Igniting and Sustaining Creativity
Perry Carpenter: Hi. I'm Perry Carpenter. And you're listening to "8th Layer Insights." OK. So go with me on this. Take your memory back to a time when you were making something, when you were creating something, and it just felt like everything was going right. Maybe this was something that you were doing as a hobby, like painting or a woodworking project. Or maybe it was something that you were doing for your job, like designing a PowerPoint presentation or writing a document. And now recall that feeling of almost effortless creation. You probably approached that canvas or the block of wood or your computer with a sense of excitement and anticipation. You knew that you were about to be able to express yourself in a unique way, to give life to an idea, to put a little spark of yourself out into the world that would persist past that initial moment of creation. And that moment was life-giving to you. OK. That part of the experiment felt pretty good.
Perry Carpenter: But now remember a time when you had to create something but you just couldn't seem to find your way into it. You couldn't get started. And instead, of that anticipation, you approached the canvas with dread. That block of wood seemed unyielding. Your computer cursor sat there, unmoving yet slowly blinking, blinking and mocking you, seeming to tell you over and over again that you don't have it, whatever it is, in you today. This topic of creativity is really interesting to me. Right now, I'm in the middle of several projects, including a book project and this podcast. And each of these projects requires me to find or maybe manufacture whatever it is, that creative spark that allows us to capture ideas and then express those ideas in interesting ways. So that's what today's episode is all about. It's about creativity. And to help us tackle this topic, we'll be hearing from four people who have made creating new things, interesting things, their life's work. We'll hear from Jack Rhysider, Faith McQuinn, Tom Buck and Sam Qurashi. Let's dive in.
Jack Rhysider: So I love podcasts. And I was trying to find cybersecurity, hacker stories. Like, most of the podcasts are either news or interview-based. And none of them are actually, like, stories where you sit down with somebody and hear that time where they got hit with ransomware. Or they got arrested for DDoSing somebody.
Faith Mcquinn: For stories, it's just random things come to mind. I'm very character-based. I like figuring out a person and then putting that person in a situation to find a story.
Jack Rhysider: These existed. I know they did because I was going to security conferences and hearing them. And it was like, OK, where's the podcast with this because there's high drama in some of these stories.
Tom Buck: I started as an English teacher and had the chance to become a digital media teacher. And it was amazing. But the problem was that I realized I wasn't making anything for myself.
Sam Qurashi: If I need to get something out and I don't know what it's going to be, I will step into the hypothetical and ask myself, well, if there is something that I can bring out now, what would it be?
Faith Mcquinn: I'm always trying to come up with people that I want to tell stories about. So it's always that kind of thing.
Sam Qurashi: And what that does is it detaches me. And this is where detachment can be valuable.
Tom Buck: Everything I had been making was, like, either helping students with their projects. Or it was, like, almost, like, corporate-type videos for school districts and things and educational institutions, which were fun technical challenges, but not exactly creatively fulfilling.
Sam Qurashi: I'm detaching myself from the fear of the consequence. So I'm like, hypothetically, there are no consequences here. There is no commitments here. What if, hypothetically - let's imagine the possibility here of what I could come up with. What would it be?
Faith Mcquinn: What is the subject matter? And what is the most exciting way that I can cover that subject matter?
Sam Qurashi: And then it becomes a playful journey rather than a must.
Tom Buck: In 2017, I decided, I'm going to start a YouTube channel for myself. I been wanting to do this for years. I'm going to do it. It kept kind of growing and growing and growing. So I decided in March of 2021 to take that leap, and it's been awesome. That's how I went from public school teacher to full-time YouTuber/content creator.
Faith Mcquinn: I said, hey, I could probably turn some of my stories into podcasts. So that's how it all started around 2017. And now I have three shows.
Jack Rhysider: That's what I wanted. And I couldn't find it. And I said, OK, maybe I can do it myself.
Perry Carpenter: On today's show, we talk about creativity, what it is, what it looks like and what to do when you feel stuck. Welcome to "8th Layer Insights." This podcast is a multidisciplinary exploration into the complexities of human nature and how those complexities impact everything from why we think the things that we think to why we do the things that we do, and how we can all make better decisions every day. This is the "8th Layer Insights," Season 2, Episode 1. I'm Perry Carpenter. We'll be right back after this message. Welcome to Season 2 of 8th Layer Insights. I recorded the last episode of Season 1 back in September, and it's December now. So to be honest, I've actually been a little bit nervous about hitting the record button. Each one of these episodes that I do is a little bit like a mini journey for me, personally. I'm always learning something new or trying to figure out how to up-level my editing skills or to incorporate storytelling more effectively. It's always about trying to improve and make each new thing something unique and hopefully a little bit better than before.
Perry Carpenter: So after taking a couple of months off and working through the planning and the administration stuff for Season 2, I got ready to outline this episode and just kept staring at a blank computer screen, watching the cursor blink over and over and over. And I thought how ironic it was that I'm having writer's block on an episode about fueling creativity. So I guess it's good that we'll be exploring some ways of getting unstuck as part of today's show.
