Achieving Creative Product Nirvana (Transmission #267)

Achieving Creative Product Nirvana (Transmission #267)

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My goal with every GEM article, whether that be a Radar entry or a full-fledged Transmission, is to prompt deep thinking. To delve into topics we don’t encounter in our day-to-day lives. I want to surface new perspectives you haven’t heard before. Show you interesting use-cases from far-flung corners of the world. Probe into every corner of our industry and those we can learn from.

I am often asked, “how do you keep up the pace?” Truthfully, some weeks are a real struggle. I get writer’s block, like every other writer.

One of the great things about GEM, and I’ve designed it this way purposely, is that we don’t have to publish content. While I don’t like going a week or two without a strong essay, we can. We don’t have an incentive to push out content for the sake of generating pageviews and clicks, so we’ve built a business that allows for quality in everything we do.

I’m able to wait until an idea strikes that hits all those marks discussed above—something interesting, thought-provoking, and worth your time (and mine).

Writing is my art form. Your product is yours. If it’s not, it should be.

Creativity is the lifeblood of innovation. How do you continue to push the bounds, day in and day out? How do you come up with outside-of-the-box ideas that turn into a transformational product feature or viral growth loop?

I’m a consumer product guy at my core. That’s always the lens I strive to bring to the table. Great product building comes from allowing the crosspollination of ideas and information in your life to influence your product’s journey. All the while, building breathing room into the process so as not to be a hamster in a wheel, but rather allowing time for greatness to reveal itself.

There’s no right or wrong way to strike inspiration (to each their own), but here’s the process I go through to tap into my muse.

Every single day, in everything I do, I look for new tidbits. These could come from a news story, a differentiated product, a conversation (or, word, even) overheard in a restaurant, witnessing an animal in the wild, a particularly insightful answer to a question in a podcast, or a shitty personal experience with a product or service.

Some artists call these seeds of inspiration. I prefer to call them kernels.

Transmissions are sometimes fleshed out with one amazing kernel. But, more often than not, they involve two or three kernels plucked from seemingly disparate corners of the universe. The magic and the art is in piecing them together.

But without foundational kernels, nothing else matters.

Kernels aren’t enough in unto themselves. To make a great Transmission, it’s crucial to give it the space to emerge as a fully-fledged idea. To connect the scattered pieces into a compelling takeaway. Figuring this out is the hardest part.

Oftentimes, I sit down and write the first section or two. The conclusion is generally the last piece finalized. It usually takes time manipulating the inputs—in this case those kernels that sparked the idea—before mustering the magic. That nugget of truth that resonates at a higher frequency and pulls the piece together.

No Transmission goes out without a second set of eyes. That first set of eyes is almost always my copywriting partner in crime, Shannon O'Donnell . She works her copy and flow magic behind the scenes. I feel incredibly fortunate to have such a great working relationship that is now a decade old. Without her collaboration, the quality bar of GEM would certainly not be what it is today. And my partner, Melisa Socorro-Nunez, is often one of those eyes.

I like to sleep on an article before publishing, so I try to finish a rough draft prior to going to bed the night before we publish.

The GEM community includes a wide array of individuals. With every topic I write about, someone in the network knows far more about it than I do. Once we have a complete draft, I usually send the Google Doc link to a couple of individuals asking for comments, suggestions, or questions. It’s often last minute, so they don’t always have time to review before we publish, but I’m eternally grateful when they do. Savvy operators such as Sam Westelman, Greg Fischer, Nate Smoyer, and Rivers Pearce have left beyond insightful comments and questions on Transmission drafts that have ultimately strengthened the arguments. Factoring in, or choosing to ignore in some cases, those comments is a crucial step.

Creative inspiration looks different for each of us, but the base requirements are the same. You can’t ignore the world around you in favor of a frozen mindset.

In art, as in product and services development, you have to receive information from the world. Input is critical. Stephen King recommended in On Writing that writers “read a lot,” and also that they “don’t wait for the muse.”

This advice holds true for anyone building and creating. Only once you’re consciously receiving kernels from a wide range of sources (GEM being one of them) can you add your own creative flare. And you have to show up.

Neither my art, nor yours requires a “Ouija board or the spirit-world,” as King says, it requires that you show up every day collecting and connecting the kernels required to out-innovate your competitors.

Fail at this basic task, and the hyper-competitive market will leave you in its wake.

Generally, I’m not a fan of ignorance. But, there’s something to be said for innovation through ignorance. As Rick Rubin says in The Creative Act, look no further than the Ramones for proof of that. Although they thought their music was “mainstream bubblegum pop,” they unwittingly invented punk rock, and the countercultural revolution that came with it.

I’m not immune to historical bias. Nearly twenty years in the business has made me jaded in the past. Maybe I still am. However, I like to think I can set that aside enough to point out ❇️divergent views❇️ or ❇️narrative violations❇️.

Operating without preconceived notions of set norms in your sector is often the mindset needed to break through with a new product or service that hits the mark. Trying what everyone else tries without breaking a few rules seldom results in groundbreaking innovations. Instead, connecting a few kernels no one else has connected—or, even better, knows exist—increases the chances of paradigm-shifting results.

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Prompt: innovation through corn fields