How grit, time and practice leads to creativity

Topic: Creativity

Summary: Creative insights take years and decades of experiences to get, so you’d better engage your grit yesterday already


We are down on the month with just two days left. Get me something good NOW. Nobody leaves until we’ve fixed this. Be creative!

-Bobby Axelrod in Billions being his typical unreasonable and incredulous larger than life self

Be creative. Now.


Wanting to be creative just doesn’t work

Sometimes I want to be creative.

Sometimes I feel as if I haven’t produced anything of value for some time, and just want to make something worthwhile, be it an investment, a blog post or just a witty or insightful tweet.

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That’s exactly what I typically come up with. Regarding investments, that’s probably a good thing.


The silent YouTuber

The same goes for my YouTube series in Swedish: Listening to several hours of scientific and economic podcasts every day usually triggers shareable thoughts by the handful. However, if I don’t write them down the insights are often gone just like that. OK, to be honest, I can keep a few fresh in my mind for several hours if I really want to. The problem is that forcing my memory that way severely limits the amount of new information I can digest.

What’s sometimes frustrating is that despite churning hundreds of ideas through my mind and commonplace each and every month, if you (or I) put a video camera to my face and request I pull even one out of my theoretically shock-full hat of ideas…

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It’s not stage fright. I mean I can say something. I can whip up some old wisdom about patience, or whether to aim high or low. I can even be a bit witty, talking about investor mistakes (mostly my own), or gym stereotypes. What I can’t do is create something new, connect some dots, do what some people seemingly effortlessly do all day long in social media. (oh, I know most of them only do it when they have those automatic strokes of insight, when they’re hit by that strange type of boson called inspiratons, just like I am every now and then)

I have no problem accepting this, not least as I know I’ll have new ideas tomorrow.


Inspiratons hit those heavy in experience

That’s the message here really, that you’ll get your inspiration when you get it. That there are no short cuts to creativity, that it’s not like lifting weights or some other performance activity. That your moments if insight are the product of everything else you have done over days, weeks, months and years. When you hear something new, creativity is the automatic process of connecting dots from that to the sum total of your experiences.

At least that’s my perception of creativity. All the books I’ve read, all the podcasts I’ve contemplated, all the deep conversations I’ve had, all the projects I’ve struggled with, it has all taught me something and given me a platform from which to interpret everything else I come across today. Trying to force creativity in the moment just blocks it for me, but constantly seeking out interesting and rewarding experiences means I will get strokes of insight in the future.

 

So, you want to be creative?

You think you’re entitled to?

You want the truth?

You can’t handle the truth!

 

My apologies… I couldn’t help myself. Perhaps it’s some lingering effects from the creative brainstorming activity from last week.


Anyway, to be creative you need 1) experience & knowledge, and 2) curiosity to find and identify inputs.

I suggest you start experiencing as much as you can: reading, listening, conversing, doing, experimenting, all the while keeping structured and interlinked notes of what you’re doing and why. Creative insights will come “for free” once you’ve had enough exposure.

However, “for free” doesn’t mean you can be lazy about it. Including in “experience” is working for it, working through tough projects, reading and understanding complicated articles and books, engaging in and losing arguments etc.

Failure is the mother of creativity. Sweat its father.

The dark part of this message is that if you’ve already spent the better part of your life watching action comedies and soap operas, scrolling on your phone during your commute to and from work, you won’t become creative overnight. Because creativity can’t be plucked from thin air. The inspiratons are only attracted to bodies heavy in thoughtful, gritty experience – sometimes referred to as deliberate practice.


Summary

Nevermind trying to be creative.

Focus on learning and experiencing.

Your insights will come later, once you know enough, understand enough. Put your mind to connecting dots whenever you can – keep flexing that muscle – but don’t expect true creativity until you truly understand a topic.