Perry Carpenter: And then there's also - Carl. Carl, what are you - oh, you won't believe this. Carl - that's my sound engineer - he's in the sound booth, not wearing headphones. He's just leaning back in his chair with his feet up on his desk and his eyes closed. Carl. You see, he can't hear me. Hold on.
Perry Carpenter: Carl, what are you doing now?
Perry Carpenter: A text. It says, sorry, dot, dot dot, can't hear you. Booth is soundproof.
Perry Carpenter: So put on your headphones.
Perry Carpenter: Still can't hear you. Like I said, soundproof.
Perry Carpenter: Jeez. What are you doing? We are supposed to be recording an episode. Frowny face.
Perry Carpenter: What's this? OK, Carl sent me a link. This is to an article about Henry Ford. So I'm summarizing some of this here. It says there's a story about Henry Ford where he was once giving a tour of his factory to some consultants and other executives, and there was a man just sitting there with his feet up on the desk. OK, sounds like Carl. Some people were frustrated, and they expressed that frustration to Henry Ford. It goes on to say, Henry Ford's reaction to a consultant who questioned this about why he paid - and this is way back in the 1930s - why he paid $50,000 a year to someone who spent most of his time with his feet up on his desk, Henry Ford said, because a few years ago, that man came up with something that saved me $2 million. And when he had that idea, his feet were exactly where they are right now.
Perry Carpenter: OK, another text. The moral of the story is that creativity can strike at any point. You just have to be ready for it.
Perry Carpenter: So you are there trying to think of great ideas for the episode, question mark?
Perry Carpenter: Yeppers (ph).
Perry Carpenter: What even does yeppers mean? OK, put on your headphones for a second.
Perry Carpenter: Yes, really.
Perry Carpenter: OK, finally. Looks like he's putting his headphones on. Might be about to - hey, Carl. Now that you can hear me, listen to my voice. Thanks for the lesson about Henry Ford, but it's time for us to start the show, capeesh (ph)?
Perry Carpenter: I don't even know what that set of emojis means, but it looks like everything's on track now.
Perry Carpenter: OK, now that Carl is ready, I think it's time to hear from today's guests. We'll start with Jack Rhysider.
Jack Rhysider: My name's Jack Rhysider, and I'm the host of the podcast "Darknet Diaries."
Perry Carpenter: If you listen to security podcasts, you probably recognize that voice. Over the past few years, Jack's podcast "Darknet Diaries" has gained an incredible following, with millions of downloads each month.
Perry Carpenter: I understand your background in security and in network architecture and all of the Cisco stuff that you did. But what made you decide to take on something like audio journalism or podcasting?
Jack Rhysider: This is a show I wanted to hear myself, right? So I love podcasts, and I was trying to find cybersecurity hacker stories. Like, most of the podcasts are either news- or interview-based, and none of them are actually, like, stories where you sit down with somebody and hear that time where they got hit with ransomware or they got arrested for DDoSing somebody or something even bigger than that. So these existed. I know they did because I was going to security conferences and hearing them. And I was like, OK, where's the podcast with this? Because there's high drama in some of these stories. So I think it's just - I was - that's what I wanted, and I couldn't find it. And I said, OK, maybe I can do it myself.
Perry Carpenter: I'd love to get an idea of your creative journey. I guess at the heart of that question is really that every creator experiences growth, right? We all learn more. And we figure out what works and what doesn't. And we adapt some. And so I really wonder, from your perspective, how has the show changed over the years?
Jack Rhysider: Yeah. I struggled finding my voice at the beginning. I really wanted the tone to be like "Mr. Robot," where you have this narrator, you know, Rami Malek, talking, you know, narrating it. And it's very deadpan. It's very insomniac kind of voice. And so I tried that at first by, like, actually staying up until 4 a.m...
Perry Carpenter: (Laughter).
Jack Rhysider: ...Trying to be really tired and then recording. And, yeah, that was really hard to pull off. So I didn't quite get that. It wasn't the voice I wanted. So I started out with, like, this idea. And it just wasn't even going right to begin with. And my writing wasn't that good, you know? I was like, oh, it could be so beautiful floral if I do it right and poetic. But I just wasn't able to do that with doing all the other things. So yeah, at first, I was just putting all the pieces together and hoping for the best. And it was OK. But since then, I've kind of found my voice. And I've learned more of what people like. And, you know, it's getting a good cadence on how to keep this thing going because it is quite a lot to put out every two weeks, a new episode. So yeah, I think it does sound a lot different than the first few episodes. So it was just getting it out there and going.
Perry Carpenter: Yeah. So do you have a background - I mean, outside of your IT background, had you ever done anything with audio or journalism before?
Jack Rhysider: I took, like, an elective in high school on radio.
Perry Carpenter: (Laughter).
Jack Rhysider: I don't know how much that played into it. So I just dabbled in making, like, a couple explainer videos on YouTube. So I had a microphone. I didn't go out and buy anything to get started. That part of it is kind of new, especially journalism. Like, looking up and trying to find answers to things was new. That was something I knew I needed to learn a lot about at the beginning was, how do you do journalism? But it kind of came back to me as just the idea of each episode is just kind of like a lecture I'd give at work, right? So I'd go. And I'd say, OK, well - I'd give these talks at work sometimes. They would call them lunch-and-learns, where I'm just sharing my knowledge with the rest of the team. But to do that, I needed to go and say, wait a minute, why do we do it this way? And why do we make these settings like this and all this stuff? So you really have to know your stuff. You're going back into the manuals. You're going to the documentation. But instead of that, I'm going to news sources or watching video clips to get to know exactly why this happened. So yeah, to me it's just an accumulation of all the things that I knew before and gave it a shot.
