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Joey Cofone

Joey Cofone is the Founder and CEO of Baronfig, an award-winning designer and entrepreneur, and the newly minted author of The Laws of Creativity.

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The Laws of Creativity

Joey Cofone is the Founder and CEO of Baronfig, an award-winning designer and entrepreneur, and the newly minted author of The Laws of Creativity.

If you have listened to our podcast long enough then you may have heard Joey’s voice before. Way back in episode 57. We are pleased to welcome him back to the show to share what he’s been working on for a long time: defining the laws of creativity.

In part one of this conversation, Joey and Chris share some of their most poignant memories of creativity. They discuss the importance of remaining curious, following your instinct, and why what makes you weird also makes you wonderful.

Oct 26

The Laws of Creativity

Joey Cofone and Chris Do share their most poignant memories of creativity and discuss the importance of remaining curious, following your instinct, and why what makes you weird also makes you wonderful.

What makes you weird, makes you wonderful.

Joey Cofone is the Founder and CEO of Baronfig, an award-winning designer and entrepreneur, and the newly minted author of The Laws of Creativity.

If you have listened to our podcast long enough then you may have heard Joey’s voice before. Way back in episode 57. We are pleased to welcome him back to the show to share what he’s been working on for a long time: defining the laws of creativity.

In part one of this conversation, Joey and Chris share some of their most poignant memories of creativity. They discuss the importance of remaining curious, following your instinct, and why what makes you weird also makes you wonderful.

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Greg Gunn

Greg Gunn is an illustrator, animator and creative director in Los Angeles, CA. He loves helping passionate people communicate their big ideas in fun and exciting ways.

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What makes you weird, makes you wonderful.

Episode Transcript

Joey:

You are mathematically incredibly unique. You are actually weird because you are unique and different. And if you find a way to put your interests into what you do, into your life and the way you create or who you are, you become incredibly unique. And if people are going to call you weird screw them.

Chris:

I'm really looking forward to talking today, Joey, because of our previous conversation, but mostly because of this 400 page book that you sent over to me, which I'm just super appreciative to have in my hands. I've read through it, I've finished most of it, and I just feel so much that it resonates and aligns with the things I think about. It's just better written than I could say. The stories are better, it's better researched. And I'm also super impressed that it's self-published. And we were just joking before we went and started recording here, it's like everything is by you. Text by Joey, designed by Joey, exterior design, interior design. First, let me just ask you that question. Why is everything done by you?

Joey:

So that's not how it is at Baronfig, by the way. Thanks for... Happy to be here, excited to chat. I felt that if I was going to write a book on creativity and talk about the scope of what I've done in the past, talk about how you can learn anything not to be afraid. I felt like I needed to set that example and I needed to, obviously I wrote it, there's no ghost writing or anything. And I designed the interior and like you said, the cover. And I felt like I couldn't have a book on creativity with the cover be designed by someone else. I would never get over that.

Chris:

Okay.

Joey:

And so I ended up doing everything, but that's not my philosophy in general at Baronfig. I put trust in the right people to do the right things, and I let them do their jobs well.

Chris:

Well, I admire you for it. Maybe there's some shots fired because I did write my own book and I'm like, I can't design all these things. I can't do all these things. I need a lot of help and it's the way my mind works. So this stands out to me. I mean, the first thing whenever you read a book is you wonder who's the ghost writer. Because these days there's a lot of people who co-sign on to things. Maybe they told somebody a story and then that person does the heavy lifting. And of course I respect that too. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's more admirable when it's like it's you and it's all you kind of beginning to end. The illustrations in here are yours too?

Joey:

Yeah.

Chris:

Look at that. Look at you. I'm impressed. Okay, so let's do this.

Joey:

Thanks man. I appreciate that.

Chris:

Let's kind of rewind the tape here in case somebody, wherever they've been, didn't listen to our first conversation. Can you tell people who you are and what you do?

Joey:

Sure. Happy to. Hello, everyone out there. Excited to be here. My name is Joey Cofone. I am an entrepreneur and a newly minted author, as you have learned. I founded Baronfig, a company that makes tools to help you do your best thinking. And I wrote The Laws of Creativity, a book that teaches you how to master your ideas. I'm a designer under the hood. I've designed and art directed over a hundred products from zero to launch. And in a nutshell, my work focuses on helping people turn their ideas into reality.

Chris:

Love that. Okay, so here we are. What was the motivation for you to write the book? Because it's no easy undertaking for someone to consolidate their thinking and put it into something that's fairly permanent. Blair Enns told me, "Do your due diligence, write a good book because you can't unpublish a book." So there's something very permanent about a book and how serious we take it as a work of ideas and maybe even within the realm of academia. You're legitimate as soon as you write a book. So why'd you write this book? What was the motivation?

