Be Obvious

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

This prompt actually emerged as my own reflection, as I was identifying my bottleneck. For example, I’m fairly practiced at writing ideas down, but I have a difficult time choosing one to start writing. I realized through listening to myself that one of the blocks I face as an author is, “I don’t want to write this, it’s too obvious.” This feeling of a lack of originality is a challenge that I’ve seen other writers face as well.

For me, I came across a few sources of consolation. First off, I saw a tweet from marketer and software engineer Patrick McKenzie assuring the reader, “You radically underestimate both a) how much you know that other people do not and b) the instrumental benefits to you of publishing it.” McKenzie also linked to New Science executive director and blogger Alexey Guzey’s writing about the value of unoriginality, “Because it helps in the process of discovery and in the process of supporting underappreciated ideas.”

I also noticed how a handful of “obvious” ideas other people had made an impact on me and my friends. For me, two examples were author Seth Godin’s “Talker’s Block”—which asks why writer’s block exists when nobody gets talker’s block—and Roy Bahat’s “Forwardable email,” which suggests that readers shouldn’t ask for an email introduction, and instead make a request for someone to forward their email along.

I grew to appreciate that what was obvious to me might not be so obvious to someone else, and might seem original and—more importantly—useful.

Don’t worry about factors that aren’t limiting you. Work on the step that slows you down the most, whichever it is. Once you’ve identified the step, you can isolate it, then study it for a few weeks. If you’re looking externally, you can find someone who has dealt with a similar challenge before, and through their public appearances or documentation on social media (or reaching out for an informational interview), find out what they do to solve it—whether it’s physical or a mental workaround—and select some insights to take back with you and apply into your own constraint. Put those insights into practice into your own creative process, as new routines or rituals.

Embarrass Yourself

We choose creative work not only because we love it; we also have good taste. Naturally, as we start making creative work, we see the distance between what we call good and what we’re making. The fear dawns on us: What if we make something bad?

This is the gap between taste and ability that everyone starts with. As broadcaster and producer Ira Glass says, “It’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up and close that gap. The work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.”

The quantity of work is essential. We’ll make mistakes, pretend we know what we’re doing, say the wrong things, imitate people, and find new ways of working that we swore we’d never do.

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