Genre vs. Idiosyncrasy

Genre is like an index. You are put there so people can find you. We always need to think about how others can find us. How they can hear us, can see us.

When they do, it’s what only we have that keeps the right people around.

Genre is a labeled box.

Genre is a platform.

Genre is a stage.

Genre is index.

Genre is an opportunity given by the stability of an ecosystem.

But in the core, genre is the part of what you do that shares with a bunch of other people’s work. It’s the general theme that connects different paths.

Idiosyncrasy is the reason for people to stare, linger, and stay.

Idiosyncrasy is the texture, the smell, the waves on the surface of a still lake.

Idiosyncrasy can be a disruption, too, when it’s strong enough. When it’s so disruptive that others might follow your lead, so that they will need to make another genre for you.

But idiosyncrasy is also going to be the reason why you are remembered for being who you are.

I think the way I’m putting it makes everything daunting to me. My first reaction was like “I will never be able to ‘disrupt’ anything”, “oh gosh I don’t want to put that much pressure on myself!”

But the way to do it should be simple, right?

I’m learning to sound like myself. I’m learning to listen to how I sound like when I’m being myself. But the answer always appears where I’m not looking. Not to sound too “Asian mysterious”, but “sounding like yourself” is something that you can only find when you are not actively looking for.

So I’m just reading, and writing.

I’m figuring out what I like, what I don’t like. I’m writing by imitating the things I like, avoiding the things that turn me off, believing one day I will be able to say: “This is me. This is how I sound like. This is what makes me remarkable.”


What does it mean to be a professional?

You are a professional at doing it, because the stakes are high.

It’s not your hobby. Because you certainly can make money from your hobby, if you like. Your livelihood doesn’t depend on it; your quality of life — financial and/or mental — won’t change much if you don’t carry on with it.

It’s not private. Hobby is private.

Being professional means having a standard. It means you voluntarily put your work in front of others and say “this is my work. I have a standard.

I am on a professional level.

I have a principle.

I do what I like. This is what I like to do. But I also do it for others. And get recognised for it. And most of times, I get paid for it.

I don’t do it just for fun.

It’s not necessarily my profession.

But I’m a professional at it. I do my work when I don’t want to. Because I’m doing it also for others.

Because others need my work.

The stakes are high.”

Create a journey that brings change

Don’t think it’s the end result what your audience/customers want. What comes before that is the journey itself.

The experience from beginning to end. The whole package.

Think about it like designing an exhibition. The visitors come in, either interested or uninterested in the topic, but they don’t know much about it. Then they go through the exit to the gift shop, wanting to buy souvenirs. The journey from the start to end is all decisive.

What’s the change do you want them to make? What realisation do you want them to have? What is so pretty and so inspiring that they will want to have a book about and buy a poster of?

The experience on the journey decides the end result, and whether or not they will tell others about it.

When they start to tell others about it, you’ve done your work right.

The most effective way to generate new ideas for anything

“Cooking dumplings in a tea kettle” is what the Chinese say when they want to describe someone who has much to say but unable to express it.

You must have had that feeling. It’s like you have much to say and to express, but somehow you just can’t let it out.

“I’ve got it.” You say. “I’ve got the idea but I’m not really sure…”

See, your problem is right there.

You can’t expect to let the dumplings out from the small opening of the kettle. You have to open the lid instead!

So, how do you open your “lid” to let out all the good stuff in your head?

Answer: have an idea generating session!

But not a 45-minute sit-in while having a staring contest with your blank paper.

A 10-minute quick but intense session of jotting down anything that pops in your head.

This is how you do it:

You can write the main topic on the top of the page. Say, “creativity”.

Then you note numbers from 1 to 15. Like the following:



Then you give yourself a 10-minute timer. Write down anything that you think is related.

Be specific if you can. Write down essential words so that you know what you mean.

For example. Some of the things I wrote down are: use of time, coming up new ideas, comparing self with others, sleep or no sleep?…

No matter what, fill in all 15 of them.

There will be some that spark more inside of you than others. When you start to create, start with those.

This is what I call the blitz-brainstorm session. The brainstorm session fast as a blitz. 🙂

The reason why this is an effective way to generate ideas is simple: you shut down your need to “be sure” about something, which is in your “mind”; instead, you let things out without filtering them, from your subconsciousness or simply your “gut”.

Not all of these ideas are worth going deeper and eventually becoming something. But you’ve got at least one good idea. That might be the one idea you’ve been searching for the whole time. It’s been hiding in your brain all along.

Like the dumplings in your kettle, you just need to find a way to let it out.

Never forget your “why”

“We’ve come so far, that we forgot why we started in the first place.”

We have limited attention every day. People get easily distracted these days, but we are still good at getting fixated on something and forgetting everything else at the same time. Especially when we are frustrated if things in front of our eyes are not going our way.

But why we started is far more important than why is the bike not working properly. I mean, if you want to get somewhere, you can ride a bike, walk, drive a car, take a bus, train, plane… just get there. The more time you spend being frustrated about something that doesn’t really matter (because there’s another way to do it), the longer it’s going to take you back to your journey.

That’s why it’s always important to revisit your “why”.

My suggestion: setting a reoccurring event to revisit your why in your calendar. And set the reminder of the event as via email. You can do it how often you need it. I’m setting it every two weeks for now. And it works very well. I’m always reminded of my big why and it motivates me every time when I look at it.

Unblock the dried up well?