Joey:

Yeah, the motivation started way back when I was a kid. And it's not the story you're thinking of from the intro, that was just about creativity, which maybe we'll touch on. But why I wrote the book and probably why I do what I do is because I had this friend in grammar school, we'll call him Bill. And Bill was an incredible visual artist. He drew all the time. At first grade he was drawing at a college level. He was phenomenal. Well, his parents didn't think that there was a livelihood there as a creative. They forced him to be a nurse. And when that didn't work, they forced him to be an accountant. Low and behold, those are the two jobs his parents had. And to this day, he does not do any of this art stuff and he's not the happiest. And I remember witnessing this and thinking, "Oh my goodness, this is an injustice."

And it's so normal for people to push their kids into sports, which has a ridiculously smaller chance of financial success as an adult. But we don't nearly as much push kids into the creative arts. And they're often so interested in that. And there's this belief that there's no money there, that there's no careers there. And so I think I made it my mission a long time ago to focus on that as something that I want to combat and say, "This isn't true at all." And so you're doing it. I'm doing. We're designers as leaders, creating businesses and together we're, and many other people like us are changing that so that maybe one day they'll be like, "Hey, you want to be like Michael Jordan, cool. You want to be like Joey Cofone, Chris Do." These are all models. And so that's why I wrote the book. The easy part is I basically took notes for 10 years on my phone and it went, jumped from phone to phone, thanks to the cloud where I saw patterns and I would record them.

And as you're reading, you've read, you've probably recognized the same patterns. I put them down and then the pandemic happened. So I didn't plan on writing this, Chris for a while. I figured, let me get a little older, get a little more cred, whatever it is. I don't know what I was waiting for, but I wasn't planning on it. Stuck inside during quarantine and my wife says, "If you don't write this now, I don't know when you're going to write it." And I was like, "Man, she's right." And so I immediately took those notes, I looked at them, parsed them, organized them into a table of contents. And that's pretty much what you see in your hands.

Chris:

Okay. The way that the book is structured, it's broken into three major components, right? Foundation, I forget... How do you describe the three parts there?

Joey:

Foundation, process, and excellence.

Chris:

And they're all written as laws, laws to obey, laws to observe. And you really do a lot to try to dispel this idea that creativity is magic. And so maybe we'll talk about that a little bit, but as I was reading the book, I was kind of just thinking, how did you organize all these things? Did you write the laws all first to figure out, okay, these are the tenants in which I believe in and then organize them, group them, and then backfill in the stories and explanations and the frameworks. Is that how you did it?

Joey:

At first I thought I was going to do just the process. I thought that was the book, How to create from start to finish I think is the subtitle, that second part. And so I went out and of course I talked to a bunch of creatives, but I also talked to non creatives. And I quickly learned that it's not that they were doing anything wrong, it's more that they weren't thinking in the right way to be creative. I mean, it sounds kind of obvious now when we say it, but accepting that failure at the start is a given and not worrying about doing it other people and letting your weird out. We could break those down if you want, but all these things are what were really preventing these non creatives from creating. And so then I was like, "Man, I got to write this mindset section first before I even touch the process."

And then along the way it became obvious, "Oh my goodness, there's all these things that just the people who are really good do. And that's a section." So that's how the three parts came. And then once I had that, it was so easy to drop the laws in the appropriate spot. The harder part was naming some of them. I struggled. There was one that there's the law of symbiosis now is about essentially that your body's not just a container for your mind, but it actually contributes to the effectiveness of it. And it's the law of symbiosis. Great name now. But before I had some terrible names like the law connectedness and the friendship. I mean it was just dumb. But that's the process, which of course you know.

Chris:

Yeah. So the reason why I asked you that question is because when you are writing, you're often referencing other laws forward and backwards. So I was think, "Man, Joey's mind is very organized."

Joey:

Oh dude, Okay. Okay.

Chris:

Tell me about that.

Joey:

I've got some sick tips and then I can tell you how that happened. I'll cut to the chase and say that I just added that in afterwards, once I wrote the book.

Chris:

You letting the magic out of... You're showing us what's up your sleeve here? Okay.

Joey:

Yeah. But what I wrote the book, I didn't worry about it. And my key tip in writing any book is never go backwards. So once you're done with the chapter, no matter how good or bad you think it is, when you're done and you've reviewed it once, you save it, you move on to the next chapter. And that's how I wrote this book relatively quickly, in 11 months and essentially not going backwards. And so then I did go backwards to add all those references in, but a lot of people get stuck in hyper analyzing what they've done and treat it as progress when it's really the facade of progress by editing before you're done writing.