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The Singularity, and Creativity vs Procrastination

Quick update on the Singularity (before the actual post on creativity):

[Length: 971 words]

It has since long been established that unenhanced humans, “originals”, can’t see beyond a certain point of technological progress (The Singularity). Enhanced humans, “metas”, however, can. It has recently come to my knowledge that there is a second singularity further down the road which evades even meta-human analysis.

Read more in the super creative David Simpson‘s (Post-Human, The God Killers) new book “Dawn Of The Singularity“. No affiliate, just a good personal recommendation.

In other news, dogs are doing just fine despite widespread joblessness in their species. As long as we humans are house trained, I’m sure robots will keep us as pets and treat us pretty well too.

My rescue dog, Ronja

 

Executive summary: This is another of my “sprezza shorts”, just a brief summary of a simple idea regarding creativity and procrastination.

In this case it’s about how (moderate) procrastination is good for creativity.

I think all the findings apply to analysts and investors as well: Try out a lot of ideas quickly, i.e. just start, but be a bit slow to finish your research and follow through with the actual investment. Dare to invest in the unconventional or unloved, but be quick to realize when you’re wrong.


Insights into creativity

In a TED talk from April 1, 2016 by Adam Grant, the following findings were presented:

Precrastinators (the opposite of procrastinators) are usually not very creative, probably due to the fact that they rush in and finish their projects right away, panicking today about deadlines four months hence :). They don’t give their brains enough time to think about the task.

Pathological procrastinators on the other hand never get anything done, so the question about their creativity is just moot.

It turns out the most creative people are moderate procrastinators. They put off finishing a project, a paper, writing a speech etc. just long enough to give the subconscious a chance to think thoroughly about the task.

So, don’t chastise yourself for starting projects and putting them off until the last moment. That’s a hallmark of creative people.

When researching stocks to invest in, I think going slow and being patient is the most important skill you can have. Go ahead and start researching as many stocks as you like; then hold back a little before finalizing your models and your thinking, not least the actual investment.

Challenge defaults: Think and walk at least a little outside the box; challenge rules, where do they come from, who do they serve? Adam Grant says that if you’re still using Internet Explorer or Safari as your web browser you might be a lost cause…

All value investors are good at this. They dare to question “truths” about broken companies and business models, and buy when there’s blood in the streets.

Do many things, be wrong, try again; its not you, its the project, the process, the attempt, “everybody fails at first”. The most creative people simply try many more things and thus widen their range of “production”. A few projects in the right tail then turn out to be unusual hits.

Grant exemplifies with Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, who were extremely prolific composers with a few works of genius.

Finally, Grant talks about “improvers” or second/last  movers, as opposed to first movers. I don’t know what kind of data he is referring to, but I do buy his argument that it’s easier to take a given idea and improve it than to create it from scratch. Think about Facebook and Google for example, which were both very late to the game. Or Tesla.

This principle is perhaps a bit harder to apply to investing, but do try anyway. Look at what people are buying and then make your own research. There was plenty of time to research Fingerprint Cards, e.g., after it became the talk of the town.

Why not just borrow other people’s research methods and improve on those? Take the quattro portfolio strategy and improve the composition, weighting and timing rules. Use Hussman’s ideas about valuation and market internals but use other variables and time periods, and so on.


Summary: Blame it on the rain

In life, work and investments (and other areas) be quick to start but slow to finish, in order to let your subconscious take a long hard look a the problem, before you do anything rash.

Use and improve on other people’s methods.

either you get this reference (born in the 70s) or you don’t

The most creative people simply try more things than other people (and fail at and quit more things). Blame it on the rain, not your person or worth. Dare to be wrong often.

Assume others are wrong; challenge defaults. Obeying (all) rules won’t get you anywhere. You don’t wait for a green light (as a pedestrian) if the street is empty, do you?

You’re not using Internet Explorer, are you? Right, so why obey other stupid rules?*

*except for the fact that orders have been shown to shut down certain brain areas, and thus stop you from questioning the motive, morality, authority and logic of the order.

