Thinking is Hard Work

Thinking is Hard Work

“Thinking is probably the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

When was the last time you stopped, turned off everything around you— your mobile phone, iPad, computer, TV, radio and everything else in this hyper-connected, hyper-distracted world—and took the time to just … think? Can you remember? I can’t. I’m always on – 25 x 7.


Last year 107 trillion emails were sent. Each day two-billion tweets are twooted (I know that’s not a word, but I like the neologism connotation) and one-billion pieces of content are posted on Facebook. Not to mention that 7,000 comments per second are posted on Facebook. That’s a lot of “doing” but most of it is “reactive.” Responding to the thoughts of others, who are probably reacting to the thoughts of others reacting to the thoughts of others.

How much thorough thinking do you think was thought in all that doing?


So, I decided to try it. Think that is. The first thing I noticed was weird. Really weird. It was a strange sound that I later identified as …


It was unnerving. To get past the unnerving weirdness, I decided to do some deep, thorough thinking on a problem I was having with a book I was writing.

Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book. – Edward Gibbon

I quickly arrived at a conclusion. It’s much easier to do a lot of stuff than think. But that wasn’t the solution to the problem I was looking for. So I stopped to think again … and immediately ran into another conundrum. Thinking is hard work. I just couldn’t get started again with that deafening silence distracting me.

So, to help the process I decided to track down one of the nation’s foremost visionaries and leading authorities on thinking and marketing, Joey Reiman, and talk to him about the future of thinking, the business of thinking … or the lack thereof.


Joey Reiman is the bestselling author of several books, including Thinking for a Living, Success: The Original Handbook, and The Best Year of Your Life … Make It Happen Now! A world-renowned speaker, he provides listeners with the inspiration and foresight needed to become leaders of the future. Next year, Random House will publish Joey’s latest book, Business at the Speed of Molasses, which promises to speed up the ideas revolution by slowing business down so that it may be more purposeful, passionate and profitable.

Joey Reiman has it nailed. He’s won over 500 creative awards in national and international competitions, including the Cannes Film Festival. Joey also teaches a course on “Ideation” as an adjunct professor at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.


And … Joey Reiman and his company, BrightHouse, charge between $500,000 and $1,000,000 per idea.


In 1994, Joey Reiman did something most would think unthinkable. He walked into a meeting with his Board of Directors and announced that he was shutting down his award-winning $100 million a year ad agency, to create an ideas company—to think for a living. His only product would be “ideas.”

“The world was ad rich and ideas poor.” – Joey Reiman

Joey Reiman was convinced that the marketing and advertising world had it all wrong. Their business model—built on the primacy of ideas, but only being paid for the execution of those ideas—was flawed. You see advertising and creative agencies get clients by pitching ideas and giving them away for free. They make their money in the execution of volume production, media spots aired, print ads sold, etc. They don’t get paid for where they create value—the idea. They get paid for the execution of those ideas.


Joey Reiman had a better idea. He shut down the advertising company, walked away from a $100-million-a-year advertising agency and started a new company he named BrightHouse. It’s considered the world’s first Ideation Corporation.

I wanted to talk to Joey not only about “Thinking for a Living” but also about walking away from a successful $100 million-dollar company. Think about that? It took a real conviction, commitment and some serious …


Steve Kayser (SK): What was going through your mind when you shut down your successful advertising company to start a new company selling ideas? That took a lot of guts.

Joey Reiman (JR): I think everyone has a Joseph Campbell moment at some point in their lives. You’re living what would be called an “ordinary existence” or what I would call doing the “day-to-day job,” and you’re somewhere in your career, and out of the blue, you get a call, just like Luke Skywalker got a call. His was a little more dramatic because he leaves his uncle and aunt to go out and save an evil empire; he got a call to go save a princess and the universe. We all get calls to save ourselves, our families, our companies and even save the world in our own way, but we don’t take the call because we’re sort of set in our ways.

We’ve become routinized, codified and structured and live out a fairly dull existence. But we don’t have to. Those of us who do get a call to do something bigger, better … some higher calling—it’s often to leave your job, to leave your career and follow your calling.

SK: Joseph Campbell called it “Follow Your Bliss.”


JR: Yes, he did. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m keen on teaching my students at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School on not going after a job or a career but a calling.

In 1994, after having a meteoric rise in the advertising industry, winning every possible award (over 500 of them), and really gathering all of the stuff that is supposed to make you happy, I recognized that when you got to the top of the mountain, what you find up there was what you brought with you. And those gold statues actually weighed me down on the hike up. Worse … having the gold statues up there really means nothing.