Chris:

I think there's a lot of people who write or create who will say very similar things, that there's different brains that we're using in the creation process and the editing process and editing involves a more analytical mind. And so it takes you out of the creative process and... Get your first ugly draft out. Do not move backwards, move forwards. I hear that.

Joey:

Absolutely.

Chris:

But here's what I'd love to do. So it's called The Laws of Creativity. And so immediately, and I know you know the answer to this, but I'm setting you up here, is somebody's going to be like, "Well that's not for me. I'm an accountant. I'm not in a field where I would describe myself as creative." So let's go debunk some myths here. I think this is the foundational part of the book, the laws that you write about in terms of how to think creatively. Let's talk about why there's so few of us who self-identify as creative and talk about why being a creative is not something that you should be ashamed of or try to run away from, but to run towards.

Joey:

Well, my favorite part of that beginning section is when I remember the day I discovered the fact that NASA had done this study on creatives. You already know what I'm talking about. So NASA, that the same organization that has put people on the moon, you know that they're precise, they're not wrong, but that's a deadly thing to be wrong for NASA. They found that 98% of kids are at the creative genius level at age five. I'm talking genius level. But by the time we reach adulthood, that number dwindles to 2%. And this is fascinating because essentially kids are creative genius and then we entirely lose it as adults. And so my goal is how can I write a book that helps you get it back? So I'm not teaching you something, I want to remind you of what you already know. And the curious thing about going from 98% to two is that's not an accident.

It'd be different if it was like 98 to 80, okay whatever, some people lose it. But when you go to 98 to two, that's a guaranteed effect that's happening. Which means we are culturally, the way we operate, we are systematically and very effectively beating the creativity out of our children as we grow older. And I have a few beliefs and a lot of research and discussion to come to the conclusion, and you said, "Why are there so few of us?" So essentially there's three things that happen when we're being raised. And the first is authority. The teacher's, principal's, deans, we're taught that that's unquestionable. Next we're taught that man-made rules must be followed to a fault. And finally, this is the third part is which is the most devastating. We're taught that the end is visible from the start. And I'm not being hyperbolic at all.

When we are in school, we're given assignment, write three pages on the plot of this book. I know how that's going to end. Or solve these two geometry proofs. I know how that's going to end. Then we're put into the world. We're given jobs and bosses that do the same thing. And so going into the unknown is something we're never trained of. But as kids, everything is an unknown, which is why we're creative geniuses. So Chris, you, me accidentally and all these creatives out there for whatever lucky reason as kids, we didn't allow those three things to pull the curiosity and instead replace it with fear of the unknown. And that's how we have produced... That's how the world has produced 2% creatives by accident essentially.

Chris:

So I have this observation, or at least this theory about how people wind up being creative. There is something that you touch upon in the book about the spirit of being a rebel. And I just don't listen so well. I don't follow the rules so carefully and I question authority as part of my default operating system. So I think something, me being in a traditional judging lens, it's like something was defective about our brains that these authority figures who are trying to make us follow very specific rules and think in a linear binary way, there's a right way and a wrong way to do something. For some reason it didn't click with us. You write about it about what a worm taught you about creativity. And there's a very similar thing that has happened in my life and I want to share because I have boys, they're not little kids anymore. But tell us a little bit about the worm and what it taught you about creativity.

Joey:

Yeah, it starts off the book with a story about where this came from. And Chris, I agree. We just talked about rules and authority and the opposite would be breaking rules and actively questioning authority. When I was in first grade, I was seven years old back in the day when I pulled my pants up way too high, they were like right under my nipples, man, I got legs for days, dude, I'm six foot three and for whatever reason, man, I love those high pants. And I go into first grade and the teacher handed out the worksheet to color and we've all done this. You color it, you put it on the bulletin board and everybody's happy. It stays there for a week until the next one. And on this particular day it was a worm and I remember thinking, I'm going to make the best worm possible.

So I put my arm around it, I start coloring this thing and I'm like, "This is going to be a kick worm, man. Mine is going to be awesome." And I must have taken long because by the time I was ready, I cut it out. And when I walked up to the board, most were up there already and I saw that even though they were all colored differently, as a group, they felt the same. So I slowly went back to my desk and the teacher was like, "Joey is everything okay?" And I was like, "Yeah, it's all right." And I'm like, trying not to cry, like, "Oh my God, my thing is not as original as I thought." Well, I'm sitting there with my head in my hands and I'm super sad. And it dawns on me as I'm looking at my desk that I have all these shards of paper from the cutout.

So I picked them all up and I'm like, "Oh my goodness, this is an opportunity." I draw a boombox, a microphone and a necklace, cut them out, put them on my worm, put that on the board. The whole class gathers the teachers they are like, "Oh my goodness." And I'll never forget, she simply said, "I've never seen anything like it." And from that day forward, very real sense, I've been addicted to that feeling. How can I do that again where people go, "I've never seen that." And that has driven me from seven years old to today.