Now, the only rule here is that if you read the entire article you have to share it with somebody (preferably your entire social network). or, if you are new here, subscribe to my free newsletter and download my free e-book about my time as partner and portfolio manager at the European Hedge Fund Of The Decade.

Obey!


Other articles by me about robots, AI, job destruction, programming etc.:

Career guide

Deep work and robotics

Future careers; big 5 vs. big 5

Job destruction

AI and the Singularity

Embracing procrastination

The 4-hour sleep schedule for highly effective and successful people

Bunk!

I sleep 8 hours a night.

How about you?


Sleep is contentious. Some brag about how little they sleep, others are called names for sleeping more. Grown-ups, teachers, employers, colleagues, friends… many of them have ideas about your sleeping habits (while being mobile screen and caffeine addicts themselves).

Then there is the whole morning vs. night people debate that I won’t mention further.

In short, sleep is a topic discussed to death; but I’ll steer clear of the most obvious sleep related issues and be as direct and pragmatic as I can be.


Executive Summary – 10 points for sleeping like a boss 

Going straight to the point, you should 1) admit sleep is important and take the following steps:, 2) calm down before going to bed, 3) avoid exposure to blue tinted screens before night-time, 4) sleep at regular hours, 5) in a cool and 6) dark room, possibly with 7) your feet outside the covers or the bed.

A few other tips include 8) keeping two sets of pillows going at all times, letting one set rest outside the bed to dry out and re-fluffify every other night, thus never using the same pillow two nights in a row. Similarly you should 9) hang your covers, rather than leave them on the bed during the day, and 10) pay attention to your caffeine habits (amount, timing and effect on your sleep).

This is how you should feel when waking up: 


Sleep with me

After my recent intimate posts on everyday happiness and re-charging, it’s time to go even further and get into bed with me… for a good night’s sleep.

Without sleeping well, you stand no chance at all of a happy, relaxed and healthy life, so this should in fact have been the first post in the series.

Anyway…

Disclaimer: If you want references, go somewhere else. This is ‘just’ my personal preferences and recollections of dozens upon dozens of science podcasts, articles and videos made into an actionable list for maximizing your quality sleep.

The 4-hour sleep myth

I have slept much less than 8 hours a night in my days, due to stress, external pressure (employers or girlfriends), (extended) office hours, blind ambition and naïveté, not to mention stories about presidents and money men not just getting by but excelling on 4 hours per night or less.

At its worst I was analyzing and programming over 100 hours a week, often sleeping at the office, and still finding time for alcohol. That left just 4 hours a night for bed. I was on the brink of breaking down and I’ve only just about recovered now, 20 years later.

Eventually I realized, it’s not the important and effective people that minimize sleep. It’s the other way round. If your work is menial, it’s okay to do it for many hours a day and with a chronic sleep deficit. It’s like working drunk (here are the first references I found on Google), but if you’re only an ‘errand boy‘ anyway it doesn’t matter (article about me by Mike Cernovich – author of Gorilla Mindset).

On the other hand, if you carry real responsibility your paramount priority is being rested, relaxed, absolutely not stressed, and thus prepared for whatever happens.

Society might force you to occasionally sleep less than you need, but you shouldn’t exacerbate and prolong the problem by actually believing the 4-hour hype.

Sure, whore out, force yourself through it, impress whoever needs impressing, use caffeine and alcohol to keep going. But, always remember, you are working below capacity if sleep-deprived, and you should strive for normalization as soon as possible, after you’ve kick-started your career or whatever you’re doing.

Most research and articles on sleep you’ll come across are flawed, simply because most sleep research used to be based on self reported numbers. Sometimes too high, sometimes to low, sometimes an irrelevant average, never adapted to your individual situation.

 

Why you should let sleep run its course

You need as much sleep as you need.

-yes, if I can use a tautology I will, and this is one of the best opportunities.

