Tag Archives: Creativity

Creativity and performing predefined tasks

Work can be broken down into two different activities. The first is deciding what to do and the second is doing it.

The former requires creativity while the latter requires putting in the time to perform an activity with relatively less brain power.

Since the latter requires less brain power, it’s possible to spend extended periods of time, which I define as more than 12 hours a day, doing it.

Creativity, on the other hand, comes in short bursts. You can’t be creative for 12 hours a day. My creative periods last for 4 to 5 hours a day at best.

As a result, creative roles spend less time working than roles focused on carrying out a predefined task. However, this does not mean that creative roles produce less output as correct decision making is a higher leverage activity than task execution.

In roles that require both creativity and performing predefined tasks, it’s useful to set your daily schedule to allow enough time for your high value creative bursts to occur in the environments and the times of the day when they’re most likely to surface, while spending the remaining time on performing predefined tasks.

Marc Andreessen on change, organizational constraints, and creativity

I recently watched a November 2016 interview which Marc Andreessen took part in at Stanford.

The interview features several insights so I encourage you to watch the full piece 55 minute piece. Here are my most important takeaways:

  1. Entrepreneurs have a bias towards action and frequent decision-making while investors have a bias towards thinking and selective decision-making.
  2. You need to take into account organizational constraints when attempting to apply theoretical strategy in practice.
  3. When trying to solve tough problems, it’s useful to think about how someone working in the problem’s domain for whom you have a lot of respect would approach the problem.

You can watch the full interview below.

Creative time

Those of you who know me know that I’m an early riser. I wake up at around 6 AM. Meetings rarely begin before 9 AM so this gives me 3 hours of free time.

I spend about a total of 45 minutes showering, dressing, and getting to the location of my first meeting. I spend another 45 minutes catching up on urgent emails from the night before. It’s now 7:30 AM and this leaves me with a good 90 minutes of time. Since everyone else is busy waking up, having breakfast, and driving during this time, there are rarely any interruptions.

These 90 minutes are when I’m most creative. I don’t have any particular agenda during this time and I just see what I feel like doing.

Sometimes I choose to think about the market and use cases for a new startup I’m evaluating. This isn’t the structured and rigorous investment checklist review, financial and KPI analysis, or reference checking which are also part of a startup’s evaluation, but rather an unconstrained journey where I let my imagination roam. I try to picture how different people might use a startup’s current product and how the product may evolve in the future.

If I have a learning from a meeting, a product I used, something I read, or another source that I want to articulate better I might choose to write a blog post about it. Writing helps me structure my current thoughts while also helping my future thoughts arrive in a more structured manner.

And sometimes I pick one of our existing startups and try to place myself in the shoes of the founder. I imagine what the top 3 pressing issues they must be thinking about are, and how I can help them address these issues. Sometimes I shoot them an email with an idea, or identify a potential business partner and ask them if they’d like to meet.

Although these 90 minutes aren’t my most productive in terms of the number of things I get done, they’re very productive when I measure the long-term value generated by the thoughts that I have during this time. If you’re looking to be more creative, I strongly recommend that you set aside at least an hour of uninterrupted time each day and just let your mind roam.

No meeting day

I decided to have a day without meetings yesterday. I wanted to have the time to think, read, reflect, and see what would come up rather than rush from meeting to meeting. I had a feeling that it would help me look at problems more creatively, see them as opportunities, and come up with potential solutions to experiment with.

Although I was interrupted by a few phone calls during the day, I was able to spend the bulk of it performing the creative thinking that I wanted to do. By the end of the day, I had sent 5 of our startups ideas on how to improve their business.

2 of the ideas were put to the shelf after debating them with our entrepreneurs. Armed with their more in-depth perspective on the market, we decided that the ideas weren’t worth pursuing.

The other 3 ideas were appreciated by our entrepreneurs and either they or I, as appropriate, have taken action to get the ball rolling on the ideas.

I’m happy with 3 potentially value enhancing new projects emerging from a day’s work. It’s more than I feel gets done in most days which are filled with back to back meetings.

Given the successful results of my experimental no meeting day, I’ve decided to make it a regular habit. I recognize that there may be some weeks when urgent meetings force me to skip it, but I’m going to try to have a no meeting day once each week.

I also recognize that being able to set up a no meeting day is a luxury that not every role provides. But if you’re in a role with disproportionate returns to creativity and insight, I strongly recommend you try to make it happen. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.