This is an excerpt from my new book, Productivity Is For Robots
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In the late sixties—before any of them ever had a hit movie—filmmakers Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese all hung out together. The five of them would sit together, sharing ideas and busting chops. It was Brian De Palma who gave George Lucas the idea for the epic text scroll that starts Star Wars. Spielberg helped Scoreses edit the last ten minutes of Taxi Driver. It was this group—known as the “movie brats”—who convinced Spielberg that he had to “blow the shark up” at the end of Jaws. “Not just kill, You have to blow it up!”
Here’s a secret all top-level creators, entrepreneurs, thinkers, and doers know to be true: The best ideas come from other people.
Ben Franklin knew it when he started the Leather Apron Club. He gathered members of the community together every Friday night and held high-level discussions about morality, philosophy, and the future. It was the ideas and strategies shared in these meetings that lead to the first public library, the first public fire station, and the proposal for the University of Pennsylvania.
Gertrude Stein, T.S Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound are just a few of the literary heavyweights of the “Lost Generation” in 1920’s Paris. This group of writers, painters, and poets pushed the boundaries of artistic expression and continue to inspire creatives around the world today.
And 2,000 years before any of those humans got together, Socrates sat with Plato and Xenophon to discuss the big questions of life and human nature. Their conversations are what shaped Plato’s Dialogues and educated a young Aristotle.
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We learned from Edgar Degas the importance of staying connected to other humans for our mental health, but when it comes to reaching our highest level of creativity and flow, the need goes deeper. Our brain and our ego are constantly working to keep us the hero of our own story. We naturally attach our identity to the things we make, and because of this, we’re not always capable of seeing the flaws and missed connections in our work. Whether you’re directing movies, launching a product, or raising a family—we all need people who are willing to challenge our ideas, praise our genius, and call us out when we’re just plain wrong.
We all need peers—peers who know what it’s like—to not only critique us but to also remind us we’re not alone on the journey.
A community that is striving toward the same goals provides an extra layer of motivation and accountability that lives outside ourselves, protected against the ebb and flow of emotions. And it’s often accountability to others that moves mountains, pushing humans to accomplish things they would have given up on had they not made a commitment to someone else. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.”
The author and blogger, Mark Manson has a story about the feedback he received on the first draft of his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck. He said in an interview, “The first draft of the book was way more complicated and academic. And people hated it. They’d say, ‘Dude what are you doing? Where’s your voice?’”
One of these early readers was the person who ran Mark’s blog. A week after Mark sent him the first draft of the book, they sat down together and the person told him, “I’m really sorry but it’s awful. I’ve read you since you started and this is terrible.” This person already knew what made Mark’s work resonate with millions of readers. He could see that this first draft was missing the ingredients that made his writing special.
First off, Manson followed an important rule of staying connected: He ran toward the voices that might crumble his beliefs. This example also shows that he had created an environment among the people who worked for him to be comfortable enough to speak truth to power. What Mark Manson understood, like many others before him, was that nothing lends itself to a creative life more than an extra set of eyes. It’s other people who are going to recognize the strengths we’ve overlooked and notice the blindspots our egos have hidden from our view. And it’s once we learn how to balance our own perspective with the viewpoints of others that we are free to create and share our best work.
Manson took the advice he was given and simplified the book. The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, at the time of this writing, has sold over 12 million copies worldwide, reaching #1 in 14 different countries, and has been translated into more than 50 languages.
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Each of the “Movie Brat” directors went on to create work that changed the way we watch and think about cinema. Each had their own unique style and vision, yet they each used the perspective and advice of each other to bring their vision to life. Groups like this don’t come around every day, but finding your own group doesn’t need to be complicated. The digital age makes it easy to isolate ourselves, but it also provides tools for creating a community without geographical limits. If you’re looking to create your own peer group, reach out and compliment someone who is making the work you admire. Or better yet—reach out to someone who might need your help.
Entering a state of flow is often thought of as an individual pursuit. But flow is especially rewarding when it’s collective and shared. Think of the marching band stepping in perfect sync, or the sound of an orchestra coming together. In the Tao of Joy, Derek Lin writes about the Dragon Boat races of the East, “When a crew is aligned and all the oars row as one, the boat becomes an unstoppable force. It glides effortlessly, almost flying over the water, and it pulls ahead of other boats with the greatest of ease.”
Going it alone can only take you so far. There is a point in every journey where, if you’re the only one rowing, the boat will go in circles. The belief that we’re capable of seeing all the angles, opportunities, and missteps in our lives not only slows us down but prevents us from moving forward. How can one maintain a state of flow if they’re rowing against a current they can’t see for themselves?
When you find yourself rowing in circles, unable to find the current, remember: Where there is collaboration, there is flow.
Gather the allies. Prepare the boats. And go far together.
If you enjoyed this, you might love this: Productivity Is For Robots