That’s when I had a “spear in the chest” moment. I recognized that all of the work I was doing on behalf of the advertising agency was really nothing else than selling people what they didn’t need. Then I started thinking about advertising as the grandest, social experiment in civilization that had failed.

SK: Why?

JR: Because we can’t get enough of what we don’t need. If you have any industry that’s a trillion-dollar industry focused on getting people what they don’t need, then to what end or benefit is that?

I thought the advertising industry had the smartest, most creative people on the planet, and I asked myself, can’t we do better? Can marketing move from marketing to seller to marketing to serve as a healer? This concept was very exciting to me.


I combed through history; I looked throughout civilization for the biggest ideas that served humankind and I found what I call “master ideas.” Ideas like:

We shall overcome

God is law

For better or for worse

All men are created equal

Very big ideas that were not necessarily factual, but that I recognized as truths.


The hypothesis was:

Can a company—a marketing company—actually look into other companies as we look through civilization, searching for the instructive sparks of fire that actually gave birth to the company, that gave the company a reason for being alive? To find the”why?”

If you found the DNA of the why, that instructive spark of fire, then you could actually rebuild a culture, wrap genuine value around it, be a more purposeful company and have that purpose drive strategy and tactics.


That notion was big enough for me to recognize a space that nobody had ever gone to in marketing. What I called it was from a word I borrowed from the psychiatric community—”ideation.” Now in the medical community, that’s not a very good word. It means to ruminate about suicide. But the second meaning of the word is the thought process—the thinking process. I combined that in with the notion of a marketing company that would call itself an ideation company that would deliver larger ideas for organizations with the hope that those ideas could help improve public life. And not just in the public perception of the brands, but the company whose advertising we’re supporting. To deliver real results for our clients.


And I thought “that’s pretty grand,” that should be in the executive branch of thinking. That, of course, would be in the White House. The White House turned into our company BrightHouse with the idea that I would attract the very best thinkers from around the globe in service of the globe and the people living on it.

“Ideals are like stars: You will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man on the ocean desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them, you reach your destiny.” – Carl Schurz

That was the vision to me years ago. Frankly, it was big enough of a vision. It’s kind of you to call it courageous, but the vision was more enlightening than courageous. It just wouldn’t let go of me. In all callings and in all purposes, when they’re given to you, they’re gifts. Once you acknowledge and hear it, it’s hard not to keep hearing it. Actually, it might take more courage to live a life that has not been lived than to fully recognize the power of the life you have inside you to be lived.

With that enlightenment, I put the word out and some exceptionally smart people came in. I fired all of my advertising clients except for Children’s Hospital, which I didn’t think was the right thing to do. That was 15 years ago, and BrightHouse has enjoyed a great journey helping other companies, other leaders, and other marketers hear their call and take their journey.

SK: By that you mean helping them find their bliss? Find their meaning? Viktor Frankl’s book The Search for Meaning spoke to this journey, but I think Joseph Campbell might have had a little better interpretation of it. Campbell said, “People don’t want to search for meaning—they want to experience meaning.”

JR: Yes. It’s a real search for the rapture of life. People are not necessarily searching for the meaning, but like you just mentioned, Joseph Campbell said they’re in search of the experience of meaning in life.


The privilege of a lifetime is to be who we are. In this society, we are not allowed to be who we are. The freedom to be who we are is often taken away from us at work. We are accountable not to our family, but to the company, and we don’t get to define successes in our terms.

Be who you are; it’s a privilege that’s exclusively yours.

So, what the power of purpose and the power of living our story is, autobiographically or with authority (the power of being the author), is that we get to write our own scripts, and that’s a cool place to be. I mean, I really love my work. I help people to make their lives work, and their companies work better than they do.

SK: So many people give into resistance. “‘I will do it some day. I will, I really will.” But then someday never comes. Resistance beats you. You came to a point in your life—a jumping-off point—where you just said you were going to do it. Was that because you were so comfortable already due to previous successes, or because you were so convinced that it was the right thing for you to do personally?


JR: It was the right thing for me to do personally. I could not have turned my back on it. In that sense, it was the courage to be who you are in the face of adversity which, at that time, everyone in the world was saying to me;

  • You can’t have a company based on ideas.
  • Why would you turn your back on the advertising industry that’s been so good to you?
  • Why would you give up the accolades, financial rewards and the comfort and security of an industry that’s been proven?

I believed marketing and advertising could do better. Since then, I think I’ve proven that it can.