Perry Carpenter: I'm new to the podcasting world, and so everything is still a bit of a mystery to me. And I love hearing about other people's journeys, what motivates them, how they got their start, what their process is and what lessons they've learned along the way.
Faith Mcquinn: My day job is as a video editor and writer. But my full-time hobby is filmmaking and writing and producing audio dramas.
Perry Carpenter: That's the voice of Faith McQuinn. Faith is a well-known podcast creator and storyteller. And quick disclosure - Faith's day job is working in the content creation team for KnowBe4, which is also my employer and a sponsor of the show. OK, disclosure over.
Faith Mcquinn: I've been a filmmaker for 20-some-odd years now. And for people who don't know, filmmaking is expensive. And (laughter) some of the stories I wanted to tell are things that either I didn't want to sell, like, you know, pitch to producers or something because I want to keep it and make it myself. And also, the production cost is just too high. So my mom was really big into radio dramas when she was a kid and introduced me to them. And I realized that there's still a market for it with podcasting. So I said, hey, I could probably turn some of my stories into podcasts. So that's how it all started. Around 2017, I started doing it. And now I have three shows. Two of them are complete and one of them is starting. And it's been a wild ride but really fun.
Perry Carpenter: So walk me through your creative process. So somebody who is a filmmaker that's now trying to translate all of this into an audio format, I guess there's two questions. One is how do you come up with your original seed idea? And then how do you transition something that would ultimately, you know, in your first iteration be a picture, how do you translate that to an audio experience?
Faith Mcquinn: Well, I'd say I was - production wise, I kind of felt like I was a little ahead of the curve because I basically produced "Boom," which was my first series, like I would a film. I had the same kind of crew. And the only thing I didn't have was, you know, the cinematography team (laughter). So I went about it the same way. We did casting the same way. We had rehearsals. And we went through it that way. "Boom" was originally a short film that I wrote in college. And I had one of my teachers tell me it was too much story for a short film. So I was expanding it into a feature. And that's when I realized it just cost too much to make and started exploring other ways to do it. And so my feature film became a four-season audio drama. And it was really fun to, like, really get to live with the characters and expand them because I had the room to tell more story than I would in a feature film. So it was really just a matter of trying to figure out how to make the sound story work without picture. And my first time, I had a narrator because I just couldn't figure it out yet. But my subsequent shows don't have a narrator because I've gotten very used to telling stories through sound.
Perry Carpenter: In the writing world, they always say, show, don't tell. So how do you translate that into the audio world? Because before you did cover that with a narrator, you told - because you couldn't figure out how to show that audibly. How are you...
Faith Mcquinn: Right.
Perry Carpenter: ...Creating the sound design in such a way that you're not doing dialogue exposition that's describing something that would be obvious that nobody would ever describe?
Faith Mcquinn: So I have gotten much, much better at descriptive dialogue, so I can pretty much slide some descriptions into dialogue that I wouldn't normally do. But I've started to trust an audience more and figuring out like, oh, someone's getting up from a chair. Instead of explaining that they're getting up and walking across the room, I'm going to trust that if I have those sounds in there, of someone standing up and walking, that someone will get the idea of what's happening in the scene. So it was just a matter of me starting to trust people more.
Faith Mcquinn: But also, me and my sound designer are very meticulous about sounds. Like, we'll go out and find the exact right sound. When "Boom" took place in Nashville, we recorded environmental sounds in Nashville. So we'd be very particular about the city we're in and what parts of the city we're in so you would know where you are. And we probably recorded - I'm not kidding - 2 to 4 hours' worth of footsteps (laughter)...
Perry Carpenter: Wow.
Faith Mcquinn: ...Just people walking everywhere. 'Cause that's one thing I tell audio drama people who are getting started. I was like, you will never understand how many different footstep sounds you need because people walk on carpet, they walk on gravel, they walk on leaves and then they walk with boots on or heels on or barefoot. It's - yeah. It was a lot to really just play with the sounds.
Jack Rhysider: I do think there is something like lightning in a bottle kind of experience here. There's something about my writing, I think, that really works. Because I worked with a lot of writers, and the way they put it together is nothing like what I would have. And the way they put it together is not what I was looking for when I wanted this show to be, right? It's more newsy. It's more cold. It's more, you know, reading things that just don't come off the tongue very well. And so I really have to put it into a proper storytelling format.
Jack Rhysider: But not just that, but it's also for the ear, right? So you're not able to see numbers when I'm telling you. So I don't want to just rattle off a whole bunch of numbers because as you're listening to that, you don't remember any of these numbers. So you have to really shorten up the sentences and do things for the ear.
