James Clear

James Clear quotes on creativity

Author of the #1 NYT bestseller Atomic Habits. I write about building better habits.

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The 3 Levels of Employees: Level 1 — You do what you are asked to do. Level 2 — Level 1 + You think ahead and solve problems before they happen. Level 3 — Level 2 + You proactively look for areas of opportunity and growth in the business, and figure out how to tap into them.


Don’t write to sound smart. Write to be useful. If you’re useful over a long time period, you will end up looking smart anyway.


How to see opportunities others miss: 1) Study a totally different field, then return to the original problem. Apply insights from other domains. 2) Invert the problem. Try to achieve the opposite. 3) Find ways to engage with hyper-creative people. Their thinking will rub off.


Boredom is a filter. Common ideas come before it. Uncommon ideas come after it. Sit with a project long enough to get bored with it, then sit a little more. The most useful insights bubble up after you get bored.


For years, I would force myself to write at least 25 possible titles for each article. Almost without fail, the best ideas came later in the list. The lesson: Don’t stop early. Ideas that are easy to think of are obvious. The good ideas come after the obvious ones are gone.


Innovators are T-shaped. They are experts in a narrow field. But they also have a big intellectual toolbox, which offers new entry points and lines of attack for solving problems. Read widely. As the saying goes, "Know something about everything and everything about something."


Creative ideas happen when you stop thinking about what others will think.


One form of innovation is originality. Another form is synthesis. People often focus so much on being original that they overlook the value of synthesizing ideas from different sources. There's a lot of value in connecting previously unconnected ideas.


The best work resists compression. The best explanations are short, but potent. The best software delivers the same outcome in fewer clicks. The best manufacturing processes create products in less time and with less waste. The shape of genius is simplicity.


Giving your best effort does not mean simply working harder at what you were already doing. It can mean that, but it often means searching harder for a better way to do things. Giving your best effort involves execution and strategy.


As a general rule: Broad ideas influence more people. Specific ideas influence people more.


Theory: Creative thoughts often arise during “mindless” tasks like showering or walking because the low level activity occupies the mind enough to prevent rumination. Your imagination is unlocked.


When you copy best practices, you also copy unseen errors.


Conversation is usually a first draft of your thoughts. If true, we should be more gracious with people in conversation. In writing, we actively encourage people to ignore quality and explore ideas in the first draft. In conversation, if people make one misstep, we blast them.


Step 1: Life is a series of games. Carefully choose which games you want to play. Step 2: Each game has a set of rules. Develop a deep understanding of them. Step 3: Master a niche within the rules. Play to your strengths. Step 4: Step outside the rules. Create your own game.


All information is “new” the first time you hear it. When you come across an idea and think, “Isn’t that obvious?”... it just means you learned it earlier in life. The curse of knowledge is that you underestimate how powerful “obvious” ideas can be to anyone for whom it is new.


Skin in the game works best with a margin of safety. Skin in the game without a safety net = survival mode. With no margin for error, you must avoid the downside. Skin in the game plus a safety net = creative mode. With daily needs covered, you can work to capture the upside.


I've never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment. It's hard to resist the pull of what engulfs us. Thankfully, you don't have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it. Design carefully.


Each day creates surface area for new opportunities. The longer you live, the more ideas, people, and options you encounter. Without active pruning, the natural path of any to-do list is to grow. As a result, a key skill in life is deciding what shouldn’t be done.


Intelligence is interdependent. No single person can build a smartphone from scratch. Together we make them every day. The great multiplier of intelligence is cooperation. The collective brain of humanity vaults us to the top of the animal kingdom, not individual smarts.


Every creative project starts as an imitation. You begin by mapping what you already know or have previously seen onto the situation. But if you iterate and recombine enough, it becomes an original.


The most creative ideas come from people who have nothing to lose. As soon as you have something to lose, you limit your ideas to those that don’t threaten what you already have. You start protecting rather than creating.


The result of creativity and innovation is new ideas, but the cause of creativity and innovation is more ideas. The person with a bigger intellectual toolbox has more entry points and additional lines of attack to solve problems. Read widely. Explore broadly. Then apply.


Optionality increases freedom, but decreases focus. When you have options, you can more easily switch to an alternative when things get difficult. This is optimal in matters of money, but suboptimal in matters of creativity. Be diversified financially, but “all in” creatively.


No single act will uncover more creative genius than forcing yourself to create consistently. You have to show up before inspiration will.


Every creator has a choice: You can either be judged because you created something or ignored because you left your greatness inside of you.


From Chapter 3 of Atomic Habits: “Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it. It’s only by making the fundamentals of life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity.”


The responsibility of any creator is to do the work, not judge it. Your job is to fall in love with the process, not grade the outcome.


Create something. Most people buy the life that others created for them. Build something beautiful instead of accepting something average.


Always question your best ideas. Great thinkers, icons, and innovators think forward and backward. They drive their brain in reverse.


If there is one "thinking tool" everyone should have in their mental toolbox it is First Principles Thinking. It is the backbone of creativity and innovation, and a surefire way to think for yourself.


Even people of considerable talent rarely produce incredible work without decades of practice.


You can train yourself to become smarter. One of the best ways to do that is to expand the set of mental models you use to think.

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