SK: You created a thinking-process framework for BrightHouse by melding the experiences, processes and thoughts of many great thinkers; from Herman von Helmholtz and Csikszentmihalyi (I’ll never say that one on the radio) to Marshall McLuhan to produce your trademark Four I’s thinking methodology.


  • Investigate – Gather and analyze quantitative and qualitative data.
  • Incubate – Three or more weeks of thinking, daydreaming.
  • Illuminate – Big ideas don’t appear. They evolve. Look for the flash, the “AHA” spark of a BIG IDEA that will make a dent in the universe.
  • Illustrate – Visually portray and personalize the Big Idea.

How did the Four I’s concept evolve?

JR: I looked through all of the thinking frameworks throughout history. In the Anatomy of Thinking by Herman Von Helmholtz, a Berlin physicist, his framework is designed to suggest that there was an incubation period. He was a 19th-century physicist, so this guy was way-way ahead of his time.


When I looked further at the frameworks, especially in American business, there is no narrative time, no incubation time, no pondering or wandering time, so we actually put it into our model.

Albert Einstein was keen on thinking like a child and taking the time to daydream. I think the notion of daydreaming is critical, not only for thinking but critical thinking.


To think great thoughts, you have to create them. In order to create an environment for an unconditioned response, you need to schedule time to think, and this sounds like daydreaming to me—space-time or freebie time. That time is when we do our best thinking. It’s where intelligence has thought. The bottom line is that creativity is intelligence having thought. In order to do that, you have to make time.


“Four I’s see greater than two eyes. It’s my equation not only for marketing, but living, loving and life.” – Joey Reiman


SK: Most companies would probably look askew at scheduled daydreaming time at work.

JR: Yes. That’s a problem isn’t it. Where to think? I wrote a paper about the last five bastions of great thinking. It’s certainly not the office; it’s the:

  1. Car
  2. John (aka toilet)
  3. Shower
  4. Church
  5. Park

Turn off the noise. Listen to your mind. Get out of your cubic-hell. People who work in cubicles have jobs too small for the spirit, and that’s an American tragedy. They’re really cubic-hells.

“Face it, most of us have jobs too small for our spirits. “- Joey Reiman

SK: And that’s still the model you use, the four “I”s?

JR: It’s the methodology we use in order to identify a company’s purpose. What BrightHouse is known for is helping Fortune 100 companies:

  • Discover and articulate their purpose
  • Tell their story— and by doing so
  • Attract relationships and not necessarily customers


That’s very different from typical marketing that is focused on getting people to buy things. We’re focused on one thing, and that’s to buy into—not to buy things but to buy into things.

“You don’t buy an iPod, you buy into the Apple philosophy.”- Joey Reiman

This is all predicated on the notion that human beings crave meaning. If you’re not creating meaning, then why should people seek you out? But if you create meaning in a genuine, moral and ethical sense, then people will not just want to break down your door, they’ll want to live with you. I think this is really the most important thing as marketing moves from product-focused to customer-focused and gets into the power of relationships.


SK: Just a wild guess here, but I think you probably ran into some resistance and adversity when you tried to create BrightHouse. What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

JR: I ran into a lot of people that said “No. Won’t work. Who’ll pay for an idea? “

SK: (That’s what I was thinking— boy was I wrong. But then again, refer to the opening cartoon.)

JR: And … “Really , who would pay for an idea? It’s not the way the world works.” That’s when the Coca-Cola Company and Coty Cosmetics stepped forward and tried it. We’ve never looked back. But, even to this day, fifteen years later, I still have to teach people a whole new way of thinking and sell the concept.

Our business is really Thinkonomics, and the work we do at BrightHouse is for visionary leadership. Though I’d like to think that every leader is visionary, you and I both know that’s not the case.


I search for people who are thinking forward into the next quarter century—not just the next quarter—for their shareholders. I think that stereoscopic vision where you’re focused on both the next quarter and the next quarter century is the kind of leader that hires BrightHouse.

“I paid Joey Reiman $1 million just to think!” – CEO Jim Adamson of the Advantica Restaurant Group

SK: Selling value. Selling the value of an idea. You actually charge $500,000 to $1,000,000 per idea?

JR: Yes. I think if you were to ask any of those CEOs “was it worth it?” they’d say yes. Many have been asked. There is a real sense of great value delivered. And value, in return, should be received for great ideas.


