Successful Creatives Use Constraints: Are You A Problem-Finder Or A Problem-Solver?

When the Walt Disney Concert Hall finished in 2003, it had a tremendous influence on reshaping Los Angeles’s culture.

It’s captured the eyes and ears of people ever since.

Esa-Pekka Salonen performed the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s opening concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sharing…

“I love the new hall, truly love it […] It’s not only that ticket sales have skyrocketed, it’s the fact that people in Los Angeles, and outside Los Angeles as well, can take on a whole new awareness of what music can add to the quality of life.”

Though there were some critics, a 2006 US News & World report would explain the effects of this building:

Disney Hall, with its soaring, steel surfaces and breathtaking mix of beauty, grace, and optimism, is downtown L.A.’s “it” building. Completed in 2003, it is the envy of orchestras around the world and has given L.A. the kind of cultural credibility that had eluded it for years. It has also become the focal point of a nearly $2 billion downtown renaissance.

What’s even more impressive is the creative process that allowed such a fantastic building to emerge.

Architect Frank Gehry and his team were the masterminds behind this.

Gehry is a big fan of experimentation and prototyping.

They created 82 prototype models before developing Disney Hall’s final design.

So how did they go through this process of experimentation?

Are You A Problem-Solver Or A Problem-Finder?

“Creative people use constraints to limit their focus and isolate a set of problems that need to be solved.” — Peter Sims

The creative process can seem mysterious and confusing.

Though it appears chaotic, there are underlying principles for navigating it.

One of these principles is to use constraints to isolate problems that need to be solved.

Gehry calls these guard rails. His constraints would be everything related to the nature of the architectural project: budget, timeframe, materials, political and regulatory rules, etc.

These guidelines would help guide Gehry and his team to build prototypes. And upon making them, they’d identify problems that needed to be solved and iterated.

By the 82nd prototype, they had creatively found the best design for the Disney Hall by navigating and solving a set of problems.

This echoes a study that social scientists Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi performed with artists in the 1960s. They found that artists who sought out problems were significantly more successful with their creative pursuits.

They concluded that individuals who are “problem-finders” are much more successful with their creative endeavors versus people who are “problem-solvers.”

Being a problem-finder has two benefits for content creation:

  1. It helps you identify problems and challenges that your audience is facing. This provides you a list of valuable content ideas that could eventually turn into products or services (depending on how urgent and important the problem is).
  2. It helps you identify problems and challenges within your own content creation process, ultimately helping you improve your content’s effectiveness and efficiency over time.

So when we’re developing an idea for content creation purposes, how do we isolate and identify these problems?

It starts by developing your capacity to be proactive.

Your Circle Of Concern and Influence

“What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.” — Robin S. Sharma

In the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey shares a great model for improving our proactivity.

I’ve discovered that a key benefit to this model is that it provides guidelines and constraints to help isolate and identify problems.

This empowers you to solve problems and to move the creative process along in a productive way.

There are two fundamental components to this model…

  1. There are things outside of your control. These are things within your “circle of concern.”
  2. And there are things within your control. These are things within your “circle of influence.”

Where are you spending the majority of your time? This will determine your level of effectiveness. 

And in this case, effectiveness is your ability to move through the creative process and end up with valuable ideas and content:

  • An ineffective person focuses on their circle of concern.
  • An effective person focuses on their circle of influence.

Being proactive is essentially focusing on your circle of influence.

And an interesting phenomenon happens when you focus your attention on what you can influence.

It expands.

The more proactive you are at identifying problems and solving them, the more influence you acquire over time.

But when you focus on your circle of concern, your influence and personal power shrink.

Where you focus your attention will ultimately empower or disempower you.

Expanding Your Circle Of Influence: 3 Types Of Problems That Guide You Towards Empowerment

Covey explains how every problem you have will fall into 1 of 3 categories. And each of these problems will indicate how to best respond within your circle of influence…

  • Direct problems (problems involving our own behavior)
  • Indirect problems (problems involving other people’s behavior)
  • No control problems (situations we can do nothing about)

How does each problem affect how you act within your circle of influence?