Chris:

Were you self-aware at that point in time there was something happening inside of you and the acknowledgement that you got that this was different and original, that you are a creative being? Were you that self-aware at that age?

Joey:

I knew that what I had done the moment I thought about it, I knew I was going to be a hit before I had done it. Cutting and drawing and I was like, "Oh, this is going to kill it." As far as was I self-aware enough to say that this was a creative act, all that came later where it was much older. And then I was like, What happened? Where did this come from?" And I remember this day that's this arbitrary memory that really has stuck out so strongly. What about you, man? Is there a formative, creative moment that you remember in your life?

Chris:

There are, but it's kind of interesting that this story resonates so much with me because as a parent, I get to observe my children and there's two little stories I want to share, and it's going to sound almost exactly like your story.

My boys, when they were much younger, we would buy them toy cars, like these metal die cast cars, and they're about eight or nine inches, replica models. And I remember my little guy, I think he was barely learning how to walk at that point. He was trying to climb inside the car. So his foot is bigger than the door, but he was trying to put his foot inside the car. And I looked at him for probably 30 seconds or so, just watching in amusement as a parent, but not thinking "You idiot, you can't put your foot in the car." But in his mind, he doesn't understand the relationships between size and openings. And so he wasn't going to buy into all these rules that we already accept as truths and laws. And so I just found it really pleasurable to see and just the witness and just leave him alone. Let him try to get in that car and drive it even though his whole leg is bigger than the entire car.

The second story is also very worm-like. It's a caterpillar. Now, my wife and I, when our boys were younger, we would go to a place called Lakeshore. I don't know if you have that where you're at, but it's like the Toys R' Us for educators, for teachers. And they would have supplies to make different things. And it's designed for teachers to buy and then bring into the classroom. So my wife and I are there, we're trying to buy things, creative art tools, different projects for our kids to work on.

And there's one in particular where there's a set of four animals with foam parts that you can glue together, a bear, a tiger and elephant and a monkey. And there's like a popsicle stick. And since it's for teachers, there's way too many parts and pieces for us as a family of four. And so what happened was my wife would then show my son how to make the tiger, the elephant and glue parts together with the little bubbly eyes. And then she's a designer herself. So she starts combining different animal parts together. She's making a tiger bear or an elephant monkey, and she, she's like, "Oh, I'm having a lot of fun." And she's playing around with this. And then my son, my oldest son, his name is Otto, I don't remember how old he was, but he was working on something else. And then when they were all done, my wife's like, "I got to show you what your kids did."

I'm like, "What is that?" She would show me the basic set. And then she showed me her set, which was super creative, not thinking of the animals as having to match reality. But what she showed me was our son took the faces, turned them around, so they're just shapes and he glued them together to make a caterpillar and then he put those on a stick. So he ignored what was intended in terms of the instructions and he ignored the graphics and he turned them over and she goes, "There's nothing I can do to beat your son's creativity. This is amazing." And we still have this as a artifact of what it means to be a creative person. So that very much mirrors your story about the worm and you thinking outside the box.

Joey:

I love that. That's awesome. So he basically took the shape alone and ignored what was printed on it and was like, "What can I make of this? I'm not going to follow their rules at all."

Chris:

That's exactly right.

Joey:

That's beautiful.

Chris:

And that reminds me of the story that you included in the book about the mathematician who came late to his class. Tell us a little bit about that and how that might help us reframe things.

Joey:

Yeah, so there's a student named George Dantzig and he was not a very good student, as we've learned troublemakers may tend to be. But George was actually particularly late one day to class. And so he runs across campus, he arrives 10 minutes late, he sits down as quietly as he can. He sees on the board, there's two math problems. So he is like, "Okay, this is the homework, I'm going to write it down." And then he sneaks out before class is over so that he doesn't get yelled at by the teacher. Well, he goes home and he gets to work. It's actually quite difficult for him to solve the problems. And he thinks to himself, "Man, these are some of the hardest things that the teachers ever got given." But he solves them, eventually. He brings them to the teacher's office and he fesses up and he is like, "Listen, I'm sorry I was late that day and I'm sorry these took so long. Here's my homework, I'll see you in class."

He goes home. Sunday morning, a few days later he hears a banging on his dorm room and he's like, "What the hell?" Thinking a friend is probably excited about something. He opens up, who does he see but the professor sweating, waving the papers in the air. Turns out George Dantzig solved unsolvable math problems and he had no idea. So because he went to class late, he didn't hear the teacher tell everyone, "These are problems that no one has been able to solve. We think they're unsolvable." So this chapter, and the reason I tell this story is because even George admits, if he had known that, if the teacher had set those expectations, then he probably wouldn't even try just like the other students. But because he didn't know, he was able to do something no one else was.