It’s something I feel strongly about and stand for. It’s just like grammar school. You don’t get credit for the answers; you get credit for solving the question. The questions could be a lot more important than the answers. These questions lead you to deeper thinking toward thoughtful solutions. We don’t need quick solutions. A quick solution often doesn’t work. Thinking more deeply, thinking more thoughtfully, thinking more long-term, takes a longer period of time, but it has greater generative effects.


We need to stop the doing and start thinking.

SK: Yes. Agreed. But it’s a little difficult for some managers and leaders to think you’re working when you’re at your desk thinking. For example, I tried that once.

And the boss caught me deep in thought, which I re-positioned as “I was hard at work.” My reward? A retro-pay adjustment. That belies the flawed notion of seemingly “doing something” means your working.

“Never mistake motion for action.” – Ernest Hemingway

Was there a point when you were creating BrightHouse and the “Thinking for a Living” concept that you questioned whether you could really pull it off?

JR: I’ve had times at BrightHouse where we took a step backward. I remember working with Delta Airlines and they wanted us to go back to doing their advertising. There was a lot of money on the table—a very lucrative opportunity. I did it, took the money, and it was a big mistake. So yes, I did question myself.

SK: How do you sell ideas? I know you can sell ideas with volume production and execution, but just the idea itself? It sounds to me like the epitome of the definition of a “Complex Sale.”

JR: I couldn’t sell something unless I believed in it—passionately. It’s very similar to consultants. There are two kinds of consultants: the experts and the advisors. The experts I can get in the phonebook. But the advisor is different. In past times, the king would rely on his advisor, not the expert. The advisor was always stacked above everyone else next to the king.

That’s what we sell at BrightHouse. I’m not selling expertise. Those in advertising, they’re experts at communicating. We’re advisors. I do think people will pay for a point of view because anyone can have a point of view.


But to have a:

  • Point of view
  • Noble purpose
  • Live that purpose
  • Look at the world through a prism of purpose that magnifies everything

… that people will pay well for … very well; millions of dollars.

SK: What do you look for in a person when BrightHouse hires a thinker?

JR: Well I used to put out a “For Hire” sign, but it was spelled “higher;” the notion being that we were looking for people with a higher form of thinking. Beginning at BrightHouse is pretty hard. There are some interviews, a number of case studies, a number of cases, and I don’t look for anything close until I look into the eyes of the person.

I look for passion because I can teach anyone just about anything, but I can’t teach will. I need will much more than I need skill. If I see will in your eyes, I don’t care what your skills are like; that can be taught. But the will is a gift. That’s what I look for.

“Will is more important than skill. Thinking can be taught. But will is a gift.” – Joey Reiman

SK: Who are some of the luminary thinkers you’ve attracted to BrightHouse?

JR: We’ve created the largest and most distinguished Luminary Network on the planet. We engage these top scholars and expert advisors on all of our projects to provide divergent, unprecedented thinking and insights. It’d be easier if people just went to our website and clicked on “Luminaries” to check them out. But they include:

  • Dr. Philip Kotler, Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management
  • Dr. Edgar Mitchell, the sixth astronaut to walk on the moon and the pilot of Apollo 14
  • Robert Watson, former CEO of the Salvation Army
  • Horst Schulze, founding president of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
  • Dr. Kary Mullis, the 1993 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry
  • Dr. Allison Druin, Director of the human-computer interaction lab at the University of Maryland
  • Sam Keen, noted philosopher and author. Bill Moyers profiled him in the 60 Minutes PBS special “Your Mythic Journey.”

Among many others.

SK: Back to thinking for a living. What do you think of a genius-type like Nikola Tesla who got the call to change the world through his inventions? He did change the world but died alone and penniless, mainly because his call didn’t include business smarts. He believed himself to be a “Planter of Seeds,” of great ideas for the benefit of our world. Thomas Edison on the other hand invented for one purpose: to sell a product. If he couldn’t sell it, it wasn’t worth inventing. The businesses he created still exist today, and he died fabulously wealthy.

JR: When so many artists and great inventors get the calling, there is not a checkbook. Larry Barkin said, “Infinite patience produces immediate results.” What he meant by that is that if you have a calling of something great, you need to heed it. Edison beat Tesla in sales. Plain and simple. It was his call. Not Tesla’s. But I think if people follow their dreams, try to live them every day, then their dreams will come true. Those of us who have them every day get to live a better life than those who are living without the dream, which is, I think, a nightmare.

Aspirations are different.

What do you aspire to? Is it money? Will you be happy with money? I don’t think most are. Life isn’t printed or lived on dollar bills even though a lot of people think it is. I know a lot of unhappy rich people. I know more happy people without a lot of money but have great hearts, and the dream in their heart is what sustains them.