1. Direct problems require your direct influence. Your personal habits and behaviors can influence this. Covey calls these “private victories.”

For instance, if you have a problem with not completing projects by a specific deadline, then the best way to solve this is by implementing personal habits and behaviors to resolve it.

2. Indirect problems require your indirect influence. This can be achieved by how you communicate and relate with others. Covey calls these “public victories.”

For instance, if you’re encountering drama with a team member, the best way to achieve the desired outcome is by improving the relationship and quality of communication with that person.

3. Problems you have no control over can be influenced by using emotional intelligence and shifting perspectives to learn from the experience.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl is a great role model for this one. He literally had no control over his physical environment. So he exercised his freedom to choose his emotional response and give meaning to his suffering.

Whenever you find a problem in your life, try to identify which category it falls into.

And once it’s identified, how can you best respond within your circle of influence?

Identifying Problems Within Your Content Creation Process

When you’re experimenting with your content and finding problems to solve, identifying the type of problem will help you choose the best response (ultimately giving you a more fulfilling result and better means of solving the problem).

This benefits you by helping you identify problems that your audience is dealing with. This is valuable information that you can use to create content, products, or services in the future.

It also benefits you by helping you improve your overall content creation system. Over time, this enables you to create better content, build your audience more effectively, and create an environment conducive for selling your offers.

Let’s use an example for each of these three problems.

1. Direct Problems With Your Content

Suppose you’re not developing as many content ideas as you’d like daily, which is a bottleneck for your overall content creation process.

You can see how this decreases your exposure to your ideal customers because you’re not sharing as much content. It’s also slowing down the speed of innovation for developing ideas. And ultimately, it’s blocking the flow of online traffic to your brand’s website or landing pages.

How could you respond to this problem within your circle of influence?

This would be a direct problem since it involves your direct behavior and personal habits to solve. Perhaps the solution is adjusting your schedule a bit, prioritizing a creative work session, and developing a habit where you’re proactively creating content ideas.

2. Indirect Problems With Your Content

Suppose you want your audience to engage more and find value in your content.

How could you respond to this problem within your circle of influence?

At first, you might view this as a direct problem. Perhaps you’ll keep working on the content behind-closed-doors until it’s “perfect.”

But this is more likely an indirect problem since it involves other people’s behavior and perceptions. Once you’ve identified this as an indirect problem, you could perhaps jump on a call with someone representing your target audience to get their honest feedback on the idea. Or you could do a low-risk experiment by asking a question on social media about that idea.

3. No Control Problems With Your Content

Suppose you’re looking at the content you’ve published over the last week. The engagement rates are a lot lower than you’d like, and it’s disappointing.

At this point, the problem is outside of your control. The event has already occurred, and there’s not much you can do to influence the desired outcome.

Now, I’d classify this situation as a “no control” problem. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re powerless.

How could you respond to this problem within your circle of influence?

Here you can approach the problem with emotional intelligence and perceptual awareness.

Rather than take it personally, you understand that it’s the reality of publishing content and building a brand. Plus, people are busy, and every brand is fighting for their attention.

Accepting this reality with emotional maturity opens up your ability to learn from the situation (perceptual awareness).

This feedback can ultimately help you learn how to improve engagement in the future.

Isolating and defining problems helps you acquire innovative solutions faster.

Find problems quickly, experiment, iterate, and refine till you develop great ideas and content.


Resources

“Little Bets” by Peter Sims

“7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey


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Publishing 10,000 Words In 28 Days: How I Overcame Unhealthy Perfectionism

How can you develop quality ideas without letting unhealthy perfectionism paralyze your creative process?

The idea of “reaching your fullest potential” has always been a strong and personal value of mine.

We live in a world of impermanence — the world changes and evolves. If we’re not aiming to reach our fullest potential, it’ll be challenging to adapt.

And if we don’t overcome unhealthy perfectionism, we won’t be implementing and learning enough to adapt.

