When I was a little boy, just six years old in 1st grade, I somehow ended up with a book of Peanuts comic strips.
One day we had a reading period right before morning recess. I became so engrossed in the book that three minutes after the bell went – and all the other kids went outside – I was still sitting there reading about Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the gang.
“Craig, don’t you want to go for recess?” asked Mrs. Blair, my Mary Poppins-esque teacher.
I shook my head – not to say no, but to come out of the trance that Charles Schultz and his storytelling had put me in.
This was the start of a lifetime love affair with books.
Today you’ll still find me missing subway stops in Toronto because I’m glued to the pages of my latest book. Just last week I stayed up well past my bedtime eating snacks and reading two hundred pages of Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – my favorite book this year.
Of course, I’m not just a consumer of content. I’m a creator.
“How do you do it?” my friends began asking me in 2006 when I was writing daily emails for fitness business along with a new workout program every month and posting multiple videos per week to this new fad website called “YouTube”.
You’re a creativity machine, they said.
I was. And I am.
And today I’ll reveal everything you need to become the next Craig Ballantyne, Charles Schultz, Stephen King or Maya Angelou.
Creativity is a learnable skill and comes with its own instruction manual.
Just follow these steps…
#1: Become a “Content Expert”
I recently went to one of Grant Cardone’s sales bootcamps. And while I was there, he did something impressive…
At age 62 he took the stage at 9:30am with no slides and spoke straight through to 1:30pm without a single break – or event a sip of water…
He dropped lesson after lesson about sales and marketing and looked like he could have kept on going for another four hours (which he did after a lunch break for the audience that was far more fatigued than him).
How did Cardone keep the audience captivated so long?
The answer is simple.
Cardone is a “content expert.” He’s done over 20,000 presentations in his career. He has hundreds (if not thousands) of stories from which he can draw on to deliver his lessons. He doesn’t need slides to share his secrets because he’s one of the top experts in his field.
And this brings us to the first key to creativity:
To be more prolific, develop your expertise.
If you look at the most creative individuals in any field, you’ll notice that they all have a high degree of expertise in their industry.
They know the topic as well as – or better than – every other expert, and have no problem creatively illustrating important points and lessons because they have a wealth of experience from which they can draw.
If you want to become more creative, you must deepen your expertise.
Read the essential books in your field. Interview other experts. Attend masterminds and listen to stories of other people’s expertise. Set your ego aside and learn.
Accept that becoming more creative is part of the process of mastery.
It won’t happen overnight. But little by little, as you expand your knowledge and experience and become a master in your field, you will become more creative.
#2: Build an Identity as an “Expert Generalist”
My good friend and coaching client Jason Capital is one of the most well read young men I know.
On a weekly basis, you’ll find him diving into books about quantum mechanics, history, politics, religion, and philosophy.
His reason for investing so much of his time into seemingly “pointless” topics (he’s an entrepreneur, not a professor after all) is simple.
He knows that the more diverse your “intellectual well”, the more creative you can be.
If you ever watch any of Jason’s videos or speeches, it’s easy to see how his “expert generalism” has helped him build an 8-figure business at the age of 29.
He’s able to quote American icons like Rockefeller, Ford, and Carnegie, as well as Alexander the Great, and deliver timeless principles of success through stories about these historical figures, all while connecting them with pop culture references so that his audience can connect the dots – and more importantly, take action on his advice.
To be more creative, you need to be like Jason.
Creativity doesn’t happen by reading the same business books over and over and over again.
It happens by exposing yourself to new (and even uncomfortable) ideas and beliefs.
If you want new results, you must develop new behaviors.
By becoming well read in a wide variety of topics, you’ll learn how to connect seemingly disparate ideas to make a point in a new and unique way. You’ll learn to see trends and patterns that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. And you’ll be able to create completely new ways of looking at old problems.
This week, I challenge you to step out of your intellectual comfort zone.
Spend a few hours reading books that have nothing to do with your specific industry.
For example, in the last year I’ve read several books outside my principal interest, such as:
- A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- 7 Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
- Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda
Not only did I learn something interesting each time, these books also showed me new ways of explaining old chestnuts of wisdom to my clients.
Likewise, you can watch documentaries that are unrelated to your product or service.
Watch a few interesting Ted Talks like my mentor Mark Ford does every month.