I wish for everyone to be a Tesla and not an Edison.

SK: If Tesla were alive today, would it be any different?

JR: Yes. Because he’d be working with BrightHouse. His soulful passion would be nurtured and rewarded.

Passion + Purpose = Profit


About Joey Reiman

As founder of BrightHouse, the world’s first Ideation Corporation™, Joey Reiman decided to offer companies a revolutionary way of thinking that promised to change the way they did business forever. Over the past 25 years, Joey has emerged as one of the nation’s foremost visionaries and leading authorities on thinking and marketing. He is the bestselling author of several books, including Thinking for a Living, Success: The Original Handbook, and The Best Year of Your Life … Make It Happen Now! A world-renowned speaker, he provides listeners with the inspiration and foresight needed to become leaders of the future.

Contact: Atlanta 790 Marietta Street P: 404-240-2500 Atlanta, GA 30318 F: 404-240-2501

What Does “Making a Difference” Really Mean… to You?

What Does “Making a Difference” Really Mean… to You?

Through the trials and travails of life, we rarely stop to think of what we are doing or have done that makes a difference. A real difference.  Something that makes the world a little bit better in any way – no matter how small.

Something that leaves our slice of a fleeting, vaporous life better than before our first baby breath.  We’re so enmeshed in doing, doing and more doing, that we lose sight of creating meaning– usually until it’s too late.

But what does a real difference mean? Many times it bares no resemblance to what we might have thought at the time. Or others think. 

This is one such story.

The Great Divide Beckons

The old man sat down to write. His time was short, and he knew it. The Great Divide beckoned. He thought back through the events of his life.

An Amazing Life

From any perspective, it was a life of turbulence, war, love, grief, joy, industry and 50 years of public service. He’d been a writer, horticulturist, lawyer, philosopher, architect, political leader and revolutionary – an amazing life.

For the Ages

Many world-altering moments and events which he’d been involved would be inked into the history books for the ages—but not into this document.

So Simple – So Hard

He began to write. Short. Concise. His criterion was simple. How had he made the world a better place? And his words had to be worthy of being inscribed in granite.

Have you ever tried that? Sat down and recount what you have done to make this world a better place?  I did. And I sucked. 

Just Two Things

When the old man was finished, he realized that there were only two things: He was an author and a father. He put the pen down. He was done. Those things had made the world a better place. He left explicit instructions of how and where to display the document.

On the face of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more – because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.


What was remarkable was what he left off … that he had been the third President of the United States and served two terms. Thomas Jefferson wrote his own epitaph.

What About You?

What would you write for your epitaph if you had to do it right now? Testimonials that you have lived? How have you made the world a better place? What’s your difference?

Shooting Blanks

I tried it. It’s a humbling exercise. My computer screen is still blank.

How do you know if  your mission in life is finished?

If you’re still alive, it isn’t. – Richard Bach

I guess there’s still time to start.


Flickr photo courtesy of H. Kopp Delaney  under a  Creative Commons License

How to Create and Finish Anything

How to Create and Finish Anything


International bestselling author, screenwriter and renowned military historian Steven Pressfield  has a book called Do the Work.  It’s about how to create and finish anything. A business. A book. A song. A philanthropic venture.

Whatever point  you are at on your life’s journey –  take the time to read Do the Work.  It’s not work. It’s a joy. It’s not long. Takes about an hour to read – if you’re slow like me. It’s not dull, it’s brilliance, wrapped around hard-earned knowledge,  deep inside timeless wisdom.

I met Steven Pressfield in  2007 when I interviewed him for an article called How to Defeat Your Inner Deadbeat.Since then I’ve had the pleasure of doing a couple other articles with him; “Non Vi Sed Arte – Not by Strength, by Guile,” and “The Power of Resistance.” The breadth, depth, and clarity of Steven’s ideas and writing are unparalleled in today’s world. They don’t teach this stuff in school. I don’t think they can. Some things are just ineffable.


To that, Steven would say, “Bull-Shiitake,” and laugh when he said it. Then he’d say, “You can do it too – just DO THE WORK.” He’s one of the true renaissance writing geniuses of our times. Why do I say that?

I don’t.


Steven Pressfield has written or co-written 34 screenplays, and is the author of international bestsellers “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (also a movie),; “Gates of Fire, An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae,”; “Tide of War,” ; “The Afghan Campaign,”;“Virtues of War,”; “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles,” “Killing Rommel,”; “THE PROFESSION,”; “Do the Work”; The Warrior Ethos,”; and his latest book, “The Lion’s Gate,” which film rights were recently aquired by Basil Iwanyk, who backed ‘The Expendables.’