At the end of January 2021, I had just wrapped up a teaching cohort where I partnered with an instructional team to help college students learn digital marketing.

After finishing this cohort, I had more time on my hands to pursue what I’m passionate about — developing ideas and creating content.

I intended to break out of my current plateau and improve my content creation process.

For the whole month of February, I committed to spending 4 hours writing, researching, and developing ideas.

Initially, I planned to write an entire article each day. But as I began creating content, I realized it was an unrealistic objective. So I decided that regardless of the output, 4 hours of writing and researching was a win.

The first week of writing felt great. I was building momentum.

By day 12, I had published over 5,000 words, created 6 articles, and built a medium publication.

I was on a roll. It almost felt too good to be true.

Then week 3 started.

I spent several minutes staring at a blank screen…

To find some clarity, I went on outdoor walks and sought inspiration with the occasional 3rd cup of coffee.

As my creative output dwindled, I began feeling concerned and a bit insecure. “Maybe it was a fluke.”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect struck with full force! In retrospect, I’ve learned that this is a natural dip in progress whenever you start a new endeavor. There was a sort of “habit gravity” pulling me down and creating resistance.

And accompanying this dip in motivation was this unhealthy sense of perfectionism.

Grappling with a handful of ideas to pursue, I chose one to flesh out.

On Monday, I hit a roadblock within the first couple of hours.

Feeling uncomfortable staring at my screen, I began fleshing out a second content idea.

By Wednesday, I had three unfinished articles…

This is when my perfectionism mentality hit me hard.

“Which of these ideas are good enough? When should I publish them?”

On Thursday, I revisited that first content idea. And I realized that spending another day working on it would give me diminishing returns.

So I wrapped up some finishing thoughts. Then I just experimented and published it.

Ironically, I discovered that exploring the other two ideas simultaneously allowed my creativity to flow and help me finish that first piece of content.

It was encouraging to learn that creative geniuses explored multiple ideas simultaneously before selecting the best option to focus on. 

Even though I only finished one piece of content during that 3rd week, I started to see the value in experimentation and exploring multiple ideas at once.

This inspired me to take a more playful approach to my content.

Slowly, I began pulling the layers of unhealthy perfectionism back.

As I began peeling back these layers, my biggest insight was that not all perfectionism is destructive. There are both healthy and unhealthy forms of it.

Healthy perfectionism upholds inner values of excellence and high-quality, and it utilizes experimentation to achieve this standard. This is what Peter Sims would call “Little Bets.”

Unhealthy perfectionism is driven by external factors, hoping that someone or something “out there” will validate their ideas. In other words, we can become overly attached to others’ opinions (or become outcome-dependent).

We can often fixate on the hope that people “out there” perceive our work as excellent and valuable. Or we value the desired result more than the process itself.

This suffocates the creative process.

At some point, it’s crucial to “ship out” an idea so that it has the opportunity to evolve into something better.

And this is why experimentation is essential.

During the first half of February, I was overthinking everything when I wanted my content to be perfect. 

My head was in the clouds.

To quote Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank:

“When you hold the world in your palm and inspect it only from a bird’s-eye view, you tend to become arrogant — you do not realize that things get blurred when seen from an enormous distance.”

I was spending too much time theorizing and not enough time experimenting. This ability to descend to the ground level and experiment is what Yunus calls the “worm’s-eye view.” 

When I chose to embrace the process of experimentation, I was able to overcome unhealthy perfectionism.

After publishing over 10,000 words in 28 days, I learned that experimenting frees you from unhealthy perfectionism and empowers you to move towards healthy perfectionism.

This supports you in developing the building blocks necessary for building your brand and discovering breakthrough ideas that you can monetize.

Experimenting Your Way To Success

From 2001 to 2009, the CEO of P&G A.G. Lafley wanted to create a more innovative company culture.

Before this, they had a challenging time experimenting.

P&G veteran Chris Thoen summed up the root of the problem, “When we interact with consumers, it needs to be totally done.”

