Productivity, Creativity and White Tennis Shoes

White Tennis Shoes

Any creator, and by creator I mean anyone who engages in, or pursues, an enterprise that involves an intentional act of creativity (so this would include any entrepreneur, writer, artist, consultant – basically anyone whose job isn’t just to take and perform exact orders) has to confront the “blank page” of their respective enterprise:

  • The business won’t launch itself, nor will the products market themselves;
  • The book won’t write itself;
  • The music won’t compose itself;

Therefore, the “blank page” must be confronted.  A positive act of creativity must be engaged before an enterprise of any form can be launched.

When a positive act of creativity is required, an equal, if not more powerful force of “resistance” (as author Steven Pressfield calls it) presents itself.

Resistance can take many forms (self doubt, and fear, for example).  One of the most common forms of resistance is the act of substituting the more difficult (and fulfilling) work of creating something, and doing “busywork” instead.

Ayn Rand once gave a series of lectures on the Art of Writing Non-Fiction.  During one of these lectures she discussed this point using a great metaphor (the “White Tennis Shoes”)

Years ago I read an article in The New Yorker by a writer who described what she does in the morning before writing. What she describes is universal. When she sits down she knows she does not want to write. Here is what her subconscious does to “save” her from that difficulty. She thinks of everything she has to do. She needs to call a friend on business, and does so. She thinks of an aunt she has not called for months, and calls her. She thinks of what she has to order from the store, and places the order. She remembers she has not finished yesterday’s paper, so she does. She continues in this way until she runs out of excuses and has to start writing. But suddenly she remembers that last summer (it is now winter) she never cleaned her white tennis shoes. So she cleans them. That is why I refer to this syndrome as the “white tennis shoes.”….

In steelmaking, a blast furnace must be heated for weeks before it is hot enough to forge steel. A writer getting himself into the writing mood is like that furnace. Nobody likes to get into that state, though once you are in it you want no other, and would probably snap at anyone who interrupted you…. [I]n the case of the “white tennis shoes,” you must force yourself by sheer will power immediately to stop procrastinating and begin writing.

This concept can be applied in so many ways.  Its application is not limited to writing.

  • It applies to business and particularly sales (making calls);
  • It applies to building and maintaining relationships of all forms.

The problem of White Tennis Shoes (metaphorically speaking) is ubiquitous.  It really impacts all aspects of our life. There always seems to be something in the way of our doing the more important work (especially if that work is difficult), right when we should be doing it.

In my life I have realized the danger of the White Tennis Shoes and as a result I’ve built “systems” that protect against my “lesser self.”

I know that I am as susceptible to the problem of the White Tennis Shoes as the next person, that is why having a system is so important. The better my system is, and the more resolve that I have in maintaining it, the more likely it is that my important (and creative) work will get done.

Here are some of the systems that I use to guard against my lesser self:

  • I organize my day so that I set up “flow chunks” where I do the important but difficult work (this includes any creative venture, but it could equally be applied to any other type of work where the metaphor of White Tennis Shoes could be used to prevent the work from happening).  I specifically set out chunks, usually in hour or two blocks, that are going to be “creativity zones”.  These creativity zones are also “busy free zones” (ie. no busy work is allowed in these).
  • During these “creativity zones” I turn off my cell phone (so that I can’t be interrupted by the ping or buzz of a new email, or social media mention) I also turn off my business line.  The world can wait for a hour.  There is rarely an urgency (other than an immediate injury to my family) that can’t wait an hour. Also I make sure that my Internet browser is closed.
  • I embrace an internal sense of satisfaction when I accomplish something creative or “resistance filled”.  Whether it be doing a blog post, writing 500 words on a new book, taking hard but critical action in a business venture (like calling someone I need to call but don’t really want to).
  • I track the actions that I do that are susceptible to the White Tennis Shoes problem.  I write them down in a daily journal that I keep.  By writing the actions that I take I reinforce the sense of internal accomplishment and also look forward to doing it again tomorrow.