I first became aware of Steven – not from any of his famous books or movies – but because a writer friend of mine gave me his book War of Art.” Anyone that has ever met me knows, “art” is not the first word that comes to mind when describing my reading fare. Not the first word, but maybe right after the last word. However, my friend was dogging me out for always spouting off about what a great book should be – short, clear, emotionally powerful, life-changing – and he said “War of Art” was right up there with my all-time favorite, Viktor Frankl’s “Search for Meaning.”

I didn’t believe it. I only read the “War of Art” so I could refute, belittle, and humiliate my well-meaning, but almost-always-wrong, friend about the absurd deficiencies of the book in comparison to “The Search for Meaning.

I read “The War of Art.“  I was wrong. Completely. Utterly. Embarrassingly. It was just as good in a different kind of way.

The Search for Meaning was about finding a way to survive in any environment – even a death camp  – and how to find meaning in it.

The War of Art is about how to find a way to create in any environment – even a boring or bad one – and how to experience meaning while doing it.

Do the Work is a companion to The War of Art. A workbook. A shut up and do-it guide. It treads some of the same turf  as the War of Art. It fights the intractable, implacable, insidious foe of mankind  – Resistance. But it’s also an indispensable guide to winning at business or  life.



The lessons in Do the Work are not taught at any business school. Couldn’t be. This is  wisdom of the elders secret knowledge type of stuff passed on only by someone who has experienced it. Someone who has seen further, accomplished more, experienced more because they DID THE WORK.


Do the Work is a 1-2-3 type process of getting a project accomplished, a book completed, a business started. Music, science, business and writing all seem to follow a similar three act structure.

Musicians (which I don’t claim to be but hack around at it) have the Sonata form which consists of a statement, development and recapitulation.

Scientists use the hypothesis, inference and verification method.

Philosophers use hypothesis, anti-thesis, synthesis (Hegel’s dialectic).

Writers focus on three acts; the beginning, middle, and end.

Do the Work shows you DaVinci, the Vietnam Memorial and Facebook – in three acts.


What school or teacher would tell you …

  • To start before you’re ready?
  • To stay stupid?
  • To be stubborn?
  • To stay primitive?
  • To go on a research diet?
  • To swing for the seats?
  • That the problem is not you … the problem is the problem?

These gems are like master ideas. Once you get them, you never forget. But these ideas and lessons are necessary to get your work done. Any work. They’re also necessary because the creation of any great thing is born in chaos. Not ease.

Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms.

The most highly cultured mother gives birth sweating and dislocated and cursing like a sailor.

The hospital room may be spotless and sterile, but birth itself will always take place amid chaos, pain and blood. – Steven Pressfield


When I was writing “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard: True Stories of Triumph,” and mentioned it to Steven he had the perfect comment to me … and it led to me actually finishing the book (you’ll have to read the intro to see what it was.) I thanked him in the intro of the book for his inspiration and help through the years. But, there’s one thing that he said, and I heard but didn’t hear. Didn’t understand it until I finished.

We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.

That’s hard. Really hard. But when you do that you will become the consumate pro. You will concentrate on making meaning … you won’t have to search for it.

So … how do you create and finish anything?

Work the DO

Do the WORK.



Robert McKee’s “Principle of Creative Limitation,” Stays Inside the Box

Robert McKee’s “Principle of Creative Limitation,” Stays Inside the Box

Out of the box thinking

How often have you heard that? It’s overused. Trite. Cliched. Boring.  It’s  been boring since the 90’s. A terrible trope.

What does it mean?

It’s supposed to connote creative thinking. To see things differently. Create new ideas and new ways to solve problems. And not be boring.


But it is boring.

It seems to apply to almost every problem people haven’t figured out. If you really had some out of the box thinking going on you’d never use the phrase, out of the box – at least not to anyone able to fog a mirror.

Here’s some thinking that comes from inside the box.