Jack Rhysider: But not only that, I need to know a lot about tech because that's what I'm covering. We're getting into specifics on hacks and things like that. That's kind of hard to digest and understand, but I have a rich background. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, and I have 10 years' experience as a security engineer, so I can handle all of that. And I think the last thing is, like, journalism - right? - and researching and background checks and fact-checking and all these kind of things to confirm that this story is as accurate as it is.
Perry Carpenter: And so with both Jack and Faith, we see something interesting. They both set out to fulfill this need within themselves. They had a drive. And they both accepted that things didn't have to be exactly perfect right away. They didn't allow this idea of perfection to paralyze them into not creating something. They decided to make the thing that they wanted to see out in the world. They'd just got started, and they dedicated themselves to improving, to solving for those areas where they weren't as strong.
Perry Carpenter: And now, let's hear from another creator.
Tom Buck: So I've had a lifelong interest in audio and video production and media production, all that stuff, just forever, as long as I can remember.
Perry Carpenter: That's Tom Buck. Tom is a former schoolteacher turned full-time YouTuber and content creator.
Tom Buck: I started as an English teacher and then had the chance to become a digital media teacher, and it was amazing. But the problem was that I realized I wasn't making anything for myself. And so finally, in 2017, I decided I'm going to start a YouTube channel for myself. I've been wanting to do this for years. I've been putting it off. I'm going to do it.
Perry Carpenter: When I first found Tom's channel on YouTube, he was still working full-time as a school teacher and was making YouTube videos as a hobby.
Tom Buck: I did that as a creative endeavor that was supposed to be totally separate from work. And then, of course, even though the channel never merged with work, the channel helped me become a better teacher because it gave me a perspective on how new media is working and sort of the world that my students were coming from and what it was like when they were actually trying to create stuff versus the more traditional methods that I had learned when it comes to video and film production, which apparently were - a lot of them just a bit out of date. It became a great creative project. It helped me become a better media teacher.
Tom Buck: And I like the channel so much, I just kept doing it. And after about a year, it started organically generating some revenue, which is not something I intended for it to do at all when it first started. And that was great. And then it kept kind of growing and growing and growing.
Perry Carpenter: Then the pandemic happened. And it seems like that was an inflection point. And just as a point of reference, when I first found Tom's channel, he had just over 20,000 subscribers. And now, he recently crossed the 82,000 mark. And his channel doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon.
Tom Buck: The pandemic hit. And at the same time, the channel was growing to a point where it was starting to meet and exceed the income that I was making from my teaching job. And so it seemed like that was a real possibility to then make that leap. And ultimately, what it came down to was I knew that if all else fails, I can get another teaching job. There's a teacher shortage, so if I want to get a teaching job, I can probably do that. But having this unique, perfect storm of opportunity where I could take this thing that I started on my own terms, it's my own personal thing, and turn that into my full-time job on my own terms, where I'm in charge of all of my time - I felt like if I didn't do that, I would regret it forever. And I know you can't fix regret, so I decided in March of 2021 to take that leap.
Tom Buck: And now it's been, at the time we're recording this, about 7, 8 months. And I'm so glad that I did. And it's been awesome. So that's how I went from public school teacher to full-time YouTuber/content creator.
Perry Carpenter: It seems that one of the biggest components to creativity and to sustaining creativity is this thing that we call curiosity. When we are curious about something, our mind is hungry. It hungers for new information, and it wants to express that curiosity by trying things out. When we are curious, we become much more invested in the journey of creation.
Jack Rhysider: There's always a - like, a string that I follow, right? So I don't like the idea of somebody telling me out of the blue, oh, yeah, and I used the app on my cellphone to track the person. I'd be like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait. Go back. Where is this app on your cellphone? We have to go back and explain this, right? So I really need to know, what is your cellphone like? What kind of apps are on it - right? - all these things before we can get to that point where I know that you used this specific app. And that's a bad example, right?
Jack Rhysider: But maybe a better example would be like, oh, I had a criminal history or something like that. OK, well, let's go back and hear about your criminal history. I didn't know you were arrested before. I thought this was the first time you were arrested, right?
Perry Carpenter: Yeah.
Jack Rhysider: So this string - I need to know, if I'm going from point A to B, what's that in-between?
Tom Buck: The reason that my channel is about audio and video tech is because that's the thing that I've always been interested in. I've never gotten tired of it. So there's always something interesting. There's always something to learn, something to share, something to talk about. And fortunately, it seems like there's a decent number of other people who are interested in it.
Tom Buck: So when it comes to things to talk about, for the most part, it's just whatever I happen to be interested in. When they came out, I got the new MacBook Pro 'cause I've been waiting, like, all year for a new, upgraded MacBook. And I was so excited about that that I made a video about it right away and just put that out on, like, the Tuesday that I got it. So that is a more timely thing, but that was also just based on, I'm just really excited about this thing, and I want to share it because other people are probably curious or excited, too. So the core is just whatever I'm interested in.
Faith Mcquinn: For stories, it's just random things come to mind. I like figuring out a person and then putting that person in a situation to find a story. I'm always trying to come up with people that I want to tell stories about, so it's always that kind of thing.
