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How to Kill Creativity

Why we don't do post-mortems on any projects


There are many workplace practices I’ve shed since I left network TV to build my own media company. At the top of the list is the post-mortem.

I used to dread conducting post-mortems after a show taping. In the early seasons, when we were finding our footing and streamlining how we worked as a team, the post-mortem gave us direction and feedback.

But it also gave us a time and place to air our grievances. And that’s where the post-mortem can be the death of creativity.

It’s pretty dark when you think of it. We were voluntarily conducting autopsies on a creative project we just completed. All in the name of getting better and improving performance.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do know the value of assessing how you work and how your business runs. It’s something I do on a daily basis while I grow and scale my business.

But there’s a way to do it that isn’t so morbid. And there’s a way to do it that doesn’t focus, or even allow, for mistakes.

A Better Way To Live

The realization came through my work with peak performance coach Hina Khan. Hina is a client of mine. And a few months ago when I was ready to pack it all in because I thought my dream of building a media company was never going to happen, I became a client of hers.

What followed was an endless stream of liberating thoughts that reframed how I judge success. But most importantly, how I view failure.

Here are the lessons I’ve put in practice now that I’m building out my team and sharing with them a better way to create for a living:

  1. “Should” is Bull S — . Don’t spend any time thinking about what you should be doing, how you should be doing things better and what you should have done differently. Once you start using the “S” word, you’re not taking accountability for your actions. The judgement and guidance is external. It causes you to focus on what others are doing as opposed to taking inspiration and guidance from within. When you think of what you should do, you’re not connected to your actions. Hina always says “If it’s on my plate, I ordered it”. Take responsibility for the actions you took in getting you to this point and neutralize them. The actions are not good or bad, they just are. Stop looking for people to blame. Stop looking for answers outside yourself. Bring it back to you and then find your way.

  2. There are no wrong steps. Every creative endeavour will hit a block. You’ll hear “no”, “we don’t have the budget”, “this isn’t a right fit” etc. It’s tempting to create a narrative that what you’re doing is wrong. That you’re somehow flawed in your approach. And then you get a “yes”! And it’s glorious and wonderful and you feel so talented! But here’s the weird part: the same steps that got you a yes, got you a dozen “no’s”. How do you explain that? In Hina’s work, I’ve learned there are no wrong steps, even if you get a “no”. Everything you did to get to that “no”, is exactly the right thing to do. This block, setback, whatever you want to call it is not a reflection of wrong moves. It can be a teachable moment, informing you of how your message is being received. Sometimes you can turn a “no” into a “yes” just by changing one minor detail. So it’s not a block, it’s a pivot point. When you hit that wall, there’s no point in looking back at what got you there seeking mistakes. You are there. Accept it, look for where you want to go next, and how to move from this point.

  3. Let go of the “how”. This was a huge liberating moment for me (and for a deeper dive on this idea, you can read “Who, Not How”). I used to take pride in being able to “make things happen” in my TV job. I would get an idea, see how to put it together, and take action. And there are smaller goals where this is still regular practice. I get an idea I want a ham sandwich, I grab bread, ham, mayo and lettuce. I know this “how” and can take action on it. But what if there’s no bread in the kitchen? Do I change what I want? Or do I go to the store? Simple, low-stakes, no problem. I can handle the how and the pivots along the way. Now what if I’m craving a 7-figure media company with full-time employees and world-famous clients? The stakes are high: for me, my team and my world-famous clients. Pivoting isn’t as easy when the “how” is complicated, new, and filled with multiple possibilities. When someone comes to me with an idea, or I come up with my own, instead of asking “how do we do this?” I ask “what does this look like?” Paint a picture of this idea. What emotions are we attaching to this? Is this something we want to put our energy behind? You want a clear vision of what this outcome can look like and your main motivation for why. Because once you take action, the path is not clearly laid out, nor is it a straight line. You will need to pivot. You will need to go to the store and get the bread, because the desire for the sandwich doesn’t change.

Life Isn’t Perfect, But You Are

There’s a misconception that mindset work means a hassle-free life, with perfect lighting and bad things don’t happen.

I pitch ideas for a living. Not all of them get picked up. But I couldn’t even begin to guess my success rate.

Your perception is a choice. For argument’s sake, let’s say only 10% of my pitches get picked up. If I focus on the 90% fail rate, it looks like I’m not very good and should pack it all in.

But what if I told you, my clients are booked on top-tier national shows on a regular basis? That last year, we secured nearly 200 interviews in TV, print, radio and podcasts?

Both statements are true (even though the pitch success ratio is a guess, it feels right). I get to decide what outcome to focus on and how I define success.

It’s one thing to reflect on what you’ve created and how you’re working towards your goal. It’s another to obsess over perceived mistakes you’re making and how your work stacks up to someone else.

Can you guess which one I prefer?

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