And so this story is the lead in to the chapter that is titled Measure Against Yourself. It's the Law of Competition which says, do not compare yourself to others but rather compare today's you to yesterday's. And so when you're incrementally better, you can reach new heights, untethered by the expectations of others. And this whole chapter goes into teaching you first by example and then through principle of how when you do this, you start to wander into your own lane. And that's when wonderful things can happen because now you're going into a new path that may not have been tread before. And you're also, as a human being, just generally less stressed out because you're not comparing yourself to what someone else is doing. We're all on our own timeline, and that's the Law of Competition. It's turning into one of the fan favorites of that first section too.

Chris:

I love that. And the lesson I got from hearing that story, and I'm unfamiliar with that story and also how you connected it to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's writing of Goodwill Hunting, which that story is based on, this accidental math genius that it's like, "Oh, I don't know." So the thing I get from that is that when we aren't told what we can and cannot do, it turns out we can do a lot more than we think. And so the professor saying to his students, "These are unsolvable math problems." Then why even try or I'm not smart enough to solve the problem. So we precondition or society, classrooms, teachers precondition us to believe things are not possible, therefore a limiting all kinds of exploration.

My former business mentor Teir McLaren who recently passed, he would tell me that most innovations are created by one of two types of people. One, somebody's in a field, but they're relatively new, so they don't really know what they're not doing. That people tell them like, "This is not possible." Or two, they come from totally different fields and then they innovate. And basically it's the same principle, which is "I don't know enough about what I don't know, so I'm just going to try anyways." Which is what happened here with Dantzig, right?

Joey:

Absolutely. Yeah. There's another story. Did you get to the one about Jan Ernst Matzeliger and the shoes?

Chris:

Yes, I did.

Joey:

So similar to the Dantzig and what you're saying about innovations, there's this kid named Jan Ernst Matzeliger, and he came to the US as a young teenager, and essentially he barely spoke the language and he was just trying to learn a trade. And so he went into the shoe industry and back then shoes were relegated to the wealthy because they were so expensive to make, they were so expensive to buy. And Matzeliger was actually the son of a enslaved person. And when he was young, he watched his mother work and her feet bled and it would make her sick. And so when he started getting involved, he said, "There's got to be a way to put shoes on everyone's feet. Why does this cost so much?" And so he spent years working and apprenticing at every level of the process until he discovered the problem, which was shoe lasting and lasting was done by hand lasters, it's essentially taking the soul and attaching it to the shoe and it has to be done by hand and it takes quite a while.

And he said, "If I can reduce the time this costs, this takes, I can reduce the time in entire shoe takes." And people were like, "Oh, you can't replace hand lasters. That's an art, it's an artistry." And what he did was he built a machine that replicated the whole process of hand lasting and went from something like a hand laster could do 20 pairs of shoes a day, to his machine did 500 a day. And because of him, he essentially democratized shoes and he's a total newcomer. People laughed at him. That's exactly what you're saying. It's because he didn't have all these preconceived notions about how artistic it needs to be to apply the soles and so on and so forth.

Chris:

Yeah, I think if I remember the story correctly, did he have a background in mechanical engineering or something like that?

Joey:

Yeah, yeah, he did. He did.

Chris:

So that's the classic example, right?

Joey:

Yeah, it's classic. Whereas he comes from something totally different instead of the craft, he's a mechanical engineer and he brings this over and says, "My goodness, you guys aren't leveraging this thing that I know. Let's try it out." And now we all wear shoes. Thanks to this person.

Greg Gunn:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

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Chris:

Welcome back to our conversation.

You say that the person who can best define the problem or ask the right question is most likely the person to solve it. And so you write about the evolution of the questions that one might ask, and could you talk a little bit about that and how framing the problem through a question leads us to the answer?

Joey:

Right. It depends on what... I talked about, self-driving cars in the chapter and essentially the more precise you are at honing where you're looking, the more likely you'll solve for that little thing. And so I take the example of self-driving and originally it's how can we make a self-driving car? Then it's how can they evolve? Tesla, I use as the example, evolves that question to not only that, but how can we have cars read the road and then it goes from well we get that, but they need to learn now because we can't possibly program every instance. So then they make cars learn, but my goodness, this is too slow. It's going to take us forever to gather data. So the question evolves to how can we make cars learn from each other? Tesla hooks up all the cars together into the fleet, becomes the neural network, and all of a sudden the data blooms.