I’ve found this to be the fundamental rationalization for unhealthy perfectionism. Everything needs to be perfect before someone can experience it.

One of the biggest problems with unhealthy perfectionism is that it holds you back from taking action. 

With healthy perfectionism, you still maintain high standards… but you also value the experimentation process.

These experiments actually become the vehicle that drives you to the top of the mountain.

On the surface, unhealthy perfectionism seems helpful because you intend to create something high-quality. But this gets misinterpreted to mean, “It must be totally done before someone can experience it.”

There’s a big downside to this mentality.

When you avoid experimentation, you’re not taking intangible factors into account. 

These are hidden factors that you can’t predict with perfect plans or strategies. They are problems that only surface after you’ve begun exploring the landscape, such as underlying customer perceptions and market dynamics.

These intangible factors explain why unhealthy perfectionism isn’t effective. Without experimentation, you’re essentially trying to create a perfect idea from scratch that can predict — with high accuracy —all these hidden factors.

Even the most talented futurist couldn’t do this with 100% accuracy.

So what’s the solution for overcoming unhealthy perfectionism?

Create prototypes.

Prototyping is a practical way of overcoming unhealthy perfectionism.

It helps you discover these intangible factors, find solutions, and move towards an effective outcome.

Chris Thoen shares the importance of prototypes…

The level of feedback you get is so much more valuable and impactful… The problem with showing something to consumers when it’s almost totally done, people don’t necessarily want to give negative feedback at that point because it looks like, “This company has spent a lot of money already getting it to this stage and now I’m going to tell them, ‘It sucks.’ ” On the other hand, if something hangs together with tape, and it’s clear that it’s an early prototype, the mindset of consumers often is, “These people still need some help, so let me tell you what I really think about it.”

After Lafley took over P&G as CEO and chairman, its market value increased by more than $100 billion.

Taking an experimental approach can be challenging. But it pays off.

When your audience experiences your “prototype content and ideas,” they’re more comfortable sharing their honest reaction.

Now. Even if you see the value in experimentation, we still have a big challenge.

How can you share “incomplete ideas” while still giving your audience a valuable experience? 

Create A Win/Win: How To Collaborate With Your Audience 

Much of our resistance to experimentation stems from our fear of people criticizing us for incomplete ideas and worrying that they will reflect poorly on us.

Remember, unhealthy perfectionism is driven by external factors (largely other people’s judgment and approval of us).

Just the other day, I was talking to a good friend of mine.

They bought a course from Michael Simmons called “Learning Ritual.” It’s a course on “learning how to learn.” They did this back when Simmons initially started it.

At the time of writing this article, Simmons is introducing the next version of that course, updating it with additional content, bonuses and value.

I was telling my friend about this new development, and they responded along the lines of…

“I remember joining that course when it initially came out. It’s pretty cool that I started with the beta version, and now it’s evolved into something bigger.”

When you frame your idea or piece of content as a prototype, the person consuming it understands that you’re still experimenting and developing it.

And if you can pre-frame the idea properly, your audience and consumers tend to enjoy the collaborative process (just like my friend who bought the initial version of “Learning Ritual”).

Any result that requires creativity is a process of ongoing prototyping.

And low-risk prototyping becomes a way of overcoming unhealthy perfectionism.

Get To Version 3.0 Fast: Build On Your Wins

If you’re creating content or trying to find innovative ideas, one of the keys is getting it out into the world as quickly as possible.

When you see a high-quality piece of content or a breakthrough idea, don’t be fooled… it went through multiple iterations and experiments before its final form.

It’s rare for an idea to come out perfect. And even if it was perceived as “perfect” at the time, odds are it was developed further with experimentation.

In Eben Pagan’s book Opportunity, one of the ideas he shares is the importance of getting to Version 3.0 as quickly as possible.

This is a useful model that helps you move through a process of experimental innovation.

You start at version 1.0. Then you experiment and iterate until you reach version 3.0. 

