What Is Creative Fitness?
What Is Creative Fitness?

The Internet was supposed to be the great unifying platform to exchange ideas and discover new perspectives at global scale. But you know how the movie ended. A few massive aggregation platforms gobbled up everyone’s attention by getting frighteningly good at giving us precisely what we want, all the time. So instead of a global trading floor, it’s a hall of mirrors. It doesn’t challenge us, it actually rewards mental complacency. And it’s the most dominant force on earth.

Of course, the Internet is just exaggerating, at titanic scale, a fundamental fact about human behavior: we want to be liked and we want to be accepted and therefore we seek out people and environments that enable those things.

So we’re all getting sucked deeper and deeper into worlds of our own. It makes sense, then, that we’re having trouble understanding each other, that it feels like the “experts” get it wrong more than ever, even in their own fields … especially in their own fields.

Meanwhile, as each of us fall unknowing prey to the great bubble effects of modern technology, new paradigms are emerging. The post-World War II career path of diploma to bureaucracy to retirement is increasingly a myth, yet most people still operate within that construct, devoting their mental energy to solving a very narrow spectrum of a large company’s problems 5 days a week, year after year, even while acknowledging it’s fading away.

What can we do to hedge against our rising vulnerability? How can we construct a new personal framework for success in this new world? How do we begin to understand other people? Hell, how do we just figure out how to stay ahead and solve problems in new ways?

Creative fitness, of course, is supposed to be the answer. That’s how these things are supposed to work, a spooky description of the problem sets up a silver-platter, blue-pill answer. This time it’s not quite that simple. Creative fitness isn’t the direct answer to any of these problems. But it may become your single most useful method for solving them.

Maybe you’re at the beginning of your career. Maybe you’re retired. Maybe you self-identify as a “creative” person, or you consider yourself anything but.

No matter who you are, creative fitness is nothing short of a 21st century survival skill. It’s the razor-sharp mental machete you need to hack through the dominant forces of our time and start building a life that is truly your own.

One note of clarification: it’s important to understand that even though digital fragmentation might be the single largest reason why creative fitness is absolutely necessary now, it’s not just about bursting Internet bubbles. It’s about bursting every bubble that confines your mind and breaking into new worlds, all in order to connect you closer to other people and enable new ideas. It was the cornerstone of invention 2,000 years ago, and will retain that status as long as blood is still pumping through these amazing animal brains of ours.

 

 

A person who practices creative fitness is primed for creativity in all areas of their life. But what’s creativity?

Steve Jobs said it as well as anyone:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.… They’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.… A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”

Steve Jobs didn’t need this website to practice creative fitness. He was naturally, insatiably curious. Maybe 1 percent of us is this way: people who truly feed off the diversity of the world. Just as some of us are naturally gifted at math, music or sports, some people are just born with a brain wired for creativity. Good for them. But does this mean there’s no hope for the rest of us?

Not only no, but naturally creative people are perhaps more in need of an intentional system for maintaining and harnessing that creativity than anyone else. For example, we know that, in many instances, smarter people are actually more prone to thinking errors than less smart people. Perhaps something similar holds true for curiosity.

If you want to be able to understand other people, understand yourself and create new ideas that improve the world, creative fitness is a necessity.

The forms that creation can take are as varied and unknowable as the universe itself. But for the purposes of not allowing anyone to exclude themselves because they “don’t need to be creative,” here are a few examples of how creative fitness might manifest in your life:

  • Creating a new business to solve a problem you’re not even aware of right now.
  • Building new relationships with people you would never have otherwise met.
  • Exploring the diversity the world has to offer.
  • Approaching your career—no matter what it is—in an entirely different way.
  • Creating a new and better life for yourself.

This is probably also where we should offer our disclaimer, before you think we’re getting carried away: creative fitness is not a miracle drug. It is not a way to gain riches, six-pack abs or global fame and adulation.

It is a commitment to achieving and maintaining an open mind. The benefits of this achievement are yours to explore and share.

Now, let’s define creative fitness in 5 steps.

1. Original input requires original output.

We just covered how Steve Jobs observed brilliant workers in his industry repeatedly attempt the same linear solutions because their experiences didn’t provide any alternate perspectives from which to create.

Being smart wasn’t enough: they were trapped by the narrowness of their perspective.

We are all products of the information we consume. If you don’t understand this concept, you will never believe in creative fitness.

Gurwinder Bhogal puts it just about perfectly: “To produce original output, avoid consuming the same input as everyone else. Say no to trending videos, NYT bestsellers, widely cited papers. Read ignored texts, plumb the past for forgotten perspectives. Alienate yourself from the zeitgeist so you can see it with new eyes.”