Elizabeth Gilbert has been very open about her process of writing while not knowing what would become clunkers and what would work. She said in multiple occasions, that she had a long period of time receiving nothing but rejection letters. The only thing she could do was to go back to her work even if they were not picked by the publishers. This is the same as what Seth said about shooting: you can’t hit without having misses. And to be realistic, you will have more misses than hits. And after you hit the target, what you do? Well, you can put down your hands and say “I did it” and call it a day; or most likely you will keep shooting, keep missing, until you hit again.

I gave up believing in the myth of a Writer’s block after listening to the episode of Akimbo podcast (episode 4) where Seth debunked it. To me, the reason that I used to think I had a block in my creative process is kinda universal: perfectionism. Perfectionism comes from an ego that’s bigger than it’s healthy to be: “I have to come up with something good to say, something brilliant to draw, to put in front of others. Because I am good. And everybody should know that from whatever I produce now.” Because we were lured to believe that all artists should be egocentric who create the work of their lives that must inspire generations? Maybe. But again, they are the hits and not the misses.

It’s interesting to me that there’s no term equivalent to “writer’s block” in Chinese. “Block” indicates that one can “unblock” it. In Chinese, the words to describe a writer who cannot write is like: the thoughts/idea of well has been drained (like a dry well in the desert, it’s dead); and an artist who cannot create anymore: “talent being used up, drained up. One becomes empty and career in art comes to the end.” If you can’t create anymore, it’s final. Gosh are the Chinese super harsh with their creative minds…
One of the most intellectuals in modern Chinese history, Liang Shiqiu, wrote about “writer’s block”:  lack of imagination, slow association, unclear analysis, and lack of vocabulary&expression are the four main reasons of getting a block in your creative practice. The way to unblock? Read well and read more. To ensure one’s never blocked again, and doing better work with time: Read, analyse, write, edit. Repeat.

Are you a dried up well? Or can you keep reading, analysing, writing, and editing, to unblock your creative stream?

Creative lifestyle and generous leadership

Being creative is a lifestyle. We all start with the urge to express, to be heard, to hear, to communicate, to feel, to love and be loved. Then we choose a way to do that, be it writing, painting, taking photos, writing a play, cooking… anything, really.

Another thing important that I learnt this week is about how we should balance “creating for ourselves” and “for others”. Creating for ourselves is to answer the urge we have to express ourselves, to be heard. Creating for others in mind, to count on the power of empathy, is to lead.

When the productive artist (opposite from a failure) does work for themselves, has internalise the genre and culture, they are also doing it for other people. That’s why an important aspect of a creative’s practice is to internalise genres and cultures, so that she is able to do the work for herself, and do it for others at the same time.

Being generous and having the people we want to serve in mind while creating and producing make us happier and more fulfilled. Leading with generosity makes leading not just easier but also fulfilling.

If you are not your own boss…

Then you should be!

Just kidding.

My question is this: if you are not your own boss, meaning you are working for somebody else,

Why do you work?

What is the reason(s) for you to keep working for this employer?

For the money? Sure. But, is money the only factor here?

I’ve seen people who work for a company because it’s good money. Easy money, really.

Easy but sufficient money. They don’t care about the job itself. They don’t have to put themselves on the hook.

It’s ok. They are not required to put in emotional labor.

But if you are somebody who cannot stop caring what you do, you are in trouble.

You will suffer, as long as you are on the wrong job.

Under the wrong boss.

In the wrong team.

Facing the wrong clients.

In the wrong department/company.

So, why do you work? Why are you still where you are? Where do you want to go?

What do you want to feel when you do what you “have to do” — your work?

I can’t stop caring. That’s my curse and my blessing.

A boss has to show me that she’s worth my work and my caring. Because I carry emotional labor at whatever I do.

I’m not just working for the money. Money is a must for me, like it is for 99% of the people in the job market.

But I work because I want to know that my work means something to some people.

I work because I can help, I can provide, I can serve.

Don’t say “you are such a millennial”. Because this world is already sliding into the hands of the millennials.

Meaning has already become a must. It’s not unnecessary, pretentious or hypercritical.

Searching for meaning shows someone does care.

And for an employer, someone who do the work while caring is the most valuable.

Whatever you are doing, don’t stop caring.

Don’t give up your “why”.

Get your creativity a friend

An interesting friend.

You know how we all need interesting friend who can inspire us, instead of dragging us down?

“You can do it! You are doing it and you are improving. I’m proud of you!”

“You know this is what I do. This might be interesting to you.”

“Let’s talk about this concept that you are working on. I have a different approach…”

You want people who say this in your life.

What if I tell you that you need to give your creativity also a friend? A companion.

A companion that inspires your work.

Albert Einstein plays the piano and violin. He likes to sail, too.

Silvia Plath keeps bees.

Emily Dickinson likes to bake.

The companions they found for their own creativities relax them, diverse their attention when stress accumulates in their “serious work”, and inspire their creativities from another realm of consciousness and reality (because how mindful they have to be when they create. So are you.)

Find your creativity its own companion.

What you enjoy but in another field.

What gives you sparks of inspiration, pleasure, and relaxation or stimulation.

Your creativity will benefit from it. So will you.

What makes you tick?

As a creative and marketer, it’s our second nature to ask what makes other people tick. But to develop our own creativity to the next level, or simply to unstuck ourselves, the question we should ask from time to time is “what makes me tick?”

What are my buttons?

What inspires me and what makes me want to say something?

What relaxes me and what makes me want to escape the scene?

What excites me and what makes me want to turn to the next page and not stop reading?

What makes my heart pound and what makes my eyes watery?

Because being creative means not only to explore the market, the world and humanity; it also means to explore ourselves, who we are and what we are able to become, and more importantly, why and how.