You can’t base your sleeping habits off of other people, not even me or president Bill Clinton (who started sleeping less after hearing successful people did that… and then he had to have heart surgery in his 50s).

Here, WebMD chimes in regarding 7 sleep myths, including the 8-hour and 4-hour myths.

Sleep deprivation has adverse effects on your immune system, general inflammatory status, memory formation, creativity, short and long term intelligence, decision making, willpower, eating habits (cravings), happiness, as well as possibly means bad news for your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

This year’s Nobel Prize winner Aziz Sancar has showed that the circadian rhythm is closely linked to the DNA repair system. If it’s frequently manipulated (coffee, alarm clocks, jet lag?) or disrupted, DNA errors might multiply and cause, e.g., cancer. The DNA-repair activity is at its highest in the morning, and coincides with a spike in the cortisol level which makes you naturally alert and awake the first 1-2 hours of the day.

As Dr Kirk Parsley puts it: Every indication, every metric has a pathway through sleep

So, sleep as much as you need, no more, no less (more has been linked to disease and early death, even if the direction of causality is debated to say the least). However, who in their right mind would even attempt to sleep more than needed. Who has the time to begin with (except yours retarded truly)?

Our 12 hour sleep schedule origins

Dr Parsley, above, also pointed out (just as Jessa Gamble and others) that early retirees that can craft their lives, and sleep, to their liking, sometimes fall back to the sleep habits of 150+ years ago: Before the invention of the electric light, humans spent around 10-12 hours a night in bed, consisting of 4 hours of sleep, followed by several hours of calm contemplation, and then another 4 hours of sleep.

If you’re one of the few lucky ones getting so much sleep this happens to you, use those inter-sleep hours for red light reading, mobility exercises, meditation or similar toned down activities. Thus, better sleep will lead to better mental health and mobility and yet better sleep, in a highly beneficial self-reinforcing feedback loop. 

 

Warning signs of too little sleep

How do you know if you sleep to little?

As long as you are not medication, travelling heavily, drinking alcohol regularly, doing exciting stuff or watching TV, mobile or computer screens right before going to bed, or are a large caffeine consumer you should be able to quite easily gauge your sleep needs. Below are just a few heuristics regarding sleep deficits.

  1. If you need an alarm clock to get up on time, you’re sleeping too little
  2. If you fall asleep almost before laying down your head, you’re sleeping too little
  3. If you wake up in the middle of the night, it might just be natural for you. Humans may not be made for just one sleep episode per night as Jessa Gamble explains in this 4 minute TED presentation (8 straight hours work very well for me though).
  4. If you’ve tried forcing yourself into (for you) obviously unnatural sleeping habits, such as Kramer-Da Vinci-sleep, you should just let yourself slip back to your natural pattern.
  5. If you’re not a high volume training athlete, a 7-sigma intellectual anomaly, or recovering from a severe injury, and spend more then 10 hours sleeping or in a semi-comatose condition per day, you probably should check yourself.

 

