Working at the Speed of Thought…
Humans have lots of ideas, some good, some bad, but nonetheless we all have lots of them. One of my (Phil Svitek) biggest pet peeves, whether for myself or others, is when those good ideas don’t get executed. I’m almost certain you can relate to this feeling in your own life. How many times have you thought of something brilliant but it never got done? You think about it from time to time, say you’ll get started but never do. That’s the problem with ideas. They’re a dime a dozen. It’s the execution that matters. And working at the speed of thought, if truly done properly, eradicates the bottlenecks, frustrations, obstacles, and so on of the process in taking an idea from concept to conception. Allow me to illustrate what I mean by working at the speed of thought and how you can apply it to your projects. I’ll cite filmmaker Robert Rodriquez among others as part of this lesson. Comment below with any questions or comments you have.
Speed of Thought Article: https://earthsky.org/human-world/what-is-the-speed-of-thought
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At AfterBuzz TV the network, in addition to producing amazing digital content, we aim to share our insights to help others grow.
Today’s lesson combines those two notions. What I mean by that is the AfterBuzz TV network produces over 100 shows in a single week. That level of productivity was and is still unheard of, especially at the size and scale at which we operate.
One of the driving forces in this achievement is the continued act of striving to work at the speed of thought. It’s a concept I can’t take credit for. That honor goes to one of my favorite filmmakers Robert Rodriguez.
The idea of working at the speed of thought has a lot of layers. Especially in terms of execution, which I’ll go over in a moment.
At its core though, the way I view it, is that we as humans are excellent at coming up with ideas. We are not so good at being able to hold onto them – hence why one of the biggest pieces of advice you’ll get throughout your life is to write things down. By the way, whenever possible, I still recommend pen and paper. There’s all kinds of scientific data to show that you retain information better if you physically write it down on paper. But I digress.
Back to the core of the concept of working at the speed of thought. Humans have lots of ideas, some good, some bad, but nonetheless we all have lots of them. One of my biggest pet peeves, whether for myself or others, is when those good ideas don’t get executed. I’m almost certain you can related to this feeling in your own life. How many times have you thought of something brilliant but it never got done. You think about it from time to time, say you’ll get started but never do.
That’s the problem with ideas. They’re a dime a dozen. It’s the execution that matters. And working at the speed of thought, if truly done properly, eradicates the bottlenecks, frustrations, obstacles, and so on of the process in taking an idea from concept to conception.
Allow me to first illustrate how exactly Robert Rodriguez applies this concept in his work and then highlight the specifics that you can apply to your work.
Back in 2001 when his film Spy Kids came out, critics and audiences adored it. It was fun. It was entertaining. It made a lot of money at the box office. And best of all for the studio, it was cheap to make. That made the margins between cost and profit fantastic. It’s what every business owner aims for: low overhead, high income.
The movie cost him 35 million dollars to make. For an indy movie that may seem high. But not when you look at what Robert accomplished with that budget. The film featured lush production design, the most exotic of locations, sci-fi gadgets and all kinds of vehicles, elaborate set pieces AND 500 visual effects shots. That’s a lot, believe you me.
How is all this possible?
Here’s what University of Kansas Film Studies professor Zachary Ingle writes in the book Robert Rodriguez: Interviews:
“What made both movies-on-a-shoestring possible [referring to Spy Kids and Spy Kids 2] was Rodriguez’s guerilla filmmaking style, developed in his teens as he made amateur films and epitomized by the one-man-show that was El Mariachi, for which Rodriguez served as writer, producer, director, cameraman, sound mixer and editor. The 7,000 dollar budget for that project… had left Rodriguez no choice but to do it all: he could not afford a crew. But the principles and methods he relied upon, out of necessity, on El Mariachi, he continued to apply out of preference on subsequent larger-scaled, bigger-budgeted shows, gaining him that reputation as a film-industry maverick who eschewed standard movie production practices.”