Heck, spend an hour brushing up on pop culture so that you can understand the “Zeitgeist” of modern times and more eloquently speak to what’s happening in the world right now.
The more you diversify the content you consume, the more creative you can be.
#3: Leverage the “Back in Black” Principle with the 5×5 Content Grid
I want you to imagine something…
Imagine that you’re a HUGE fan of the rock band AC/DC and, after years of wanting to attend a show – but never actually going – you finally get tickets to one of their last concerts.
The big day comes and you are so excited. But when you get to the concert, something weird happens…
The band doesn’t play any of their most popular songs.
Instead of Back in Black, Thunderstruck, and Highway to Hell, you spend two hours listening to terrible b-sides that you’ve never heard before.
You’d be pretty disappointed, right?
Now here’s the thing…
Your content works the exact same way.
Most people think that they need to come up with new and original ideas every single day and create new systems and formulas every other week.
But in reality, this isn’t just unnecessary, it’s counter productive.
Most people don’t want to hear to spouting out crazy new theories and formulas every other week. Instead, they want to hear your most popular thoughts and ideas shared in new ways.
To accomplish this, you’re going to use something I call my 5×5 content grid. And it goes like this…
Pull out a piece of paper and write down the five most important lessons or ideas you want to share with your audience.
Then, next to each idea, write down five unique ways that you could teach that material to someone who had never heard it.
For example, you might use the angle of a case study, personal story, facts and statistics, debunking myths, or a celebrity example.
Once you’ve filled out this sheet (which shouldn’t take you more than an hour), you will have more than a month’s worth of unique content that will resonate with your audience and have a greater impact.
Again, creativity isn’t about finding new ideas. It’s about finding new ways to share timeless ideas.
If you want to learn more about this grid, and how you can use it to grow your business, be sure to check out my guide to Instagram where I dive into the topic in greater depth.
#4: Create Powerful “Pre Game” Rituals
My friend John Carlton, a legendary copywriter, and creator of the “1-Legged Golfer” letter, has a “weird” ritual he follows before he sits down to work.
Every day, he stands next to his desk wearing the same outfit–sweatpants and a tee shirt–and walks around his desk once.
This simple ritual serves as a trigger to his brain that it’s time to turn on “creative mode.”
My teenage bedtime storyteller, Stephen King, sits down at 9 am every morning at the same desk, drinking tea from the same mug, with his papers arranged in the same way and then writes until 1 pm. It’s at the same old desk in the same old attic that he wrote the books (It, The Stand, Pet Sematary) that kept me up past my bedtime in high school.
King explains, “The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”
I have my own (slightly less weird) ritual that I follow before sitting down to write any of my articles, books, or newsletters.
I wake up, immediately drink 1.5 liters of water, take Daisy for a short walk, come inside, listen to the same super secret work song (Put a Ring On It by Beyonce) and sit down to write.
Just kidding about the Beyonce 😉
The simple triggers of drinking water, walking outside, and listening to my “work song” helps me immediately tap into a creative and productive state so that I can show up to my “magic time” fully charged.
If you look at the great creatives from history, they all understood the power of ritual.
They all created specific and easily replicable “pre work” routines to help them get into flow states and be more creative.
To max out your creativity you must do the same.
This week, I want you to find a simple routine that you will use to “trigger” your magic time (more on that in my next point) and get into flow.
Whether it’s pouring a cup of coffee into a specific mug, listening to a certain song, or walking around your desk in a worn out pair of joggers, pick something and stick to it for 30 days.
You’ll be surprised by the results.
#5: Delve into Magic Time and Eliminate Distractions
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”E.B. White
Your magic time is the time of the day where you can accomplish 2-3X more than you normally can. It’s the time of day where you are more focused, productive, and creative than any other time.
For most people, this time is first thing in the morning, immediately after waking up.
And the key to prolific creativity is to first identify your magic time–using the time journal exercise I talk about in this article–and then protect it with your life.
Your magic time is a time that should be reserved exclusively for your deepest, most important, and most creative work.
Use it to write your book, to build your business, to paint that masterpiece, or create that product.
Meetings, email, podcasts, and social media can all wait.
I’ve discussed the topic of “magic time” in great lengths in many of my other posts, like this one.
So if you aren’t familiar with this concept, review that for a deeper understanding of it, then come back to the rest of this article.
