America values two things more highly than just about anything else: creativity and productivity. Once one might have said wealth or ease were the highest cultural values, but in the past several years a discernable shift has taken place. Entire genres of literature are devoted creativity and productivity. Conferences and webinars are built around them. Seth Godin and others like him helped to make these values valued and now ride their wave. People devour TED talks and blogs in a hunt for inspiration and to learn the latest life hacks and new ideas.
A strange thing has happened, though. Two values built on invention, innovation, and formation have been subverted for the sake of consumption. Instead of becoming more prolific in the production of goods and services in a creative manner we have become consumers of information. We have settled for intake instead of output because it makes us feel like we are involved in creation and production without actually doing any of the hard work.
Creativity literature — all those books, seminars, conferences, blogs, and TED talks — should be viewed like fuel for a car. If you are heading a road trip, getting from point A to point B, you need fuel. But it’s driving that gets you there. Gas up the car and nothing happens; turn the key ignition and hit the highway, then you’re going places. Somewhere along the line we confused filling up the car for actually traveling.
And like fueling, consumption of creativity literature should be a tiny portion of how we invest time and effort. It has value. It does provide inspiration and motivation. It stocks with ideas and gives us what we need to do the work, the driving. But without hitting the gas nothing is ever actually produced. Our ration of consumption to production should be 1/5 or 1maybe even 1/20. For every TED talk you watch or hour you spend reading David Allen or Seth Godin you should produce 5 blog posts or spend 20 hours on that project, be it a work of art or a business proposal.
If you want to be more creative or productive nothing will improve you faster than work. And consumption isn’t work. More often than not, it’s a sorry, rationalized excuse for “creative activity.” You know what inspiration and motivation that aren’t put into action are? Nothing, they are nothing, just noise and a stimulating mental massage to convince you that you are doing something worthwhile. All that fuel in your tank is nothing but latent energy until you fire up your engine and drive. That’s when creativity and productivity actually happen.