Faith Mcquinn: At work, it's a whole bunch of, what is the subject matter that we need to cover, and what is the most exciting way that I can cover that subject matter? In fact, I was thinking about it today - maybe do a clean desk video. Can I make it where it's a desk? And can we have like, it's just a desk, and it's an interactive video so you can push into different parts of the desk and learn why you shouldn't have these things on your desk?
Faith Mcquinn: So I guess with work, it's mostly just one idea, and what can I do with the idea? And when I'm writing, it's like this one human, and what can I do with that person?
Perry Carpenter: We'll be right back after the break.
Perry Carpenter: Welcome back. OK. So we've seen how inspiration can strike and the way that it can change somebody's life to put them on a new path where they're expressing that creativity in a meaningful way that enriches their life, and we understand the value of curiosity.
Perry Carpenter: But what about when we're stuck, when those ideas don't seem to flow or, for whatever reason, it seems like we just can't get it in gear? What about when you're thinking about what you want or need to make and you just feel paralyzed? What then?
Perry Carpenter: To help us explore this, let's introduce another guest. This is Sam Qurashi.
Sam Qurashi: I moved from psychiatry to exploring the mind and exploring the experts who I'd like to call unorthodox psychologists, people that are experts in the mind in a way that expands our understanding of it, even though they're not really academics in psychology or psychiatry or neuroscience. But it was fascinating to explore that.
Perry Carpenter: The tagline you'll often see associated with Sam is the psychology of everything. Sam is a renaissance guy who's interested in how we, as humans, can constantly improve, how we can thrive, create, have better relationships and live great lives.
Sam Qurashi: I interviewed The Iceman. I spent time with the top pickpocket in the U.K. I learned from a samurai. I did sword fighting with him. And the list goes on and on and on. And it was such a fascinating experience.
Perry Carpenter: Sam's primary internet presence is on Instagram, where he has over 700,000 followers.
Sam Qurashi: As I continued, I stepped into Instagram, which was an accident. And this whole experience allowed me to understand the power of communication, verbal and nonverbal, in order to break down any psychological limitations that human beings have in their own minds. And it showed me the power of a single word, of a single quote, of 60 seconds of a linguistic segment and what that does and how that can interrupt things and how can that help someone heal.
Perry Carpenter: I asked Sam to give us a little bit of perspective about how he views the world, the things that he likes to engage in and what drives him.
Sam Qurashi: I always wanted to explore the mind in a very unique way. And the mind to me is a big jigsaw puzzle. And every expert that I met was a jigsaw puzzle piece. And basically, what allowed the psychology of everything to emerge was I was with the top cold reader in the world, and I spent about seven days with him. And he noticed - he was like, you look for the psychology in everything. And that kind of allowed me to think of it. I'm like, yeah, that's true. I basically explore the psychology of everything. And that's where that was born. But it goes a bit deeper than that.
Sam Qurashi: A lot of people focus on the mind in certain ways, in a specific way. They approach it from one angle. And the way I look at things - and this is what I started to adopt and develop after I left psychiatry - is that if you approach things from different perspectives, you will come up with something very unique or discover something unique. So an example or a metaphor I like to use is imagine that you're a physicist and a leaf falls from a tree. You're going to look at that leaf as it falls from a physicist's standpoint. You're going to look at the acceleration, airflow resistance and so forth, gravity. If you were a chemist, you would look at it from a chemist standpoint - the biochemical reaction that led to the breaking of the leaf, the biochemical reaction when the leaf touches the soil and so forth. If you're an artist, you'd look at the elegant dance, the lighting, the shade, the color.
Sam Qurashi: And the question I had is, how would you look at that leaf if you were a physicist, a chemist and an artist at the same time? You would look at that leaf through three different perspectives. You may be able to see something no one else can see, come up with a connection no one else has made and maybe solve a problem no one else has solved. That, to me, is exciting because I support generalism more than being a specialist. I think we have too many specialists in the world, and I think generalism allows us to have that lens to see things from multiple angles simultaneously instead of being fixated and limited by one angle. And so I wanted to approach the mind in that way.
Perry Carpenter: I think that something about creativity comes down to motivation and opportunity. When investigators are investigating a crime, one of the key things that they do is they try to narrow down their list of suspects by understanding which of those suspects had both the motivation to commit the crime and the opportunity to commit the crime. I think creative expression is similar. In order to create something, we have to have the motivation to do it. And that could be curiosity or inspiration or drive or even just being assigned a task. And you also have to have the opportunity. And that could be the time to create the necessary tools or the mental energy that it takes to create.
Tom Buck: I started noticing pretty early on that a lot of the people who were watching my stuff were people who are also actively making things. And I guess that's kind of where I fit in was solving problems or pain points in their workflow, which is great. As a content creator, you can see all these people and you can see, hey, they're all struggling with this one thing. That would probably a great idea to, like, make a video about how to handle that one thing. So it's - on a basic level, it is actually a very helpful thing for video ideas, but it's also very motivating and inspiring on a creative level because I've always felt like if you were to shadow someone and watch their workflow, it doesn't matter if you've been doing this for 20 years and they've been doing it for six months. If you sat down and watched how they did everything and just observed, you'd probably learn something because they're going to have their own spin, their own take on it. And that's what I found by watching other people create stuff is there's so much that you can learn from other people who are trying to solve very similar problems to what you're solving. And to me, that's fascinating. And then you can cherry-pick all these ideas and smash them together into something, and that's really invigorating.