Clay Johnson coined it “The Information Diet” in his 2012 book, comparing content consumption to food consumption:

“The way it is consumed and created is very similar. Big agriculture has a responsibility to create cheap, popular calories. And as a result we don’t have nutritional foods, which is causing a national obesity problem in America. In the same way, [mass media] also have a fiduciary responsibility to develop cheap, popular information.”

And in a legendary talk at Harvard called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment,” Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger said it this way: “What you think may change what you do, but perhaps even more important, what you do will change what you think.

Unless you’re God, creation requires raw material. You could be the most naturally creative person who has ever walked the earth, but if you focus your mind in the same narrow direction year after year, you’re Miles Davis minus the trumpet: fun to hang out with, but no one’s singing your tune.

Creation is not about living in a padded room bleeding raw ideas into the ether, that’s a horrible misconception. As Picasso put it, “great artists steal.” He didn’t mean they plagiarize. He would have agreed with Steve Jobs, that creativity is about connecting things in new ways. Without “things,” there can be no creation in the first place.

So the foundation of creative fitness, then, is first understanding your inputs, so you can begin to change them.

2. Our world doesn’t cultivate diverse consumption, it does the opposite.

Earlier we touched on the Internet’s echo chamber effect. Eli Pariser has a better term for it. The filter bubble:

“Your filter bubble is the personal universe of information that you live in online — unique and constructed just for you by the array of personalized filters that now power the web. Facebook contributes things to read and friends’ status updates, Google personally tailors your search queries, and Yahoo News and Google News tailor your news. It’s a comfortable place, the filter bubble — by definition, it’s populated by the things that most compel you to click.”

Everyone from Bill Gates to MIT Professor Deb Roy thinks they’re a problem. But the discussion about how to escape them is laughably shortsighted and technocentric.

Filter bubbles aren’t just a digital problem, or a mass media phenomenon, or even a new phenomenon. Every moment of every day, each of us is unconsciously building and seeking out these bubbles. If all you do is break out of your digital bubble, where are you going to go? You’ll retreat into the great bubble that is your life. Think about it:

  • Your workplace is a bubble of largely likeminded people of similar social and economic status.
  • Your apartment building or neighborhood is a concentration of the same.
  • Your kids’ schools are either based upon those neighborhoods, which have a bubble-generating effect, or they are based upon independent selection, which also has a bubble-generating effect.
  • Your family formed and shaped your perspectives, assumptions, affiliations, affinities. And they’re in your life forever.
  • But your friends are different, right? Wrong. We select friends for their similarities with us, not their differences, all the way down to their genetic makeup. In fact, on average your friends are the rough equivalent of fourth cousins.
  • Even your commute is a bubble. Maybe you remember Peter Funch’s viral photo series documenting New Yorkers at the same street corner between 8:30 and 9 a.m. for 9 years?

 

 

We could go on, but hopefully you get the point: if we don’t consciously take control of our lives, invisible forces will guide our opinions, values, perspectives and ideas.

By now you’ve likely already considered this idea: that you do not control your mind, at least not the way you previously thought.

Think about everything we just ran through: your work, your family, your friends, your interests. How much of a role did you actively play in shaping that world? Given all of your surroundings, how much of an outlier are you in terms of how you dress, what you eat, what your hobbies are, where you work? Most likely, your bubble shapes you far more than the other way around.

This is your brain’s diet: your family, your friends, your commute, your social media feed, the news you watch, the movies you watch, the books you read, the people you interact with. The fact that almost all of it fits comfortably within a single perspective, or maybe two or three, is the greatest obstacle to your creativity.

If you are thinking what everyone else in your bubble is thinking … reading what they are reading … wearing what they are wearing … vacationing where they are vacationing … working out where they work out … eating what they eat … it would take a miracle for you to create anything truly new.

Creative people own their minds. Not entirely, because we are all shaped by larger forces, but enough to be dangerous. When you’re competing against billions of people who’ve never even considered any of this, it doesn’t take much to stand out.

So creative fitness is about owning your mind, and to do that, you must seek out and cultivate control.

Maybe you remember hearing about Max Hawkins, the former Google engineer who came to this exact realization, that his life and his thoughts weren’t a blank page, but a script, and did something about it. He began to create software tools to randomize his life. For two years, he went where his tools told him to go:

“One night, he got to drink white Russians with some Russians. Another, he attended acroyoga (as in, acrobatics + yoga). A community center pancake breakfast. A networking event for young professionals. The algorithm chose; Max attended. Most of these events were something that the nonrandomized Max would never have thought to try. The computer was breaking him out of a life driven by his own preferences. He was suddenly seeing the world in a whole new way, and he really liked it.”