When used properly, magic time is the force multiplier of success. It will allow you to compress a month’s worth of productivity and creativity into a single week. It will allow you to move towards your biggest goals faster and easier than anyone else.
And it will allow you to start every day with a massive personal win.
#6: Have an Anthology of Analogies
If you look at some of the most creative people in the world–at least those outside the fields of science–you’ll notice something interesting that I’ve been alluding to throughout this entire article.
Most of them don’t have new ideas.
Instead, they are able to explain or build upon old ideas in a new way.
And they do this by having what I call an, “Anthology of Analogies.”
When you can break down and explain complex ideas through an easy to understand analogy, you’ll be able to have more impact and influence with your audience.
A great example of this is my friend John Romaniello who built a 7-figure fitness business by explaining the world of health and bodybuilding through the lens of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and the Marvel Universe.
Nothing that John shares is “new” or “cutting edge”.
It’s nothing more than The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell.
But the analogies he uses to explain age-old concepts are what separated his company from the thousands of other fitness coaches competing for his clients.
Another great example is Mark Manson, the mega New York Times best-seller and multimillionaire dating coach turned author.
Mark is able to break down complex philosophical problems and ideas and explain them in a way that millions of people–who have no understanding of philosophy–can understand.
Whether it’s comparing your life’s purpose to a ham sandwich or success to a video game or Kantian ethics to a Chipotle burrito, Mark has an uncanny ability to explain complicated concepts in a simple and humorous way.
To develop your own anthology of analogies, you must expose yourself to diverse types of content and new ideas.
Not only do I encourage you to read books on a wide variety of topics to become an “expert generalist”, but I also encourage you to intentionally consume great stand up comedies, movies, and TV series.
The keyword here is intentional.
Most of you know I am not a proponent of senselessly consuming media.
However, by intentionally consuming great dramas, comedies, and thrillers with the intention to uncover new analogies and ideas you can USE modern media instead of allowing it to use you.
To make this most of this principle, I want you to complete a simple exercise for the next 30 days.
Right now, head over to Amazon and buy a cheap pocket journal.
Keep it on you for the next month and jot down any new analogies you encounter in your conversations, reading, or TV watching. Jot them down and think of 1-2 topics you could explain using that analogy then start incorporating it into your content.
Do this for a month and you will be amazed by the new and creative ways you’re able to explain old concepts.
#7: Have Strict Deadlines
Dan Kennedy once told me a story (full disclosure: I have no idea if it’s true) about Napoleon Hill.
When Hill was originally writing Think and Grow Rich, he was unsure what to call his book.
His publishers had given him a deadline to title his work and, three hours before that deadline, his working title was, get this…”Use Your Noodle to Get the Boodle”.
With only a few hours before his deadline, and a title that would have resulted in 0 book sales, Hill decided to do something completely unexpected.
He took a nap.
Before laying down he commanded his subconscious mind to create a title for the new book and then he kicked back and went to sleep.
When he woke up, he had his new title. And Think and Grow Rich went on to sell more than 100 million copies in dozens of different languages (something that surely would not have happened with his original title).
Although I’m a big believer in the power of naps and subconscious commands, this story illustrates an even more powerful creativity hack.
The power of deadlines.
For whatever reason, looming deadlines seem to elicit more productivity and flow than just about anything else.
Focus, productivity, and creativity become automatic when the conversation goes from, “I should complete this task” to “I must complete this task…and FAST.”
And implementing this creativity hack is simple.
Set strict deadlines and create painful consequences for failure.
Share a post on Facebook promising a certain product or piece of content by a specific date.
Send your coach or best friend a check for 10% of your monthly income and tell them to send it to a charity you hate if you don’t hit your deadline.
Do whatever you need to do to make the deadline stick and I promise, you’ll be amazed by the creative output you’re able to achieve.
By implementing these seven creativity hacks, I promise you will be creating more unique and compelling content than ever before.
But be warned…
Building your “creativity muscle” takes time. It will probably take a month or longer before you start seeing the payoff of these habits. But if you will stick with it for long enough, I promise, the rewards are worth it.
You could create the next Peanuts … write the next thriller… or simplify complex science into a series of stories that the mass market can understand.
Over to you.
What do you think about these creativity hacks?
Do you have any specific strategies or habits you use to be more creative?
Let me know in the comments below.
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