This doesn’t mean that every idea makes it to the final version. This is actually an important consequence of this process…

If an idea isn’t being received well by the market, or if you don’t want to explore it long-term, this process helps you weed out sub-par ideas.

Here’s the overall process…

  1. Version 1.0 is all about having a “minimum viable product.” You could also see this as a “minimum viable idea.” It’s a prototype. In reality, there were probably smaller experiments before this point. But here, you start to see some potential with one of your ideas. You develop the prototype and get it in the hands of a few people (and learn from the feedback).
  2. Version 2.0 is what Eben Pagan describes as the first “real” version. At this point, you’ve identified some winning ideas from the earlier version, and you can begin iterating and developing those winning ideas. You’ve also learned from losing ideas.
  3. Version 3.0 is when you acquire the confidence and conviction to develop an idea into something truly great. This idea has gone through a rigorous experimental process, so you know that people care about it (and it can be successful long-term). If your idea makes it to this point, then you can decide if you’re committed to developing it to its fullest potential.

This process helps you do a few things…

  • It helps you develop a breakthrough idea that your brand can monetize successfully.
  • Since it’s experimental, you’re getting it into the hands of people… building an audience throughout the process.

Prototyping is a powerful way to overcome unhealthy perfectionism and move your idea to a high standard of excellence and quality.


Resources

  • “Little Bets” by Peter Sims
  • “Opportunity” by Eben Pagan

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Creative Geniuses Explore Multiple Ideas Simultaneously Too - Just Differently Than You

Do you feel guilty pursuing multiple ideas or projects at once?

What about having 3–5 unfinished books on your shelf?

When I was younger, I thought it was unproductive to read a new book while my current one was unfinished.

It was like needing to focus on one book was an unspoken law!

Suppose we have a goal and try focusing on it.

And whenever our curiosity ventures elsewhere, we feel guilty.

Or if we don’t finish our current book or project, we think it’s unproductive or bad.

This actually suffocates your creative process, holding you back from developing great content and innovative ideas.

Pursuing Multiple Ideas Is Constructive For The Creative Process

I once posted a question in a Facebook Group about meta-learning…

“Anybody else have 3–5 unfinished books they’re reading??”

I was genuinely curious since I’m usually cycling between 3–5 books at any given time.

I got lots of responses. And I was surprised at how many people were doing the same thing.

One response caught my attention:

M.C.: “Yes…I have over 10 books, speeches, courses, written articles, recordings, plans…All waiting for me to piece the puzzle as I go. It’s a sign of how much I don’t know but also how much I’m hungry to learn based on curiosity. Having many books on the go is a good sign.”

After reading their comment, an interesting analogy popped into my head. So I responded…

Me: “Reminds me of a simultaneous exhibition where someone’s playing multiple chess opponents at once.”

Yeah, maybe I’ve recently watched both Searching For Bobby Fischer and The Queen’s Gambit.

Anyways.

Anyone doing a simultaneous exhibition is a genius chess player. This feat is usually only accomplished by chess Grandmasters.

Since many people feel guilty when pursuing multiple ideas simultaneously, this analogy is a much more uplifting picture. You’re solving ongoing puzzles.

This triggered a conversation in the group around it. And I thought it’d be valuable to dive a bit deeper into the topic.

I’ve learned that a lot of creative geniuses work this way. They’ll explore a handful of ideas at once. Then they’ll select the top ideas and drill down even further.

Thomas Edison is a good example.

He’s left us over 5 million journal pages. And researchers have spent a crazy amount of time studying them, dissecting how he worked and developed his ideas.

Specifically — when looking at Edison’s telephone sketches — a team of researchers charted what ideas he was working on, what months he was experimenting with them, and when he decided to select and investigate winning ideas.

They found that Edison was exploring different ideas at the same time before selecting ONE to investigate and pursue in more detail.

Cognitive Psychologist Howard Gruber called this a “network of enterprise,” which he believed was central to the creative process.

The main idea is that when you pursue parallel ideas and weave them together, it’s constructive to the creative process.