The sleep check list

-how to optimize the  length and quality of your sleep

  1. Go to bed at as regular hours as possible. If I’m not out partying, I turn off the lights at midnight every night, which means I wake up without an alarm clock between 7:30 and 8 am when I’ve slept enough.
  2. Spend as much time as possible outside during the day. The vitamin D-serotonin-melatonin cycle runs on sunlight. Sunlight also synchronizes your circadian rhythm, making nr 1, above, easier
  3. Daytime naps: I like them. But, don’t overdo it, if that disrupts your total amount of sleep. Change your eating habits if you all too predictably nap after eating high GI carbs
  4. No cellphones! Watch (i.e. don’t watch) your screen time habits. Avoid blue tinted TV, computer and cellphone screens at least half an hour before going to sleep. Some (weirdos) put on orange glasses a few hours before closing their eyes for the night.
  5. Keep your bedroom cool, which simulates night time
    1. in particular the feet; I sleep with my feet outside the covers and outside the bed
  6. Keep your bedroom dark, which simulates night time. Even the weakest tiniest light source on your skin (not the eyes) can affect your sleep negatively
  7. Take care of your body: walk, work out, work on your mobility, drink fish oil, eat vitamin-D supplements. If you’re healthy you’ll sleep better (better posture, more relaxed, less imbalances), and if you sleep better it’s easier to stay healthy (more sleep means more testosterone in men, more willpower during the day, better eating and training habits)
  8. Don’t have coffee first thing in the morning – wait an hour or two for the most effective and least addictive caffeine response. In addition you minimize the disturbance of circadian related DNA-repair and risk of cancer. Read more about the chronopharmacological facts about caffeine here.
    1. I limit my coffee intake to a cup every second day, which I have after my morning walk with the dog, i.e., some 90-120 minutes after waking up. Then I head for the gym.
    2. In addition, it’s advised not to drink coffee too late in the day. That, however, depends on so many things (e.g., are you a fast metabolizer? Does caffeine affect your sleep at all? More here about coffee and your body), you’ll just have to do your own experimenting.
  9. Dry and fluffy pillows and covers (don’t make the bed, hang the covers during the day to make it fluffy and dry; keep extra pillows resting on the side and switch every other night, i.e., never use the same pillow two nights in a row)
    1. The reason for “all this” – which by the way takes less effort than, e.g., making your bed everyday or just keeping one set of pillows going (just wash the pillow cases after the same amount of nights slept on) – is that dry and fluffy pillows give transport air better and give you the support they were intended to do as new.
    2. Another way of selling the idea to you is that it feels like coming to a hotel with fresh pillows every night
  10. Use a sufficiently hard mattress (I need a lot of stability at my weight (200+ lbs) to keep my posture correct when sleeping)
  11. Get out of the bed if you can’t sleep within 30 minutes (first try a cooler or warmer room, changing direction in the bed or some (dimmed light, red light) reading
  12. Got milk? If you can’t sleep, try some warm milk: the tryptophane effect is debated, but the taste might have a familiar, nursing and comforting effect
  13. Meditate – just focus on your breathing, nothing fancy or cumbersome, slowly in, slowly out, just focus on the process of breathing, nothing more. Check out my post on meditation for newbies here.
  14. De-stress, write (to do later or not to do) lists to get whatever is on them off your mind (see my next post on ‘stress’)
  15. Sleep on your side to clear waste from the brain (that could increase the risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) and avoid mobility issues
  16. Avoid alarm clocks for getting up; wake up naturally if possible. Set the alarm at the latest possible time you have to get up without rushing too much. Get to bed early enough (and the same time every night) to wake up before the alarm – at least 4 days out of 5.
  17. Get up (immediately) when you wake up. Fool yourself into doing just one little thing before climbing back into bed (but by then you see no point in going back). I usually urinate and then brush my teeth. It helps knowing i can go back if I want to. It also helps knowing I’ve had my 8 hours and don’t need more.
  18. Experiment to find your own techniques for going to sleep when you can’t; become cold, then warm again, drink warm milk, get up, read a little more, pet something (triggers oxytocine release), change pillows, rooms or sleep direction.

Got milk?

I can think of at least one other thing than tryptophane to help me fall asleep

 

Summary

Are you kidding me? The list is in the executive summary and in the body of the article. You want it again?!

You may get it again if you sign up for my newsletter or leave an online review of my book The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager somewhere on the internet and tell me about it.

Please, please do the latter. Write a review and tell me about it.

OK,… again: Inadequate sleep leads to impaired decision making, poor health (including cancer) and unhappiness, among other things. And the remedy is easy and delightful; just let nature run its course, sleep when you’re tired and wake up without alarm clocks.

 

P.S. I don’t want anybody sick or tired at my workplace. I’ll send you home. Drunk is okay though.