The Principle of Creative Thinking

I interviewed Robert McKee, the best-selling author of “STORY” and legendary guru of Hollywood storytelling, several years ago. Robert is is the most widely known and respected screenwriting lecturer in the world today. His STORY Seminar has been taught to over 55,000 screenwriters, filmmakers, TV writers, novelists, industry executives, actors, producers, directors, and playwrights. But, teaching is easy. Results are hard.  Robert McKee’s STORY and the stories delivered by his students have garnered;

  • 35 Academy Awards (165+ Nominations)
  • 170 + Emmy Awards (500 + Nominations)
  • 30 + WGA Awards (180 + Nominations)
  • 25 +DGA Award (50+ Nominations), Pulitzer Prizes & Whitbread Prizes

His former students’ accomplishments are unparalleled. Stories written, directed, or produced by students of Robert McKee include:

“Iron Man,” “Angels & Demons,” “WALL•E,” “Lord of the Rings I, II, III,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Desperate Housewives”, “CSI, Law & Order,” “Cinderella Man”, “Gates of Fire” (novel), “The Daily Show,” Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Simpsons Movie,” “The DaVinci Code,” “Cars”,” Shrek.” “X-Men 3,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Ratatouille”,”Finding Nemo,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The Last Mimzy,” “Bobby,” “Quantum of Solace,” “The Color Purple,” “Crimson Tide,” “The Deer Hunter,” “The Elephant Man,” “ER,” “Forrest Gump,” “Gandhi,” “M*A*S*H,” “On Golden Pond,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The X-Files,” “A Time to Kill,” “Toy Story I and II,” and more.

Robert McKee knows STORY.

He wrote the book.

But there is no STORY without creativity – and what he says about creativity is extraordinary. It’s his “Principle of Creative Limitation.” No out of the box thinking here. It’s  inside the box –  a smaller box. Makes it tougher.

The PowerPoint Box

In our interview, we were talking in the context of the B2B Complex Sale. Creatively telling your story, or your company’s story, in a large business sale (usually over $150,000) presentation – where PowerPoint is the box.

Excerpt: Robert McKee Interview

STEVE: Could you talk about “The Principle of Creative Limitation?”

ROBERT McKee (RM): It’s exactly the subject we’re talking about. The PowerPoint presentation is easy, that’s why people do it.

Creative limitation means instead of doing something the easy way, you do it the hard way. You take a method that is much more difficult to accomplish. As a result of your struggle as a “salesman” to accomplish the presentation in the form of a story, you are forcing yourself to be creative.

The more difficult you make it for yourself, the more brilliant the solutions you will have to come up with or you fail. And when you come up with brilliant creative solutions to the presentation, the results for the people, for the audience, are stunning.

RM: The principle of creative limitation forces you to do it the hard way. Story is more complicated than PowerPoint there is no question. You have to have a real talent for it.  And you have to do it really well, or you will look like a fool.

Steve: So… limit yourself.  Don’t go out of the box –  make the box smaller?

RM: Yes. That is why people avoid it because they;

  • Don’t have the talent
  • Don’t do the research
  • Don’t have the knowledge,
  • Don’t know how to present creative ideas in a living, breathing way.

Why is whistling not a Beethoven symphony? 

Because whistling is easy. 

A Beethoven symphony is hard.

But when you take on the challenge of writing a symphony, the creative solutions are amazing, overwhelming. Whistling is something you can do on the street. The more difficult the technique, the more brilliant the solution.

Another analogy, golf is harder than ping-pong. It’s not that ping-pong isn’t good, it’s a lot of fun, and at the highest levels, it’s wonderful. But ping-pongers are not Tiger Woods,


Because the golf swing is infinitely more difficult than hitting a ping-pong ball. Touch football is not tackle.

When you make things easy, the results are boring.

When you make things difficult the creative solutions, the concentration, the practice, and the work that has to go into it, forces you to be creative. The results are all the more stunning.

Excerpt Ends:

Do you want to be a whistler or a Beethoven? Challenge yourself.

Forget the box. If you are in a box, make it smaller. There you will find creativity.


For more information on STORY and the art of storytelling, visit the Robert McKee website Feature Flickr image courtesy of deichgnu -LicenseAttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved

To Know Success Know No

To Know Success Know No


 Too short. Too fat. Too dumb. No Imagination. No creativity. No skills. Face for radio. Voice for print. Too macho. Too Wimpy. Too lady-like. Too butch. Too bald. Too much fuzzy hair. Wrong color. Wrong race. Wrong sex. Out of his depth in a parking lot puddle. Neanderthal brain in a Cro-Magnon body. And … just who in the “H-E-doubLe-hockey-sticks” do you think you are?


Ever heard of any those no’s? I’m not saying I’ve heard them all … but even if I had, would I tell you?


What would the world would be like right now if everyone folded after being told no? It’d look something like this.