And now self-driving is evolving at such a rapid rate that actually one of the Baronfig team members has a Tesla. And he was just telling me, they just released to him the beta for Manhattan self-driving, which is according to him, because I don't follow it as closely, is the pinnacle of self-driving to handle all the craziness that's going on outside. And so basically by finding the right question, or through a process, you can't jump to it, but as you work constantly changing what your goal is, you will be able to find the heart of your problem. In Tesla's case, how do we make cars learn from each other that can then ultimately bloom into the solution you're looking for?

Chris:

There's a couple things I want to mention here really quickly. I remember a little clip I saw on YouTube about Kevin O'Leary, who's one of the sharks from Shark Tank, and he was having this conversation with his son and he was like, "Why would you ever want to invest in Tesla?" He asked. And his son's like, "Dad, you don't get it. You're the idiot. Tesla's not a car company, they're a data company." And he's like, "Oh my gosh." He's like, "What do you mean?" Well, each car is collecting data and building into this neural network. So they have a distinct advantage that the other car companies don't have. And other car companies are trying to approach the problem, probably from the wrong way, therefore they're less likely to solve it.

But getting back also to, I don't know how to pronounce his name, but the shoemaker who figured out this lasting part, I think in the book you write about this first he is like, "How do I make shoes more affordable?" And that's too big of a question. But then he reduced the problem down to where's the slowest, most tedious part of the construction? And I suspect that it's called lasting because it's the lasting that gets done. The sole's apply to the shoe. And so he's like, "How do I improve or make that part faster?" By asking that question, then he can go about solving the problem.

And I love that, because so much about our perception and how we look at problems and solution is about how we frame the problem. When we frame the problem correctly, then we're looking in the right direction. My business coach also, maybe I'll refer to a couple more times on this episode, he would always tell me, "Here's the thing, when you ask the question, it's not that you need people to tell you where the bullseye is so that you can hit it in your creative pitches. It's just tell us what wall it's on, so at least we're facing in the right direction because no matter how many shots we take, if we're not facing the right direction, we have a zero chance of hitting it."

Joey:

Yeah, that's exactly it.

Chris:

Okay. I'd love to circle back to this idea of rules because I've been thinking about this a lot myself. I used to teach at art center, a place where some of the most creative minds come to hone their craft and learn a skill from some of the best teachers. And oftentimes this pattern would emerge and it finally dawned on me, "I need to push this button a little bit." When students would design their storyboards with me and I would challenge them and I would ask them, "Why did you do it that way?" And they would almost always say something to the effect of, "Well, I thought we couldn't do it the other way." I said, "Well, who taught you that? Who told you that was a rule?"

Because one of the rules I have in class is you show up on time, You do what you're asked, and everything else is fair game. Just so you know, there is nothing that's out of bounds. But they would inevitably come back and say, "Well, I thought we couldn't do that." And I would ask them to cite what class, what book, which author, which teacher told you you couldn't do that. And in every single instance they could not name it, but they felt it. These were self-imposed rules. Rules that they had learned. What are your thoughts on that, Joey?

Joey:

Right. Well, there's so many expectations that we place on ourself, but there's also, when someone develops something like that, so there's this idea, I want to address this in a circuitous way because weird has been weaponized, and you may have read that part in the beginning, but it's the avoidance of being weird that makes people put themselves in boxes. And so when you think about that person in school that was different from everyone else, "Hey, there's that weird kid." Or there's the weird person at the office and we've all done this at some point in our life, they're weird and we've used that as a negative. Oh, that's weird.

When actually weird means you're different, different means you're unique, unique means you're original. And this is what everybody wants to be. They want to be different, they want to be original. And don't take my word for it. Think about people that society holds high. And I'm just going to throw some names out, not necessarily my people, but Kanye, Elon Musk, Oprah, politicians, Martha Stewart, Tom Cruise, it goes on and on. They're all weird. They are themself. They are unique because they've got their weird tendencies and we love them for it.

Here's the curious part is that inside of our bubble, Chris, the people in our world, we don't want anybody like that. Everybody needs to fit a mold. But if you're outside of our bubble, the people that we don't interact with, then we love weird. It's super curious that we have this dichotomy. We don't want to interact with weird, but we want to admire it from afar. And we certainly don't want to be weird because then we are in the other people's bubble and now we are going to be ostracized.

And so I think a little bit of what you're saying comes from the idea that someone doesn't know what to do, so they create this limitation that they think will then fit with everyone else and sometimes it's spoken to. If someone says those pants are weird, why would you wear that? And other times in your example, people are taking best guesses just to avoid the ostracism that could come or they think could come with being different. And I love that you start by saying in your class, anything goes here. There's no rules aside from showing up and handing in your homework with your best efforts or something like that. I I used to teach and I did the same thing. So I'm with you on that completely.