Rodriguez says, “Coming from a guerrilla-type background the Hollywood system of making movies never made any sense to me. It seemed like a step backward, not a step forward, because it was so difficult. If you have to run an obstacle course just to get the paintbrush to the canvas, your painting is going to suffer. And that is what happens so often in films: ‘That’s it? We spent all this money and had all this talent, and this is the result?’ It’s because the process is so convoluted, so strenuous, so wrong. Talk to any director, and he will tell you that one of the things he dislikes most about making a movie is the process. You should want to make a movie…”
By the way, Rodriguez came up with Spy Kids’ 35 million dollar budget arbitrarily just so he could restrain himself. Restraint for him brings about creativity.
Alright, enough anecdotes. Let’s get concrete. What are the steps Rodriguez takes to accomplish this feat?
Planning, organization, restraint, trial and error, a curious and inquisitive attitude and work ethic.
When it comes to his movies, Rodriguez is a meticulous planner. He knows not only every shot he wants but he knows exactly how he’ll achieve it too. This saves him lots of shooting time and more importantly, money. Now, the beauty is that if something on set strikes him that’s better than what he had planned, he’ll know exactly how it fits into the larger context of things but has a safety net in case it doesn’t work.
Next, organization. If you strive to work at the speed of thought, you’ll quickly be able to identify the areas that prohibit this. By way of example, have you ever wanted to write something down but don’t have a pen or paper nearby? Or worse, you don’t know where it is? That’s an extremely simple case of it, but take that concept to its extreme. From my own experience, when I work with novice editors they don’t label and structure their clips properly and therefore it takes them 30 seconds or more just to find the clip they’re looking for, let alone actually finding the portion of that clip they need. By the time they have this, they’ve forgotten their train of thought of how it fits into the sequence they’re working on.
Mind you, there’s a difference between being organized and messy – which I find most people don’t understand. Often times when I am in the creative act, my desk looks like a tornado hit it. That’s not me being disorganized. But it is me being deliberately messy. My mind knows exactly where things are in that mess and I can go to them within an instant, allowing me to work at the speed of thought.
In fact, Google shares my standpoint on this philosophy and practice. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt writes that on his first day he asked the head of facilities to “clean up the place”. Next day cofounder Larry Page emailed “Where did all my junk go? I want you to bring it back NOW.”
Business Insider explains, “Page’s reaction made Schmidt realize that he had mistakenly toyed with the fabric of Google’s culture. He is now a convert to the Google lifestyle, and says that you should let your employees make a mess of their desks if it’s a natural expression of their creativity and doesn’t hamper their productivity.”
The last part is key. Don’t make a mess and just use the fact that you’re a creative person as a means of justifying that mess. You have to have output. You have to knock out tasks. Your mess can’t impede you. It has to help you. If you find yourself looking for things you need – notes, pens, sticky pads, then your disorganized.
So that’s planning and organization. Let’s talk about restraint. Or you can interchange it to constraints. Either works. When you have limitations placed on you and you really want to do something or solve a problem, you’ll find a creative solution. A new solution. Doesn’t have to be 100% completely new – it can combine two or more techniques from somewhere else. You ever hear the quote “Necessity is the mother of invention”? The full quotes goes on to include “A need or problem encourages creative efforts to meet the need or solve the problem.” By the way, this saying is practically as old as time as it first appeared in the dialogue Republic, by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato.
Now we’ve covered half the layers that go into being able to work at the speed of thought: planning, organization and restraints. The fourth is trial and error. Think about it – if you want to do things a different and new way, you’ll have to test out those methods. You won’t get them right your first go around. It’s the famous adage – we learn from our failures. Use that to your advantage. Fail often. Fail often indeed, but fail quickly too. Have an idea and test out a way of doing it in its simplest form. Rodriguez doesn’t have an idea then shoot it right away. As mentioned earlier, he plans it. He writes it down into a script and sees if it works. Then he sketches a storyboard for himself. Then he may use animatronics to do a fast rendition of it with moving images that represent the storyboard. And so on. By the time he gets to the editing phase of his movies, he’s just laying in the shots he already knows and has preselected. At every phase before that is a chance to adjust, which he does often if something doesn’t work. It saves him lots of time and money.
Let’s discuss what a curious and inquisitive attitude means. It means always questioning things in a healthy way. “Why do we have to do this like this?” “Is there a better way to do it?” “What if we tried this?” Etc. Hollywood wrote the book on film-making. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to make movies. Rodriguez and other successful indy directors have proven this.
This applies to all industries. Technology and human beings are advancing so much that there’s always a better way to do something. We all must strive to improve day to day. Look at AfterBuzz TV. I was in college back in 2006 to 2010. Podcasting wasn’t an industry when I went. It was barely a technology. Now it’s a full fledged industry. If I, along with co-founders Keven Undergaro and Maria Menounos, didn’t question everything from the get go, we wouldn’t have made it.
By asking these questions, with the notion of working at the speed of thought ever-present, you’ll become more effective at what you do. Gary Keller and Jay Papasan write in their book The ONE Thing, that you want to ask yourself “What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
We’re at the last step. We’ve gone over planning, organization, restraints, trial and error and now a curious and inquisitive attitude. Finally, work ethic. People talk about work ethic and they often glamorize it by thinking they’re hard working. We’d all like to think so. But there’s humility that comes with work ethic. You have to humble yourself and wear a lot of hats. Sometimes we feel it’s best to delegate tasks out to other people and may unnecessarily do so. There’s an art to delegation, which at one point I’ll teach, but in general, don’t look to delegate. Do it yourself. It may be harder at first but you’ll learn those skills in time. You may develop a new method because someone else may do it the way it’s always been done – which could be slow and costly. Plus, you’ll never have the satisfaction that you were the one to did it. It is actually your accomplishment, not someone else’s. Mind you that’s not a license to be a dictator or bossy if you work with other people. Lots of projects, creative or otherwise, are still collaborative and should be viewed as such.
Watch Rodriguez’s films – he’s writing, directing, producing, shooting, editing and composing a lot of the time. At AfterBuzz, the way we pump out hundreds of shows weekly, again, something no one else has replicated, is because everyone, top to bottom, wears multiple hats and understands the benefits of doing so. Plus, it just makes you diversified and therefore more valuable in the work marketplace.
There you have it. The six subsets to working at the speed of thought so that you can take your ideas and actually knock them out.
Apply them every day, little by little and you will see results. I know I’ve highlighted Robert Rodriguez within my examples, but that’s because he’s the one who introduced me to this concept. Thanks to him, I used it to help build AfterBuzz TV into what it is today – a leader in TV discussion content. Hope you enjoyed this and I can’t wait to see what you create.
As always here’s quotes to reinforce today’s lesson on working at the speed of thought.
“At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right… The most important thing is insight, that is … curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got that or not.” – William Faulkner
“1) Start where you are with what you have. 2) Try not to hurt other people. 3) Take more chances. 4) If you fail, keep trying.” – Germany Kent
“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” – Benjamin Franklin
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curious keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney
“A man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
Just a few final things before you head off. First, the transcript of this episode is in the description – that way you can review the lesson at your convenience. It takes on average 7 times for someone to retain information, so trust me when I saw that re-watching this video will only benefit you. Also for your benefit, we’ve included a scientific article on the actual speed of thought. It’s a very interesting read, so check it out. Before you go, leave a comment with any thoughts, opinions or questions you may have so Phil or Juliet can respond. We’re always excited to read what you share with us. If you enjoyed this video, please be sure to hit that like button and let your friends and family know about it. If you’d like to be notified when future episodes release, be sure to subscribe on either Apple Podcast or YouTube. Lastly, if you’re a new host in the LA area and would like to join AfterBuzz, visit the AfterBuzz TV’s website contact page. Or of course you can Tweet @PhilSvitek or Instagram @BonjourJuliet. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next Monday with another one of Phil’s lessons.