Each part informs the purpose of the whole, leading to innovative ideas.

Gruber makes this point when observing Darwin’s creative process, saying: “Darwin’s work was divided into a number of separate enterprises, each with a life of its own. This type of organization has several constructive functions. It permits the thinker to change his ideas in one domain with scrapping everything else he or she believes and it provides a setting for chancy interactions.”

I feel less guilty now!

But This Only Works For Geniuses, Right?

I’ve heard a couple of valid objections to this idea.

One of them being, “But doesn’t this only work for geniuses?”

I understand where this person is coming from.

It can seem that geniuses are born with magical abilities. Though their DNA predisposition may play a role, it’s only a piece of the equation.

Studying how ideas develop from creative geniuses shows us reality. Their innovations don’t just appear out of thin air.

They usually have a database of knowledge. And this is where the innovative idea emerges from. Edison famously performed thousands of experiments before discovering innovative solutions.

“But wait… shouldn’t I be focusing on one thing? It seems like I’ll be scatter-brained and won’t get anything done!”

On the surface, this idea seems to fly in the face of what we’re all told.

We’re told to focus. Don’t stray from the path. Hustle.

True, focusing is essential. 

But the idea of “focusing on one thing” — in my opinion — is excellent advice for someone who is untethered.

And by this, I mean someone who isn’t clear on what their North Star is.

Tether Your Ideas To A North Star

Sometimes this ability to explore other options is necessary for the creative process.

This is why I love the “North Star” analogy.

If you’re on a sea voyage, you’re clear in your direction. The North Star is guiding you.

You’ll still visit various ports, explore nearby villages, and perhaps even go on mini-adventures along the way.

If you go into a nearby village, you may discover that a family lost their son. Perhaps he’s wandered into the forest, and you decide to join the search party to recover him.

Does this mini-adventure mean you’re giving up on your mission? I don’t think so.

Also, what if you learn something valuable when you join the search party? Knowledge and experiences that can be used to help you on your voyage in the future.

There’s nothing wrong with exploring and pursuing different ideas along the way.

The key is to stay tethered to your North Star.

When developing your content, don’t worry if you hit a wall. It happens.

Use that as an opportunity to explore another idea that’s tethered to your “north star.”

You may find a puzzle piece that helps you solve the entire problem.


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Experimental Innovation: Are You Using A Bird’s-Eye View Or A Worm’s-Eye View?

“When you hold the world in your palm and inspect it only from a bird’s-eye view, you tend to become arrogant — you do not realize that things get blurred when seen from an enormous distance.” — Muhammad Yunus, Founder of the Grameen Bank

The insights you need to generate valuable content, create innovative ideas, and solve problems are not obvious.

The deeper you dive into any subject, the more your ideas evolve with it.

Many of us grew up taking a “bird’s-eye view.”

We can see this conditioning through how we absorb knowledge. I’ve personally done all of these:

  • In school, we learned theories and models for how the world worked. Less of an emphasis was on experimenting and testing these ideas.
  • Maybe we read books and don’t test the information out in reality.
  • Or we take a course and “learn” how to do something but forget to apply these lessons consistently and pursue experiences that assimilate this knowledge.

It’s easier to absorb knowledge from a zoomed-out view. 

It’s much more challenging to descend to the ground level, challenge our assumptions, and engage in experimentation?

Usually, what we expect to find (and what we actually find) are entirely different.

Think back to the last time you explored a new skill, idea, career, or any novel pursuit.

Once you began diving in, did you discover something that challenged your expectations, beliefs, and assumptions? 

Intangible Factors: Here’s Why Your Perfect Ideas Fail

The title for Peter Sims’ book Little Bets was inspired by a conversation he had with Ned Barnholt.

Barnholt is the former chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Agilent Technologies (a corporate spin-off of Hewlett-Packard Company).

He joined Hewlett-Packard in 1966 and would guide its corporate spin-off Agilent in 1999. He would then retire in 2005.

HP was wildly innovative in its earlier years.

But by the mid-1990s, the company became massive. Though an outstanding achievement, it created some significant challenges.

Barnholt called it the tyranny of large numbers, explaining that “there’s a natural tendency to think in terms of bigger bets as you get to be bigger.”

They would analyze billion-dollar markets, develop big ideas, and then make large bets.

And they would mostly fail!

Reflecting on HP’s past, Barnholt explains that their assumptions were wrong due to what he called intangible factors.

These factors are what’s happening beneath the surface, such as underlying customer perceptions and market dynamics that nobody can predict from a bird’s-eye view.

This is why Barnholt preferred using little bets. It allowed them to descend to the ground level and run small experiments. They found much better success with this approach.

If you start with a “perfect plan” or that “perfect idea,” you’re not taking these intangibles into account.

This is why an experimental approach to your content creation process is vital for your success.

It allows you to discover breakthrough ideas and build up a body of work along the way.

How To Find Breakthrough Ideas: Descend To A “Worm’s-Eye View”

David Galenson is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. But his passion is examining how artists and creators work, and he has a body of research observing them.

One of his examples is Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank.

In 1974, Yunus was an economics professor at Chittagong University in Bangladesh.

During this time, an intense famine spread across India, sending people from the countryside into the city seeking food.

Thousands of people were suffering in the streets.

Yunus began to question the importance of his lectures.

“What good were all my complex theories when people were dying of starvation on the sidewalks and porches outside my lecture hall?”

He began forming the opinion that “Economists spend their talents detailing the processes for development and prosperity, but rarely reflect the origin and development of poverty and hunger.”

This realization pushed Yunus to stop teaching as a professor and begin looking at the problem up close, similar to an anthropologist.

He began spending his time in the village of Jobra, where he could understand poverty from what he called “the worm’s-eye view.”

“When you hold the world in your palm and inspect it only from a bird’s-eye view, you tend to become arrogant — you do not realize that things get blurred when seen from an enormous distance.”

In Jobra, he saw some of India’s poorest people. And the insights he gathered here informed his experiments that aimed to help them.

Here he met Sufiya Begum, a 21-year-old woman who built and sold bamboo stools to take care of herself and her children.

She would make fifty poisha profit. At the time, that’s a profit of two cents.

After better understanding her situation, Yunus began to see that people like Sufiya were dependent upon middle-men.

The middle-men allowed her just enough profit to survive each day but not to thrive.

The raw materials were too expensive. And the moneylenders would demand a lot. In Sufiya’s words, “People who deal with them only get poorer.”

The lack of formal credit allowed middle-men to fill the gap.

Yunus discovered a problem that economists had overlooked.

And in 1977, he secured the capital necessary to start the Grameen Bank, which focused on helping poor, self-employed people by providing small loans.

Yunus would have to overcome skepticism within the Indian banking community and the idea that India’s most impoverished weren’t creditworthy.

But over the years, Grameen would loan over $6.5 billion while keeping repayment rates consistently above 98%.

Many skeptics were only looking at the situation from the bird’s-eye view.

Despite this, Yunus prevailed. And he’s now regarded as the person responsible for launching the microfinance industry. He was the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

And all because he put on the lens of an anthropologist and took — in his words — a “worm’s-eye view.”

A Bird’s-Eye View Can’t Predict Intangible Factors

Breakthrough ideas are hidden from us. But they’re not as far as we think.

Many times, they’re right under our noses.

We have to descend to the ground level.

Ask questions. Be open to changing assumptions and beliefs.

And experiment.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s valuable to go “meta.” Zooming out and seeing something from a bird’s-eye view gives you a new perspective.

And this can help present useful models that can help people and explain how the world works.

But we reach a limitation when we stay in the sky and never descend.

There are intangible factors that the bird’s-eye view can’t predict.

If we don’t begin experimenting at the ground level, there will always be a gap in our understanding.

And within this gap is where you can find breakthrough ideas and generate valuable content to grow your brand.


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