Bubble Hopping became his default life strategy. And nothing would be the same.

So true control comes from true exploration of new perspectives, and true creation. Not someone else’s creation channeled through your mind and your hands, but your exploration and your creation.

Great, you’re thinking. Read some new books. Watch some movies I’ve never heard of. Go try a new hobby. That’s easy. I do that stuff occasionally already.

Be careful: there’s a trap.

3. The moment you enter a new world, a new bubble starts to form again.

When we discover something new, we enter an almost euphoric phase of intellectual adventure. Not only is there an entire new world to uncover, but the further we press into that world, we start using the new perspectives we’re gaining to reevaluate all sorts of aspects of our lives and the world around us. New discoveries are everywhere.

But as time goes by, this exciting new world merges with our comfort zone. The new insights come slower. But the pull of this world, and the relationships we’ve developed inside it, remains strong. We’re watching its content, reading its books, hanging out with its people. What used to require real concentration to understand comes easily now. We get comfortable and start making a mental nest. Stepping outside starts to feel like more work than it’s worth. The Internet’s incredible ability to serve us even more of what we already know and already like works like novocaine. We’re caught in the web, and so we fall victim to The Bubble Trap.

 

 

The solution, of course, is to break into a new bubble and start the process all over again. In fact, over time, insights from a new bubble will help you see this previous one with new eyes, unlocking new ideas from it that you couldn’t have gained in static confinement within it, no matter how long that lasted. This is pictured by the “Renaissance” phase in the graph above, triggered only by exposure to an entirely new frame of reference. In that scenario, Idea 2 brings Idea 1 back to life. In reality, it’s more complex. Perhaps components of Ideas 94, 432 and 30 work together to create that renaissance in Idea 1. But hopefully the point is clear: expanding our frame of reference is the only antidote to our brains’ relentless desire to simplify the world.

To stay primed for creativity, we must disrupt our brain. If it’s going to endlessly constrict, give it more to constrict. Trick it up. Throw it off its patterns. Muscle confusion. Attack its biases with new perspectives. Do not allow it to get complacent, lazy, overconfident.

So Bubble Hopping is a core component of Creative Fitness. And it’s also why an intentional system of creative exploration is the only way to guard against our brain’s desire to lay down roots and enter a comfortable, lifelong, bubble-induced slumber. Random exploration without an underlying system makes even the sharpest minds vulnerable to the complacent, bubble-loving instincts in all of us.

4. Creative fitness is the intentional process of maintaining a state of mental openness.

A gym might be a great place to work out, but it can also be a great place to look in the mirror for an hour before buying a $10 smoothie on the way out the door. Simply going doesn’t guarantee results.

More than anything else, what differentiates creative fitness from any mind-expanding pursuit is intent. It is not random (although the places it can take you sure as hell are), it is designed.

Its components are two-fold: 1. The mental exploration of new perspectives, and 2. Mental exercise through creation of real things.

The intentional pursuit of these two things in tandem will produce the state of mental openness that is foundational to creativity. We’ve spent a lot of time describing the rationale behind the first component, but the second is new, so let’s explain.

Creative fitness is not entirely a pursuit of the mind, at least not the popular conception. Physical application is critical for at least two main reasons.

First: “It’s a fundamental error to regard ‘brain’ and ‘body’ as somehow dichotomous at all.” That’s behavioral neuroscientist Kelly Lambert. Her research has shed new light on why working with your hands is good for your brain. And she’s far from alone.

Dr. Carrie Barron believes physical creation unlocks your brain in ways nothing else can:

“Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought. Peak moments occur as one putters, ponders and daydreams. … It isn’t as much about reaching one’s potential as doing something interesting–less about ambition and more about living.”

So how do we approach physical creation in an intentional, systematic way that helps us unlock our brain’s potential? In part, we need an enriched environment.

Credit Marian Diamond for that. She’s fascinating for all sorts of reasons, like being the first person to analyze Einstein’s brain. Seriously, take a minute and watch this video. We’ll still be here.

Diamond’s discovery that enriched environments are critical to brain health and development is critical to our conception of creative fitness:

What about the millions of human beings who are discouraged and do not continue to stimulate their brains? Many people attend school for a dozen or so years and then find a job only to provide an income until retirement. Their living pattern usually moves toward slowing down until they finally fade away. The generally accepted knowledge about the brain is that it starts “going downhill” fairly early in life (which is true) and that after that, there is little one can do about changing this pattern (which is not true).”

The antidote? Creative fitness.

