My son was frustrated with lack of originality in his drawings. He said he used to find it easier to create new characters and worlds. Now he’s in a rut making variations on popular worlds created by Nintendo, Marvel, and DC.
I told him with blogging and podcasting, I sometimes get sick of myself (hard to imagine, I know). Sometimes I need a content fast. A week without the books, podcasts, or blogs I normally consume. The creative work gets a little harder at first, then easier and fresher. Content fasts open new vistas. I end them hungry for something totally different. I might turn off a business podcast for a week and find myself craving some physics or history.
My son liked the idea and decided to try it and see if he could re-awaken originality in his creations.
The create to consume ratio
I’m a big fan of consuming new ideas, but it can be a crutch. My friend Derek Magill recently shared a quote about an optimal 2:1 ratio for creating to consuming. I don’t know if there’s a consistently optimal ratio, but I do know my rate of content consumption needs to be regulated or it will spiral into stagnation.
The best way I’ve found to nail the ratio is to let creation determine consumption.
If you think of consumption as an input needed prior to creating, you’re in a dangerous spot. This framework will give you infinite excuses and you’ll bloat your brain with decreasingly effective stimuli.
Creation comes first
Commit to create and do it. For me, the baseline is a new blog post per day. When I’m doing that, I find my appetite for consumption regulates itself. At times I get dry and need new ideas to mix with old ones and fuel creativity. If creation is the priority, consumption ebbs and flows as needed.
I think this is the way humans naturally learn. They create before they appeal to instruction manuals. They test first, and study after failures drive them to better info.
Formal education treats ideas like physical goods. Everything is divided into subjects, like raw materials in a factory, prepared, perfected, measured into the prescribed quantities, then combined into a final product as a last step. It’s all resource gathering and prep work, with a tiny creative output at the 11th hour.
This ain’t no factory
Ideas aren’t like physical goods. They aren’t scarce. You can’t break them. You can create an end product without setting up a sophisticated system of inputs first. In fact, until you have created a product in your mind, you don’t know what inputs and processes are even needed. Who would bulk up on raw materials and build a factory with no notion of what they wanted to produce? That’s how school approaches learning.
I’ve referred to the natural process elsewhere as practice–>practice–>theory–>practice…
You try stuff first. Create first. Consume, study, and reflect in response to a felt need to improve the thing you’re trying to build, not as a preemptive info-cram.
I get better results and have more fun when I lead with creation.