These are just a couple examples – there are many more.  The important thing is that a habit of defeating internal resistance and accomplishing meaningful work is created by guarding against the distractions that so easily keep us from doing the difficult (but meaningful and rewarding) tasks in our life.

This Is Why You Are Awesome

Meghann Clements

  • You set goals and you go after them.  You encourage me to do the same;
  • You don’t settle. You know what you want, and you don’t deviate.  You’ve inspired me to do the same;
  • You don’t need a reason to “care about others”.  You just care about others because it is who you are. Selflessness is your default position;
  • Going after your dreams, and doing what you love, isn’t a new concept for you, or something that was inspired by something you’ve read, or a video you recently watched.  It’s your normal state of mind – always has been;
  • You are the reason that I am pursuing my dreams. Without your support I don’t think I’d have the courage;
  • You are proof that having a successful career, and being a successful wife and mother aren’t mutually exclusive undertakings;
  • You cherish diversity in thought and belief.  Differences are beautiful to you;
  • You cry sometimes during O’ Canada;

Meghann Clements

  • You are really smart.  I really value your advice, especially in dealing with other people;
  • You believe that comfort zones are meant to be broken.  You practice what you believe in this regard.  That’s why you are so good in business.  You also inspire me to push past my own resistance;
  • You work like a Spartan.  It is really hard to match your work ethic;
  • You like to experiment with food, places, and experiences.  It makes life rich;
  • You are risk tolerant.  You believe that risk enhances life;
  • You “get” the concept of internal rewards. You aren’t driven by getting “stuff” or what people think about you.  You care more about relationships and experiences;
  • You like play.  You become a little girl around your puppy.  This makes me smile.

me and meg 2

  • You are so mentally tough.  You don’t feel the need to vent.  You are the strength that others look to;
  • You live flow.
  • I’m happy when I’m around you.  When I’m with you I want to be the best version of myself.

Happy Birthday!  You’re The Best.

Why TED Talks Resonate With Us


I’ve noticed something lately.  I suspect it has always been the case, and I’m only now becoming aware of it.

As human beings we constantly live at the crossroads of competing desires and emotions.

Perhaps the most pronounced of these inner conflicts is our competing desires for authenticity and security. 

Our need for security manifests itself in the tendency that we have to “follow the group”.  There is safety in the group.  This is hardwired in us.  It is always comforting to learn that other people think and believe what we believe.

We can also see our need for security – the need to be part of a group – manifest itself in our consumer patterns.

How many people lined up around the world in the last couple of weeks to get a new phone, when their old phone worked perfectly well? 

Our behaviours as consumers are easily understandable when you understand our need to be unified, our need to fit into a group, and our need to be accepted.

It doesn’t stop with phones.  Everyone one of us (me included) has felt comfort in some type of group setting.

Our group tendencies can also be manipulated by companies and individuals wanting to maximize profits.  A perfect example of this (at least in my city – Calgary, Alberta, Canada) is in the residential home development market.

You can drive a full circle around Calgary and see nothing but homogenized homes and neighbourhoods – a sprawling Legoland that lacks character and uniqueness. 

Developers will probably take umbrage to this remark – they will say that they are providing a good service and what people want.

 I don’t buy it.  I don’t think that people want a Legoland house for a half a million dollars.  But I digress…..

People go along with it.  People go along with it because they don’t have a lot of choices.  They don’t have a lot of power, and there is a sense of comfort in being in a group – a sense that all of us experience in some form or another.

This is where the competing desire for authenticity comes in.

We all want to live authentic lives, but the modern world makes it hard to do so.

It is hard to feel authentic when you can only afford a Legoland house that is almost identical to ten thousand other houses.

It is hard to feel authentic when working in a cubicle.

It is hard to feel authentic while wearing a suit surrounded by a sea of other people in suits.

It is hard to feel authentic when what we buy, what we experience, and what we do, is the same as millions of other people.

I think that this conflicted need in our lives – the need for authenticity balanced with group security – is why the TED brand is so popular.

TED offers an extreme variety of thought, and we get to control  whether we agree or disagree with what is being said.

