if you want to learn how I managed to book all of these amazing people, manage a lot of really great, healthy, beneficial relationships, I use a lot of tiny habits that I can do in a few minutes per day. I don't procrastinate or tell myself I'll do it later.
[01:06:05] That is a losing slash loser mindset. I don't care how busy you are. That's a number one mistake I see people make -- postponing it and not digging the well before you're thirsty. Thinking you don't need relationships. Don't do that to yourself. You will regret it. Find out how I do this. I'm giving it away for free. I want you to learn this. It's the biggest game changer in my own life. jordanharbinger.com/course for a few minutes per day. It's the stuff I wish I knew 10, 15 years ago. You can find it all at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[01:06:36] And speaking of building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway from Srini Rao. I’m @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. And don't forget, if you want to learn how to apply everything you learned here today from Srini, make sure you go grab the worksheets. Also in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast.
[01:06:53] This show is produced in association with PodcastOne. This episode was co-produced by Jason “The Co-creator” DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger. Show notes are by Robert Fogarty. Worksheets by Caleb Bacon. And I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. The fee for the show is you share it with friends when you find something useful, which is hopefully in every episode. So please, share the show with those you love and even those you don't. We've got a lot of great stuff coming for the rest of the year, and in the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen and we'll see you next time.
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