He forgot to put a reverse gear on his first automobile. This was after his first two businesses failed. – Henry Ford


Didn’t walk until he was 4 years old. Didn’t speak until he was 7 years old. Flunked math. His teacher told him “You will never amount to anything!” His parents were told he might be mentally retarded. ( I share this  in common with big Al) – Albert Einstein


Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, this young man aspired to be a film-maker (some people might not know this, but it’s fairly challenging to have a film-making career in Cincinnati). He applied to U.S.C. film school and was rejected  – three times. So he taught himself. – Steven Speilberg


She was considered a failed actress. At best a B-grade wannabe. Her drama instructors told her to try another profession. Thirteen Emmy nominations, four wins and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center Honor later … maybe they were wrong? – Lucille Ball


She was dropped from a film contract at 20th Century Fox because she was “too unattractive.” One of her agents said she should really consider being a secretary. – Marilyn Monroe


When he was a boy, this young man was told “You’re too stupid to learn anything.” – Thomas Edison,  inventor of the light bulb and a gazillion other things.


When he was younger he was fired by a Kansas City Star newspaper editor for  lacking creativity. But he had this friend  – in his mind – who was sorta mousey, and that helped him succeed later in life. In fact he succeeded so well he bought the newspaper that fired him. – Walt Disney


He was tried and sentenced to death for being an “immoral corrupter of youth.” – Socrates


As a sophomore he was cut from his high school basketball team. No talent. Too ordinary.

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan


As a musical composer his teacher called him “hopeless.” But, when totally deaf, he composed an Ode that still brings much Joy to many listeners hundreds of years later. – Beethoven, composer of “Ode to Joy,” and a couple other tunes along the way.


He tried out for the glee club and failed. He was fired from the Grand Ole Opry after just one performance. The manager told him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” – Elvis Presley


Turned down for a recording contract by Decca  Records because “Don’t like their sound … and guitar music is on the way out.” – The Beatles


After his first film audition the testing director noted, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” – Fred Astaire


The first time he walked out on stage he froze, then was booed and jeered off the stage. – Jerry Seinfeld


A poor student – failed the 6th grade – with a speech impediment. Couldn’t learn. Couldn’t speak. – Winston Churchill


In his entire life he sold just one painting. And that was to a friend – for a pittance. – Van Gogh


Now of all the no’sin the world, this might possibly be the most devastating from my perspective. Every cartoon he submitted to his High School Yearbook staff was rejected. So he applied to Walt Disney, and was promptly rejected. Lucky for him a Snoopy little dog inside him told him not to quit.

Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’ – Charles Schulz


She was penniless, depressed, divorced, on welfare, and  trying to raise her child while going to school and writing a novel. That’s a whole lot of no’s going on (to paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis). It worked out though. She’s one of the richest people in the world now. – J.K. Rowling,author of  Harry Potter


Born into poverty, he was the ultimate winning loser.

  • Went to war a Captain and came back a Private. (I did that too, but I would never let anyone know.)
  • Borrowed money for a business and went bankrupt.  Started another business and failed again. Had a nervous breakdown.
  • Ran for State Legislature – and lost.
  • Sought to be Speaker of the State Legislator – and lost.
  • Ran for Congress – and lost.
  • Ran for the United State Senate – and lost.
  • Was the Vice-Presidential nomination of his party – and lost.

(This is wearing me out – writer’s note to himself.)


Was elected President of the Unites States of America. – Abraham Lincoln Anywhere along the line Lincoln could have said yes to the no’s and disappeared from history. He didn’t. After each no he picked himself up and gave it another go. With no real formal training he became a lawyer and perhaps one of the greatest leaders and writers of all time. His letter to Congress, one month before the Emancipation Proclamation,is a timeless, elegant call for freedom for all mankind – for all history. Who thinks or writes like this anymore?

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.


President Lincoln, hatless, is pictured in the center of the platform moments after delivering the Gettysburg Address. It is the only known photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg. – Libray of Congress

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Abraham Lincoln said no to no. All the others above did too.  Had they not, they would all be unknowns. And what type of world would this be right now?


My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.  – Abraham Lincoln

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.  – Confucius

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. ~ Sir Winston Churchill

Ambition is the last refuge of the failure.  – Oscar Wilde

The Stunningly Visual Power of Words

The Stunningly Visual Power of Words


They can make you laugh, or make you cry. Engage or enrage. Bring joy, bring sorrow. They can herald new life, memorialize lives gone, inspire great acts of heroism – or despicable acts of evil. They can transport you to other worlds,  times, places.


The words in this video had the same purpose – but not the same meaning.


And meaning is everything. It’s seeing without eyes.