TED, as an organization, has created a portal for diversity of ideas, and they have organized it in a way that is easy to use, and navigate.

TED, as a portal of information, provides the perfect blend of “group security” and “authenticity” to satisfy our conflicting needs.  Here is how:

There is an extreme abundance of diverse ideas (the “authenticity” part) available, and when you discover an idea that uniquely resonates with you, you also discover a tribe of other people who also believe this idea as well (the “group security”).

Brilliant.  That’s why it works.

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn By Watching Football


what entrepreneurs can learn by watching football

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m watching football.  I enjoy watching football, but it hasn’t always been this way.

I didn’t play the game in high school, and up until a couple of years ago I didn’t find the game all that interesting to watch.  There were several rules that I found confusing and I didn’t really understand all the positions.

A couple of years ago however, I made an observation about the game (from my vantage point as a very casual observer) that caused me to start appreciating it, and wanting to watch it more often.

The observation that I made, was that, in many ways, how the game is played is very similar to being an entrepreneur.

What struck me was the concept of “forward progress”. 

It seemed to me that this was the most important aspect of the game. As long as there was a steady supply of forward progress – enough to obtain the requisite first downs as the team marched down the field – then eventually the team would score.

That was the goal of the game. Score, and score often – as much as you can.

All scoring depended however on the team’s ability to continually progress forward.

 Once I understood this principle, the game started to make more sense to me, and I really saw a parallel to life as an entrepreneur because,

Survival as an entrepreneur absolutely depends on the ability to continually progress forward. 

Innovation, branding, new markets, domestic growth, international expansion, market share, exceptional customer service – these are all just concepts that suggest that a company, or entrepreneur is maintaining forward progress in their operations.

They are getting better at what they do, offering better products or more efficient and effective services to a greater number of people.

In the end, it’s all about forward progress. 

Even tiny progress is still progress, and in the game of football (just like the game of business)  “inches” (as Al Pacino famously said) can make the different between a win and a loss.

The parallels between entrepreneurship and football don’t stop there.  There are many others that I can see as well.  Here are a few:

The relationship between risk and reward.

A “hail mary” pass (or marketing effort) may result in a quick touchdown (or profit opportunity) but the larger the potential payout the larger the potential risk.

The importance of understanding “market feedback”

In football if the defence picks up on your pattern and strategy quickly you have to adapt.  If you keep doing the same thing, with a defence that is aware – and has successfully adapted – then your offence will sputter.

Same in business – you have to be adaptive to market feedback.  If you aren’t getting the results that you want then there is a problem that you must correct.  Perhaps your product isn’t providing the value that you hoped it would.  Perhaps your service, or operating systems, need to be tweaked to provide top value to customers.

There are likely many others – I’m sure that I will discover them.

So don’t feel guilty if you indulge a little in some Sunday afternoon football watching.  You’re working on your business :) 


Unsuited Book Signing Tomorrow (12pm-4pm) – Calgary Chinook Center Chapters Indigo

unsuited book

Hi everyone!  Thanks for your support in following my blog.

I will be doing a book signing tomorrow for my book Unsuited: How We Can Reject Conventional Career Advice and Find Empowerment at Calgary Chinook Center Chapters / Indigo (6455 Macleod Trail) from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm.

If you are around, come stop in, say hi, and pick up a copy of #unsuited.

Advice To Entrepreneurs: Stay In The Box For A Little While

Entrepreneur Box

Get outside the box!

Think outside the box!

How many times have you heard this?  I’ve heard it so often that I’m not even entirely sure what it means anymore.

I get it:  be creative, think innovation, try to be unique or different, break the paradigm, bring a new set of eyes to the same old problem.

And I agree – innovation and creativity is critical – some of the best ideas ever are ideas that are new and cutting edge, and different.

Thinking outside of the box is critical for the “thinking” phase.  But we have to realize that when we “think outside of the box” all we are doing is really just creating a new box.

When we “think outside the box” we are just replacing the old paradigm with a new paradigm, but we can’t forget – it’s still a paradigm.