Particularly, seeking out a physical environment of creation, new ideas, new technology. That’s why we’re building MODIV Spaces: to bring communities together around a shared desire to challenge our brains, give our hands something to do and our minds space to wander. But if you don’t live near one, find a maker space, or something like it. Meet people who make things, and make new things together.

Which brings us to the second key reason for why creative fitness is about “doing” things, not just “thinking” them, stated brilliantly by Tiago Forte:

“The best, most original ideas simply can’t be found by reading blog posts and books. They are emerging from the chaotic process of conceiving, designing, producing, and selling real products in the real world.”

Not only does creation stimulate our brains in ways that pure exploration simply doesn’t, but creation channeled toward something real is the only way to introduce the headwinds that bring out the best in us.

It’s one thing to immerse yourself in the mental world of something like digital music composition, for example. It’s another thing entirely to meet two other people from entirely different fields and dedicate a few hours a week to creating a new song or an album together. It’s not about creating a new career in music (although who knows), it’s about the fact that new ideas are guaranteed to emerge from this process.

Creation begets creation. Embrace it.

Just as physical fitness prepares you to better react to unknown opportunities and threats, creative fitness prepares you to see new ideas when they’re right there in front of you.

By many accounts, Richard Feynman was one of the 20th century’s smartest and most creative people. His ability to solve ridiculously complicated problems, such as the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and inability to explain how he did it, led one of his colleagues to facetiously coin “The Feynman Algorithm” of problem solving:

  1. Write down the problem.
  2. Think very hard.
  3. Write down the answer.

Despite being a joke, some people do find this advice clarifying. More important for our purposes is Feynman’s own description of how he creates new ideas:

“You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

Is being a genius a useful life hack? It sure seems that way. But for the rest of us, the methods of geniuses are accessible for us to apply to our own lives and problems, as long as we’re willing to commit to it: creative fitness.

5. Creative fitness is a 21st-century survival skill.

By now you understand that creative fitness is the intentional pursuit of the mental openness required for creation.

You know that creation is entirely influenced by what we feed our brains.

You know that we desire bubbles, that bubbles are dangerous and therefore we must approach the exploration of new ideas in a systematic way to avoid their trap.

 

 

As you’ve been reading, you’ve been subconsciously applying these concepts to your own experience. So in one way or another, you’ve probably already articulated to yourself, in your own way, our final point of definition: that creative fitness is a 21st-century survival skill.

Again, this isn’t to say that it wasn’t a 20th-, 19th-, 10th- or 2nd-century survival skill. Of course it was. But there are many reasons to believe that creativity is more important now than ever.

At the beginning of this piece we touched on the changing global work paradigm. You’ve probably experienced it in your own way.

If the 20th century belonged to the specialist, the 21st century is the age of generalists.

Taylor Pearson’s Blockchain Man explores this at length, and it’s worth reading in its entirety, even if you disagree:

“The Organization Man grew up with the expectation of getting a job and working for the corporation. Unless he is a top executive, he likely has little idea how the game was played or why … the Organization served as a shield to markets.”

In many ways, that shield has already disappeared, and in its place is a marketplace all of us have direct access to:

“In the mid-2000s, it became economically feasible to run a 10-person company manufacturing in China, distributing in North America with developers in Eastern Europe and designers in South East Asia.”

Today, change comes from anywhere, without announcement. Industries are less focused on insular competition as much as they are focused on cross-industry growth and threats.

All of this while the bubble trap ensnares billions of people who are completely unaware of their siloed and limited worldview, even as they get more siloed and more limited. At a time when the entire global marketplace is open to anyone, almost no one is pushing past the invisible constraints that block us from understanding each other.

Creativity is the connection of ideas in new ways, and there has never been more access to more ideas than now. And yet the vast majority of the world’s population, including many of the smartest, best connected, best educated people, is growing blinder by the minute.

There has never been a greater opportunity to use creativity. It seems that the proper response to these factors is to stop thinking about the one paradigm you need, whether that’s a law degree, or a computer science degree, or a CPA certification, or a promotion, or whatever else, and start thinking about a mindset of constant acquisition of new paradigms.

The antidote to a world of constant reinvention, creation and bubble traps is to reinvent, create and bubble-hop yourself.

If this is the new game, get in early and learn how to play it.

There is no downside.

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So there you have it. We can’t wait to unveil everything we have in store to help people of all backgrounds pursue creative fitness: from curriculum to educational and inspirational content to useful tools and a global community platform.

We truly believe creative fitness is a 21st century survival skill. Not just for “creative” professions and businesses, but for every individual and every business.

We hope you’re excited to hear more.

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