Chris:

Yeah. So I find that as a teacher, most of my job is helping students dismantle those self-imposed rules wherever they learned them from so that they can harness and open up their true creativity. I do want to spend a little bit more time talking about weirdness because it's something I definitely believe. As I'm reading your book, I'm like, "Dude, this is how I think is just written better and more organized than I could ever hope to do." But this is something that I push created people to do. So if we say only about 2% of adults survive as a creative person within that group, they're still questioning things. They're like, "Chris, I'm still trying to fit in a box that there is this need to conform." I forget where I read this, but it says "We've learned a long time ago to get along."

We have to go along and being weird gets us ostracized, it gets us funny looks. Sometimes we're put on a different bus, we're teased. And so those patterns of thinking and that fear and the need to fit in is so strong and prevalent even within the 2% that survive. And I do everything I can to push people to embrace your inner weird. James Victoria has this expression, which I love, which I co-opted and modified a little bit, but his thing is, "What makes you weird as a kid, makes you a creative as an adult." That's a lot to say. I just say, what makes you weird, makes you wonderful. And when we learn to lean into that and you write about the same thing, it becomes your superpower.

You describe something, we all in some way want to stand out in a good way. We just don't want it to be labeled as weird. And you said weird has been weaponized and it's turned into a negative word and then for used against us and therefore we kind of shy away from it. But you describe something weird, if we look at it differently is just another word for unique and different. And if we're able to stack enough weirdness, things that we prefer, then we become a really truly unique person. And then you have some mathematical calculations about that. Can you talk about that?

Joey:

Yeah. So this is what you're about to hear, this applies throughout the book, was dismantling the idea that creativity is magic. How do you do that? But the most non magic thing there is math or practical applications or practical examples. And so this is one, how do you know you're unique? I say in the book, "I can prove it legitimately." So Chris, let's do it with you. Give me three things that you like in three categories and I can make it easy like a movie, TV show, book, whatever.

Chris:

Okay, you want specific things or categories of things that I like?

Joey:

Three things in three different categories. Sorry, one thing in each of three categories.

Chris:

So I'm really into comics and I believe it's very foundational on how I think. And so I'm a Marvel person. I'm really into certain characters. My favorite superhero is the Incredible Hulk because I think the Incredible Hulk. Yeah, because I love him because he's wrestling with a darker part of him and a raw emotion I feel the same way. So when he becomes angry, the classic Hulk loses control of his intellect and he's a brilliant person, but I just feel like it's a super creative take on multiple personality disorder.

Joey:

Interesting.

Chris:

Like Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde. They become a different person. I just love the dichotomy of that. And also the fact that the only thing the Hulk wants in his life is just to be left alone. He just wants to be at peace. But because he represents such a threat to society and humanity that the government and super villains are constantly after him, just leave him alone and I identify with this character. So that's one thing.

Joey:

Okay, I love this. Number two.

Chris:

Okay, number two, I'm really into mixed martial arts and the brand that people know most and most anonymous with mixed martial arts is the UFC. One of my favorite fighters of all time is a gentleman by the name of Rickson Gracie, who's part of the lineage of the Brazilian Jujitsu Master, I'm forgetting his dad's name now, I'm sorry. The Gracie Jujitsu family is built around certain individuals and Rickson is an ultimate version of this. And so I'm really into Brazilian jujitsu and mixed martial arts.

Joey:

Love this. And the third?

Chris:

The third, let's see here. I love skateboarding. I can't do it anymore, but I do love skateboarding. And I was drawn to skateboarding through the design of it. And that was a gateway drug into becoming a designer for me and for me, Jim Phillips with Santa Cruz Skateboards had some of the most iconic designs, the Santa Cruz screaming hand, the OJ slime ball. I loved all of that. And that's what got me hooked into skateboarding and ultimately graphic design.

Joey:

Love this. This is really good. So first of all, thanks for sharing. That's really cool to learn about you. I did not know you like the Hulk so much, and my dad's favorite character is also the Hulk.

Chris:

All right.

Joey:

So I asked you this for a reason, was it just talk about uniqueness. Okay? I just asked you for three things that you like in three different categories. So now let's say that for argument's sake, there's only 1,000 options in each which there's a lot more than that in comics, in mixed martial artists as opposed to Rickson Gracie, did I say that right?

Chris:

Yep. Rickson Gracie.

Joey:

And Jim Phillips and I wrote down the OJ slime ball as an example of a design that resonated. So with just those three, the permutations, there's a billion of them, which means you are already one in eight. Okay? So there's 8 billion people on earth, so you're already one in eight. That's an incredible odd, instead of one in 8 billion. Now if we add just one more variable and I'm going to add it and say that your new favorite book is The Laws of Creativity by Joey Cofone.

Chris:

Not self serving at all. I get it.