Jack Rhysider: If you have that Google box that says what do you want to look up today, that can be intimidating. Like, you know, what do I type here? I don't know what to type. Like, we're kind of used to Google, right? It's easy to ask Google questions. But when you have, like, a new tool, like, you know, a log searching tool and you can search for any log you want in the whole network and there's just this empty box that says what do you want to find? And you're just like, I don't know what I want to look for, and it's intimidating. And the same thing with the command line. You're like, I don't know what commands I'm allowed to type and I don't know what's here. And it's - and there's something that we can talk about there, which is, like, getting over that - I don't know - fear of, like, knowing what to do. It's just kind of this blank, empty box and you're like, what do I put in it? And I don't know. And there's something about getting over that as well.
Sam Qurashi: The most important thing to allow you to learn something and master it is the ability to accept unconditionally the temporary incompetence. A lot of people will resist the temporary incompetence of anything they choose to learn. A lot of people do that, and that's one of the reasons that hinders the progress, prevents it, gets people to quit and maybe even gets people to stop or it slows down their progress. They may still continue, but it really slows it down because they're constantly going against the resistance of the temporary incompetence.
Sam Qurashi: If you're approaching something for the first time, you will be temporarily incompetent, and that's OK. And a lot of people tend to want to do things properly or well the first time. They're trying to avoid the very thing they need, which is mistakes, to learn. This ties into something that I think is really important as well. There are two schools in terms of learning that I've come across from everyone. Especially in Japan, it was interesting. A training geisha, one of the top Noh actors, was teaching me about Noh acting, which is interesting - N-O-H - which is very, very interesting. And the tea master, the samurai, the ninja in the woods, they approached learning slightly differently. But everybody I've learned from adopts one of two schools for learning. When you do something, you don't interrupt. Even if you make a mistake, you don't interrupt yourself because you can always go back to iron out that wrinkle. Don't stop when you're doing something. Complete it, and then go back and do it again. But don't interrupt it.
Sam Qurashi: On the other hand, there's another school for learning. If you make a mistake, stop and go back because you don't want to teach your muscles to do something incorrectly. What's interesting to me is both schools are valuable. And they're correct in their own way. And what this ties into is that a lot of people in the world, they look at things from their perspective. And when they look at it from their perspective, the other perspective needs to be wrong. There's this beautiful shape that I've seen recently where, on one side, they're seeing a circle. The other side, they're seeing a square. And both of them, you know, that's true to them, to each of them. But what is the truth? And the truth is usually the middle ground, when you take a step back and see both sides because there is truth on both sides. And the problem here is whenever you focus on an extreme or live in an extreme, you are limited.
Perry Carpenter: I think the important lesson in all of this is that we need ways to break free from feeling frozen. We have to accept the fact that if we are learning something new, we will have this period of temporary incompetence. We'll have this time when we largely learn by trying and then evaluating when things aren't quite right and then adjusting. And here's the secret - even masters of a skill do the same thing. They continue to improve and evolve by understanding that they won't always achieve perfection. So as much as possible, we need to step away from the fear of failure and move into the process of continuous creation. But how can you make sure that you're ready? How can you make sure that you have enough ideas and that your well of creative ideas never dries up and that you stay motivated?
Tom Buck: If you're working with people who are at points where they're starting to level up - you know, like, maybe they've made their first few videos or maybe they're hitting a big milestone or, you know, they've learned something about their gear, they're really excited about that. And that excitement is totally contagious. And then you get excited about it. And then, you know - there have been so many times my wife will go do a livestream or something on her channel and I watch it and it just looks like fun. And then I'm like, you know, I'm going to go do a livestream when you're done today...
Tom Buck: ...Because it just looks like fun. And I want to do it, too. And that kind of - I think that energy bounces around and really helps a group of people to be creative together.
Faith Mcquinn: I have trouble writing broadly. Like, I know that the process should be - and I do, I outline. I outline my stories before I sit down to write them. So I know where my broad strokes are. But when I'm trying to get into the minutia of it, I get stuck a lot on, well, I need this point to happen. But how do I get to that point? And does it make sense? And then I will go days and days of trying to make this one page or these two sentences make sense. And I get stuck in small details a lot, which is something I'm still trying to figure out how to work past.
Perry Carpenter: So what has worked for you to get past that before? Or do you just finally kind of hit the point where things click, and then you move on?
Faith Mcquinn: Yeah, pretty much. I have not figured out how to get past without just pushing through. And sometimes, I'll, like, put it aside and work on something else. Like, I've done that where I'm like, I can't just - I can't do that right now, so I'll do a free write or work on a different project or something. So my creative brain is still working. It's just not trying to process that thing and then I can come back to it.
