Srini Rao is the host and founder of the Unmistakable Creative Podcast, where he’s interviewed more than a thousand people ranging from bank robbers to billionaires. His guests have included Danielle Laporte, Glenn Beck, Tim Ferriss, Elle Luna, Seth Godin, and hundreds of others. He is also the author of the book, The Art of Being Unmistakable, which was a Wall Street Journal bestseller.
In today’s episode, we will discuss the impact zone, Srini’s journey, what creative habits are, how we develop them, and how we CREATE.
The Impact Zone
Surfing has been an instrumental part of Srini’s work. He discovered his passion for surfing after he had graduated from business school in 2009. He couldn’t find a job because the economy was in a tailspin. Surfing was a great hobby for him because it took a lot of time and it didn’t cost a lot of money.
The first book Srini wrote was organized with surfing metaphors. He said, “It’s full of life lessons; it’s a perfect metaphor for everything we deal with in life.” One of these metaphors is the impact zone. The impact zone is the area where the lip of a wave hits the flat water. Srini explained, “It’s ideally where you never want to end up, but it’s inevitably where you’re going to end up at some point or another. The only way not to end up there is not to get in the water.”
Srini compared this to life, saying, “If you’re going to do anything worth doing, inevitably you’re going to run into challenges. There are going to be parts of it that suck. There are going to be parts that are hard. There are going to be moments when you want to give up. There are going to be moments [when] you wonder why you’re bothering.”
This doesn’t mean we should give up. In order to surf, we have to face the impact zone. In order to do the things we want to in life, we have to face challenges. We can make it through these challenges and meet our goals.
Srini explained another metaphor. When someone is surfing they are either going left or right, they aren’t going straight. Part of what they’re doing is adjusting to what the wave is doing. “That’s kind of the way our lives are,” Srini said. “We constantly adjust to the circumstances of our lives in order to get to where we want to go because if we don’t, then we become victims to our circumstances.”
As mentioned, Srini graduated from business school with no job and no money. To pass the time, he surfed and he also started a blog to help him stand out in the job market. It took him a while to find his groove with the blogs; the first few he wrote didn’t turn out great.
Srini’s dad helped him enroll in a course called Blog Mastermind. One of the lessons taught a tactic for getting more traffic: interviewing someone. Instead of doing one interview, Srini started a weekly series on his blog called, “Interviews with Up-and-Coming Bloggers.” The post only had an .mp3 file and a few bullet points about the interview—his “minimum viable podcast”.
Srini didn’t intend to start a podcast after taking a class on blog writing, but that’s what happened, and over time they grew their audience and upgraded their equipment. He said, “One of the underlying messages of my work is to do the exact opposite of what other people do. . . . The problem with prescriptive advice in general is it doesn’t account for the one variable that actually makes that advice ineffective, and that’s the person following the advice.”
Srini explained that we can’t blindly follow Seth Godin’s advice because the first step to following his advice is to be Seth Godin. Srini followed his own path and found success in it. “Often it’s in those deviations from what’s expected where you start to get the most interesting results, interesting insights, and fascinating work. The tendency in the online world in particular, . . . is to look at what somebody does and say, ‘If I do what this person did, I will get the result that they did.’ That’s not true, because you’re not that person,” Srini said.
The context around which people give advice is largely overlooked. One strategy may work for one person but not another. We must sift through the advice to find what will work for us or forge a new path.
After about six months, the podcast started to get positive feedback. However, it took about four to five years to get to the point where Srini could make a career out of it. In the seventh year, Srini got his book deal, and shortly after he started getting speaking engagements. It often takes a long time for our business ventures to take off, but this shouldn’t discourage us.
What are creative habits?
A creative habit is something like writing or painting, any habit that takes creativity. Many people don’t think of themselves as creative people. Often they just aren’t in the habit of expressing their creativity.
If someone wants to be a good writer, they have to develop the habit of writing regularly. “Once something becomes a habit, then you start to get from habit to practice to mastery,” Srini said. There isn’t a magic potion that will make some a great artist; it takes practice. Natural talent can play a role, but someone who is naturally talented won’t be as good as someone who has creative habits and has spent thousands of hours working on them.
Why should we develop creative habits?
Often when people set goals, they focus on the goal and not the habit that leads to the goal. For example, if someone has a goal to write a book, they may focus too much on the goal of the finished book, instead of the habit that will get them there, writing consistently.
“Changing behavior actually leads to better results than setting goals. . . . When you change your behavior, your results will exceed your expectations,” Srini said.
Srini, like many bloggers, had a goal to get a book deal. However, he gave up on that goal and focused on the behavior that would accomplish that goal, writing. He got into the habit of writing 1,000 words every day.