So we got out of the old box, and now we are in a new box, and in order to actually make our idea materialize we are going to have to stay in that box, and do some work.

In the implementation phrase of any creative venture – that phase where we take our “idea” and turn it into a “thing” that can actually add value in people’s lives, we’ve got to get comfortable in our new box.

An idea (out of the box) can come instantly – but taking that idea and making it real, that takes some time.  

One of the big problems that entrepreneurs face is that they easily think “outside the box”.  But thinking is only part of the game.  Implementing and doing is just (if not more) important. To implement we must, at least for a season, put the “thinking” on hold, and move into the doing phase.

That is why brilliant innovators often surround themselves with executors – people who can implement.   They know that the ideas are only part of the process.  The execution phase requires skill, and patience, and time.

Great innovators, great “outside the box thinkers” may or may not have great execution skills.

Do you know many people like this?  Are you like this?  Are you great with ideas but then you have a hard time actually bringing your ideas to market.

This is something that any creative person has struggled with from time to time – I know I have.

One of the best things I have learned to do is when I get an idea – to stick with the idea for at least long enough for the market to give me feedback, so that I can determine whether or not it is a good idea or not. 

The idea machine easily runs for an entrepreneur.  But generating idea after idea is useless if we can’t get it to market.  Getting it to market takes execution.  This means that we have to stay in the box – stay with the specific idea – for a while, even while other idea butterflies are fluttering around our head.

Stay inside the box. 

Conquering The Need To Conquer

Alexander The Great

There is a great story, told masterfully by author Steven Pressfield in his book The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great about an encounter that Alexander had upon entering India for the first time.

Paraphrased in my words:

Upon entering India, Alexander first encountered the Gymnosophists, or “naked wise men” descending to the river where they would bathe and chant.  These sages seemed to regard Alexander’s rough core with a sense of patience and beneficence.

An incident occurred that was a matter of discussion amongst Alexander and his Generals.  Upon entering a particular village, one of Alexander’s paiges had strided ahead to clear the road for his precession.  The paige encountered several of these sages who were occupying the road, and would not leave.  A crowd gathered, with a resulting conflict as to who had the right to occupy the road – Alexander or the gymnosophists.

One of Alexander’s generals engaged in a spirited exchange with the senior of these wise men, where he suggested,

 Alexander has conquered the world, what have you done?

To which the sage instantly replied, without a moment’s hesitation:

I have conquered the need to conquer the world

What a powerful example.  Something that I truly wish to emulate in my life.

The word conquer could easily be substituted for “success” or “achievement”.  How many of us feel that we need to be successful?  How many of us feel the constant need to achieve?

I bet all of us for the most part.

Why is this?  What is it about the human condition that makes it this way?

In my life, and my work, I have found that I am at my creative peak, and at my most courageous mindset, when I transcend the “need to achieve”.  When I do things for their own sake, without regard to the rewards that I will obtain from them, that is when I am at my best.

That is when I most acutely trigger flow in my work.

That is when my creativity shines through.

It is a habit that I am trying to cultivate daily – doing work for the sake of the work alone.  In whatever I am engaging in – an article, a chapter in a book, a business marketing campaign, a sales engagement – trying to master the engagement, for the sake of mastery, not because of what I may get from it.

Conquering the need to conquer

I am absolutely convinced that this mindset is at the heart of mastery, and that true masters in any craft (and yes business, and sales, is a craft) at some point, transcend the need for rewards as a result of their behaviour.  Their behaviour then becomes autotelic (meaning it is an end in itself).

When this happens success, or achievement, comes as a matter of course – a natural consequence arising from one’s mastery of a subject matter.  I don’t think that mastery is possible without adopting this type of mindset.  The road to excellence in anything is just too hard otherwise.

So here is a challenge – in whatever you are pursuing – ask yourself.  Would you still pursue it if no one ever found out?  Would you still do it if you never were rewarded?  Is the action its own reward?  That is a very telling analysis into our true motivation.

starting today, be the hero of your story


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,443 other followers

%d bloggers like this: