The Picasso Principle — habits of highly prolific minds

Prolific minds keep on giving. Their creative outputs are sometimes beyond comprehension. Many of the world’s best creatives are insanely prolific.

Picasso created 50,000 works of art in his life. He used to paint till 2 am. “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” Pablo Picasso said. That mindset can set you up to become a better version of your creative self every day for a very long time.

Picasso devoted his life to art. Every idea had to be captured on canvas. He painted without holding back for years. He was committed to consistent creation. “Action is the foundational key to all success.” He said.

Picasso is not the only highly prolific creator. Many others came before and after him. Thomas Edison is known to have acquired 1,093 patents over his lifetime. He was an inventor, manufacturer and businessman.

Mozart composed over 600 pieces in his lifetime. Isaac Asimov wrote about 500 books in his lifetime.

Barbara Cortland published about 723 novels. “When she died a year later there were 160 unpublished novels still waiting to be published,” writes James Altucher.

Seth Godin has published over 7000 posts. He has been publishing a post every day for over a decade. He is also the author of 17 bestselling books.

How do prolific creators maintain their momentum for so long? They commit an insane amount of time to their work without holding back.

“I wake at five in the morning. I get to work as early as I can. I work as long as I can. I do this every day of the week, including holidays.” Isaac Asimov said. To be prolific, he says, you must be a “singleminded, driven, nonstop person.”

Today, the same principle applies for many creative minds. If you can persistently create and share your body of work and don’t stop, give up or break the cycle, you will become unstoppable. It’s the law of progression.

Anyone can apply and become better over time. Given time, the brain connects ideas better to help you do your best work and deliver outstanding results over time. If you stay prolific, your creative efforts will pay off. “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” Pablo Picasso recommends.

Prolific output demands deliberate practice for as long as possible. There is no way around it. It requires you to create, design, produce, invent, code, draw, write or publish daily or weekly. That’s how you become better.

Practice takes you on a completely different creative journey. If you keep measuring and do more of what’s working, you will surprise yourself.

Cal Newport says, “Until you become good, you don’t have leverage.”

Many creative geniuses:

  • Start with curiosity and keep feeding their focus.
  • Start with the end in mind — know what you want before you start.
  • Do their best work first thing in the morning — without distractions. A lot of them are early risers. Ernest Hemingway preferred to work from 5 am. “There is no one to disturb you, and it is cool and cold, and you come to your work and warm as you write.” He said.
  • Take action almost every day — make time for what they do best.
  • Make time to wander — it leads to creative thinking. They nurture ideas even when they are not practising/working/creating. Deliberate walking is one of the most popular ways creative people think about their thinking. Beethoven loved walks.
  • Think in decades and maintain career progression for an extended period without losing focus.
  • Build a creative output system (a default routine) that makes them think less about effectively using their time and just getting to work every day.

The key is the consistency of action. The actions of highly creative people might not be perfect, but they take them anyway. The results might not be good enough, but they keep creating, building or writing anyway.

“Original thinkers will come up with ideas that are strange mutations, dead ends and utter failures. The cost is worthwhile because they also generate a larger pool of ideas — especially novel ideas,” says Robert Sutton. “Quantity is the most predictable path to quality,” he once said.

Creativity exists in all forms. The most creative people know how to demand more from themselves. They build routines that support their daily creative expression. But they are not restricted by the productive structures.

They maintain flexible mindsets to evolve with time or adapt when necessary. Conventional rules do not restrict them. In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Today, tools for creative expression are more abundant than ever. We have more options to create, invent, design, publish, write, code, paint and illustrate in the comfort of our homes.

Many people have taken advantage of the opportunities online tools offer to express themselves every day fully. While others make excuses, creative people take action. They practice their art.

“Taking action trumps all the planning and learning, fidgeting and worrying you will ever do,” says Alex Mathers, a self-taught illustrator.

Becoming prolific requires action more than anything else. You can become your best creative self if you are willing to play the long game.

“When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us… we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete,” writes Steven Pressfield, in his book, The War of Art.

Insanely great creative people are good at sustaining effort for a very long time to get what they want. They structure their day to support their prolific lifestyle. But there is no universal routine for creative performance.

You have to figure out a personal style that supports your mental output. And then keep measuring until your routine becomes so good, you can’t afford not to create.

Regardless of what you do, creativity is a valuable skill you learn to do more great work. You can learn to think differently and connect ideas in unique ways or create the best conditions for genius to prevail.

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