“The results were far better than anything I thought they would ever be,” he said. He self-published a book that became a Wall Street Journal bestseller, and he got a book deal for two books instead of one from Portfolio Penguin, one of the best business publishers in the world.
“Behavior matters more than outcomes because behavior is what leads to the outcomes that you want,” Srini said. “That’s true whether we’re talking about creative habits or any other habit.”
How do we build creative habits?
To build creative habits, we need to start small. If I decide I’m going to start lifting weights, I can’t go to the gym and lift 100 pounds on the first day. I would need to build up to it. We need to do the same thing with our habits.
We need to make it sustainable by starting small enough that we can build up over time. How small exactly? Srini said, “So small that it’s impossible for you not to follow through.”
When Srini teaches people how to develop a writing habit, he tells them not to worry about writing. First, they should get in the habit of just sitting down at the desk to write. When they do that for as many days as they can, they can take the next step of opening their notebook or computer.
Eventually, inertia will kick in and they’ll think, “Well, I keep sitting down at this desk. I keep opening this notebook. I might as well write something in it.” They’ll start with a sentence, then a paragraph, then a page, then five pages, then a chapter.
A young comedian once asked Jerry Seinfeld how they could become great. He told them to put a calendar on their wall and write a joke every day, then don’t break the chain.
“It doesn’t matter how big [you start]. What matters is how consistent you are. You want to aim for consistency over intensity when it comes to habits of any kind. Once you get to a point of consistency, then you start to increase the intensity . . . and you get to a point where eventually that’s just second nature. The thing is it’s incremental, so you don’t see progress, Srini said. “You don’t want to measure your progress based on your outcomes. You want to measure your progress based on your actions.”
We also need to ask ourselves why we want to do this creative thing. If we don’t care that much about it, then we’re not going to be motivated to build the habit. Srini also explained that personality and genetics also play a role in motivation. Some people are naturally more motivated or were raised to be motivated.
Why should we think like an artist, not a marketer?
Thinking like an artist may seem contradictory to the structured way to build a habit, but we need a balance. When people think too much like marketers, they end up watering down their work, and they create stuff that caters to the lowest common denominator. We can optimize our social media posts to get as many eyes as possible, but, as author Austin Kleon has said, we’re after hearts not eyeballs.
“When you’re able to actually touch someone emotionally, they’re going to be much more passionate about your ideas,” Srini said. “The goal really should be: let me create something that resonates as deeply as possible, versus trying to reach as many people as possible.”
Business Insider reaches a lot of people, but how much of what they publish is memorable? Does it stick in our minds? On the other hand, Seth Godin has never had a blog post go viral, but he has a loyal audience that he has built trust with because he publishes things that resonate with them.
How do we become artists?
We can become artists by being more playful in our tactics. Ask, “How can I do this in a way that’s more interesting?” We should follow our instincts and do things in our way, but we can also get inspiration from others.
The quote, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” is often attributed to Pablo Picasso. Whether or not he said it, it holds true. However, this doesn’t mean we should actually steal things. Srini said, “You mix up other people’s ingredients to create your own recipes.”
CREATE stands for capture, reflect, express, amplify, tell, evolve. We start creating when we capture our ideas, writing them down whenever we have them. “Nobody has a shortage of ideas. They just lack the discipline to capture them. If you get in the habit of capturing your ideas, eventually you will start to have lots and lots of ideas,” Srini said. We can carry a little notebook or use notes on our phones to capture our ideas.
Then we can take the time to reflect on those ideas. We might write down an idea and then not really understand it until three years later. Srini said, “The creative process isn’t linear.” It can take a lot of time for our ideas to “bake,” and while they’re baking, we can reflect and think about them.
Express means doing the thing that we want to do. We express the idea we had. If the idea was for a blog post, we express it by writing the blog post. Next, we amplify it by revisiting it, editing it, and making it better.
After that, we tell people about it. If we don’t tell anyone, no one’s going to know. So we need to get comfortable with a little bit of self-promotion. Lastly, the idea evolves, maybe into something bigger, or maybe into a new idea. This is where the cycle starts over again.
Thank you so much Srini for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. If we’re going to do anything worth doing, inevitably we’re going to run into challenges, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
2. One strategy may work for one person but not another. We must sift through the advice to find what will work for us or forge a new path.
3. Once something becomes a habit, then we start to get from habit to practice to mastery.
4. Changing behavior leads to better results than setting goals.
5. To build creative habits, we need to start small and slowly increase the intensity of the habit.
6. When we’re able to touch someone emotionally, they’re going to be much more passionate about our ideas.
7. Good artists borrow, great artists steal.
8. We can CREATE by capturing, reflecting on, expressing, amplifying, telling, and evolving our ideas.
Connect with Srini
To learn more about or connect with Srini:
1. Connect on LinkedIn
2. Visit his website at UnmistakableCreative.com