5 creativity tips from Steve Martin

stevemartin.jpegI just finished Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up in one sitting this morning. It’s a short autobiography of his 10 years learning, 4 years refining, and 4 years of wild success in stand up comedy. Martin is also a stand up writer.

The memoir describes Martin’s analytical approach to becoming very very funny. Any book by such a talent about the struggle to be creative is worth a look. Here are a five take home’s relevant to any young academic.

1. “All entertainment is or is about to become old-fashioned. There is room for something new.”

Remember that all but the greatest theory, and most of the data, collected by scientists will become increasingly irrelevant as it is supplanted by new theory and applicable data. Someone has to provide that new theory and data.

2. “There is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.”

It’s OK to fantasize about success. Dream your wild-ass dreams. Creativity is often manic. Just remember that there is a reason folks talk about manic depression. In the end, most of your ideas won’t work out. That’s normal. Creativity is about generating 100 ideas, so that you can recognize one good one.

3. Teaching is, after all, a form of show business.

If you don’t have their attention, you can’t be teaching.

4. It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical. Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.

Good science is about constantly working to perfect your craft. Early success in grad school–be it a prestigious NSF Pre-Doc, or a paper in Science or Nature–has a random component to it. If you are lucky, don’t get complacent. If you haven’t been so far, be patient. Natural selection is, at its core, about staying in the game by producing consistently quality work.

5. You can’t ask a friend to read a manuscript twice.

Natch.

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5 Responses to 5 creativity tips from Steve Martin

  1. Matt Wedel says:

    Remember that all but the greatest theory, and most of the data, collected by scientists will become increasingly irrelevant as it is supplanted by new theory and applicable data. Someone has to provide that new theory and data.

    …and on the flip side, don’t fall in love too much with your own work, because the best you can hope for is that someone else will stand on your shoulders and see farther.

    Not coincidentally, I just got tagged with the Writing Meme, and I tagged you in turn. The rules are simple: give three writing tips, and tag three writers whose work you admire. Should you choose to participate, I’d be grateful for your thoughts on good collaborative writing, because I don’t see that addressed very often.

    Whatever you do, keep up the good work. This site is useful.

  2. Mike says:

    Oy, as if I don’t owe enough folks writing. OK, I’ll have something up on collaborations soon. Thanks Matt.
    M

  3. […] 5 Creativity Tips from Steve Martin | Getting Thing Done in Academia Great minds think a like. The gang over at GTDA was also enthralled by Steve Martin’s new memoir. Their post extracts some tips for his rich experience for inducing more creativity. A good compliment to our earlier discussion of the Steve Martin Method. […]

  4. […] If you don’t have their attention, you can’t be teaching. It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical. Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.5 creativity tips from Steve Martin « Getting Things Done in Academia […]

  5. […] as a comic isn’t that different than how you become popular as a scientist. Seven years ago, Mike Kaspari read the book right after it came  out and wrote a post about it. It’s no coincidence that the quotes that he pulled out convergently tugged at […]

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