Sam Qurashi: The unconscious mind is constantly giving you gifts. It's important to embrace and to thank the person who gives you gifts. If I kept on giving you gifts and you kept on thanking me and using it, would I want to give you more? Of course because you're reciprocating and you're acknowledging what I'm doing. If I give you gifts and you stop, you don't thank me, you stop thanking me, you stop using it, what's the point of giving you gifts in the first place? Why would I continue? That's what the unconscious mind does, and that's how I look at the unconscious mind. And that's why I never have writer's block because whenever an idea comes to mind that I believe is valuable, I immediately write it down. I immediately capture my ideas in audio format or write it down. And what ends up happening is the more I do that, the more ideas I get because the unconscious mind is so happy in a way with what I'm doing, so it wants to give me more. I'm no longer censoring what it gives me. I'm giving the mind permission to share as much as it can, and it is an infinite resource of creativity. Capture your ideas as a thank-you. Even if you don't use it, just capture it. You will come up with more ideas.
Perry Carpenter: What about when you're thinking about what you want or need to make and you just feel paralyzed? Some of this goes back to motivation and opportunity. If you have opportunity, then find ways to ignite motivation. That's your goal. That could be reading or listening to podcasts or watching TED talks or really anything. Explore related areas of the thing that you need to make. And also look for non-intuitive connections between things. Another way to generate that creative spark is to lean into solitude and quiet. Stop filling your mind for a bit and just see if something interesting starts to bubble forth from your subconscious. There's a reason why so many people report having these amazing ideas come to them while they're taking a shower. Because for many of us, that's the one time during our day when we aren't actively putting something into our ears or watching something. It's the one time of the day when we aren't actively listening or reading or doing something that requires mental energy.
Perry Carpenter: There's a great article called "The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People." The main idea of that article is that for us to be open to creativity, we first have to have the capacity for the constructive use of solitude. We have to overcome our fear of being alone. And we see throughout history these great innovators that use solace as the way of generating ideas. And they would thrive on it; from Mozart to Einstein to Kafka and all the way to Nikola Tesla. In fact, here's a great quote from Tesla. He said, "the mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone. That is the secret of invention. Be alone. That is where ideas are born."
Tom Buck: What I have found is best is physical activity. So one of my favorite things to do is ride a bike. And I have found that if I don't know what to do, I can go on a bike ride for an hour or two, and once your body is in, like, just that physical motion - like, riding the bike, body's active and then the mind starts wandering. And that's where I can start coming up with ideas. I can start outlining stuff. I can start scripting things. And there's a lot of times where I'll come back from, like, a couple-hour bike ride and basically have an entire video laid out, outlined, kind of, like, rehearsed it a couple of times in my head. And then I can just jump in and go for it.
Tom Buck: I even - I set a thing on my watch where it's, like, the voice memo app. So if I have an idea while I'm riding - 'cause a lot of the intros, especially, of my videos have a lot of wordplay in them that needs to be in a very specific order to work. So I, like, hit the voice memo thing and then say it so I remember the order of it, and then I can come back and, like, write it out.
Perry Carpenter: Do you use anything else as you're out and about town just to capture ideas that are coming to you?
Tom Buck: I mean, like, the heart of my pre-production workflow is just the Notes app, like the Mac OS...
Perry Carpenter: Nice.
Tom Buck: ...Apple Notes app because it goes from phone, computer, iPad, everything. And no matter where I'm at, I can have an idea. I can add something there and then pull that up on any other device instantly. It's got little checkboxes. So that's really the heart of everything. Every time I have an idea, I just keep it there. And I have a Notes document that's, you know, different upcoming video ideas. So if I do run out of ideas and I can't think of what to do, I can just turn to that list and just pick one and go with it.
Faith Mcquinn: Like, if I'm at home, I'll write it down immediately. But if I'm in a place where I can't, I have sometimes been known to call my best friend and tell her because if I say it out loud to someone, I tend to remember it better. Also, she remembers, and she'll remind me later. She's like, did you write down that story you were talking about? (Laughter) So I sometimes do that, but, yeah, it's a matter of just me just trying to repeat it to myself until I get to a place where I could write it down.
Perry Carpenter: You know, I think that many of us fall into a trap. We fall into this trap of believing that creativity always has to be tied with some kind of grand inspiration. But here's what I found. And from what I've heard, many other creators say the same thing. There are those days when everything feels easy, when everything flows and it feels like your creative force is just effortless. And then there are the other days; the days when you dread getting started. If you're a writer, these are the days where you struggle to find every single word that you put on a page. And everyone has these days. They have these days when every little part of the creative process feels like pulling teeth.
Perry Carpenter: But here's the funny thing. When you let some time pass and you look back on what you made during those times - let's just call those your uninspired times - when you look back on what you made during those times and you compare that to the work that you made when everything felt super inspired, the quality is usually the same. You usually still get the same feeling looking at it or reading it, or however you consume that creative element that you put out into the world. And in retrospect, you may even forget the struggle.
Perry Carpenter: And I think that's super important to realize because what it means is that the process of creation doesn't have to feel like such a mystery to us. It doesn't have to feel like this unobtainable super state that only certain people can achieve at certain times. No. What that means is that we can all be creative at just about any time. It just seems to come down to doing the work.
Sam Qurashi: If I need to get something out and I don't know what it's going to be, I will step into the hypothetical and ask myself, well, if there is something that I can bring out now, what would it be? And what that does is it detaches me, and this is where detachment can be valuable. Detachment can be valuable here because I'm detaching myself from the fear of the consequence and from being in it.
Sam Qurashi: So I'm like, hypothetically, there are no consequences here. There is no commitment here. What if, hypothetically - let's imagine the possibility here of, you know, what I could come up with. What would it be? And then it becomes a playful journey, a playful brainstorming experience rather than a must. So there are no consequences. There is no need. There is no fear. There is no force. And it becomes a lot easier to approach it.
Jack Rhysider: I have been thinking about just kind of philosophical ways of how - like, one of the things I was thinking is, like, there's a lot of how-to videos on YouTube on how to do a lot of technical stuff. But that's just kind of the logic and the technical bits. I'm wondering, maybe I want to make something that's more thoughtful or emotional. Unlike when you go to buy a mouse, it's not about all the different options that there are. There's something emotional about it as well. There's the look and the feel and who else uses it. And there's something poetic behind building things and doing stuff technically that I don't think anybody's talking about that's just kind of the emotional side of it. And that's kind of making me curious to explore that a little bit.
Sam Qurashi: One of the things that stopped me from growing on Instagram for a very long time - and I was stuck for at least over a year at 6,000 before exploding - is I was very meticulous about the content. And I realized that if perfection is my prison, mediocrity is my escape. And I just decided to embrace mediocrity. And it's not about coming up with mediocre content, but being OK with mediocre. Because I'm such a perfectionist, my mediocrity may be someone else's perfection anyway. Because I'm so meticulous, it's hard for the content to be mediocre anyway. So let's just embrace what I consider to be mediocre, which I guarantee you is not going to be mediocre for a lot of people. And that suddenly freed me up from the restriction of wanting to create perfect content. And suddenly, I started creating a lot more. I spent less time because it took me longer to create perfect content.
Perry Carpenter: Well, it looks like we're about out of time for today's show. I'm going to give Faith McQuinn the last word, and then I'll be back to wrap up with some closing thoughts.
Faith Mcquinn: Setting aside time every day to be creative - even if it's sketching a picture or writing out ideas to use later - I just think it's very important to stay creative all of the time. And if it is a hobby, then it's a hobby. But if you want it to be part of your daily life and be work, you have to treat it as such. Give yourself 20 to 30 minutes every day to just stretch your creative mind. There's a great book by Stephen King called "On Writing," which I read almost every year 'cause it's one of the most beautiful books about creativity and writing, and I suggest it to everyone. It is such a great book.
Perry Carpenter: That brings us to the end of today's show. I hope you found the discussion both interesting and useful. One thing that stood out to me was how each of our guests found ways to lean into their curiosity. They also used their creativity in a way that helped to address some kind of issue that was going on. For Faith, it was that she found an outlet that could bring her stories to life that wasn't as costly and resource intensive as film. For Jack, it's that he really wanted to hear cybersecurity hacker stories that dug into the details, that didn't just stop at the headline, but told the full story in an immersive way. He wanted that podcast to exist, but it didn't. And so he realized that he needed to create it. For Tom, it was the desire to express his own ideas and passions for audio and video gear in a meaningful way, but also in a way that would help others. And for Sam, it's the desire to learn from people who have lived extraordinary lives or who have acquired extraordinary skills. He wanted ways to capture those insights and use them to help other people.
Perry Carpenter: For me, I wanted to create this podcast 'cause I kept waiting for someone to make something like "Freakonomics Radio" or "Radiolab" or "This American Life," but to do it in a way that looked at the intersection between cybersecurity and humanity. I kept looking for that show for a couple years, and I couldn't find it. So I figured I'd give it a go. Hopefully, you like it.
Perry Carpenter: And with that, thanks so much for listening, and thank you to my guests - Jack Rhysider, Faith McQuinn, Tom Buck and Sam Qurashi. I've loaded up the show notes with all the relevant links and references to everything we covered today, as well as links to where you can find out more about today's guests.
Perry Carpenter: If you've been enjoying "8th Layer Insights" and you want to know how you can help make the show successful, there are two big ways that you can do so, and both are super important. First, if you haven't yet, please go ahead and take just a couple seconds and head over to Apple Podcasts and rate and consider leaving a review. That helps others who stumble on this show have the confidence that this show is worth their most valuable resource - their time. The second big way you can help is by telling someone about the show. Word of mouth referrals are really the lifeblood of helping people find good podcasts. Oh - and also, if you haven't yet, go ahead and subscribe or follow wherever you like to get your podcasts. If you want to connect with me, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter or Clubhouse. I'd love to connect.
Perry Carpenter: This show was written, recorded, sound-designed and edited by me, Perry Carpenter, with additional research by Nyla Gennaoui. Thanks to Javad Malek (ph) for telling me the Henry Ford story. Episode artwork for "8th Layer Insights" is designed by Chris Machowski at ransomwear.net - that's W-E-A-R - and Mia Rune at miarune.com. The "8th Layer Insights" theme song was composed and performed by Marcus Moskette (ph). Until next time, I'm Perry Carpenter, signing off.