Joey:

Now with four categories, and only a thousand options at each. We know there's way more than a thousand books. The number of combinations is 1 trillion, which is 128 times the population of Earth. So what am I saying here is if you can get those four things that you like in your creations, you are mathematically incredibly unique. And that's just four aspects of who you are. And there are way more than a thousand options. And there's way more than four aspects to Chris.

Which the point being is that you are actually weird because you are unique and different. And if you find a way to put your interests into what you do, into your life and the way you create or who you are, you become incredibly unique. And if people are going to call you weird, screw them because it doesn't matter. You're being true to yourself. And it's really the people who are conforming are really basically operating under the premise of fear. And that's not something we want. And so that's just one example of how the book sort of takes these ideas and says, "Hey, I'm not, BSing you. There's no hyperbole. This is a fact and here's how it works."

Chris:

And this is not my idea, but I read it and I love it. And whenever I say it to people, if they not heard it before, they like it too. If somebody tells me that you're weird, I said, "I'm not weird. I'm limited edition man." I'm one of one that's ultra premium, rare, holographic, whatever it is. If you're collecting, you know what that means.

Joey:

I know them well man, I love it.

Chris:

So the thing that I want to talk to you about in terms of this weirdness and why we don't lean into it. So when I was younger I was embarrassed to talk about comic books because those are things that kids do. And I'm in junior high and there's only a couple of friends that were into comics as much as I was in terms of reading, collecting, talking about the stories. And it's kind of material that if you talked about too loudly, it's grounds for someone to throw you in a trash can.

And so you kind of keep these at bay. Somewhere along the way I found my confidence, I found my voice, and I let my inner freak flag out and I raise it proudly.

Joey:

Hell yeah.

Chris:

But I take it to that it's rare amongst people because we wouldn't be talking about it if everybody already knew how to do it. So I ask you for some of my friends who maybe haven't found that inner confidence and voice yet, how do we be brave enough to lean into this weirdness and look at it as an asset and not a liability? Do you have any practical tips?

Joey:

Yeah, this one is sprinkled throughout the book because it's something that comes up so often and it really starts with self-acceptance. And I think the reason I shared the math behind it is to hopefully make you or any reader understand that if you're trying to convince yourself that you're not weird, you're just lying to yourself. Because weird, by the very nature of being an individual in the world and all your interests, you are. And when we think about, I mean every day you have 6,000 thoughts and it is like when you are filling your mind up with stuff that is... When you're hiding all those thoughts, I should say, is you are essentially beating down a large part of who you are. And with a few tweaks to shift your mindset, you can start to take advantage of them. And one of them is self-acceptance and the other is starting to break down in the whole part one really is how you can challenge assumptions, measure against yourself.

Basically, chapter one sets you up for all of the other techniques in the first part, which is designed to help you be more creative. So you're thinking in combinations by understanding what creativity is, you've embraced fear, welcomed failure, these are all techniques that we go into. And then of course at the end of the day, part one ends with having fun and teaches you that the law of play is really the way to the most growth, is when you do things you enjoy and it closes the circle on the things you like. Focusing on enjoying yourself together helps you create. I'm not sure if that was exactly the answer you were looking for, but I feel like I could talk for in a whole hour on just the techniques themselves.

Chris:

Yes. Well I have more questions for you on this. I don't want to let you off the hook just yet. I would like for you to speak to your own personal experience as to how you found, what was the defining moment for you where you started to feel like you accepted yourself and you found your inner confidence?

Joey:

Yeah, I think that it's a gradual process. We talked about this on the podcast last time. My mom died when I was young. I was 13. She was a single mom. Forced me to really explore the world and figure out what it means to, in a way be alone. Because when you lose the person that puts you at the number one, even though there's a world filled with people it can feel lonely, and I think that started a process of self-acceptance because I had to be my own cheerleader. If I did something great, I had no one to go to and say, "Look at this great test or this thing I made." And that taught me a lot about pumping myself up, which then gave me, accidentally gave me confidence to do things that for a high schooler, maybe the confidence wasn't there yet.

But I will tell you that there was the most recent change. I'm excited to see how you're going to react to this because everybody is different. So I'm a city boy, it's just a fact. However, it's a fact that I have only come to in my 34th year, last year. So all my life, man, I have done outdoor stuff. I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, I've got camping. I mean, I worked outdoors as a profession doing all sorts of stuff. Plumbing, where you're doing, before a house is built and it's just basically a bunch of wood sticks and you're in the open air. And it only dawned on me last year that I really don't like being outside.

Chris:

What?

Joey:

I don't don't like nature, man. And it's such a thing that no one wants to say out loud.

Chris:

Yeah.

Joey:

Because dude, you don't like nature? You not connect to the world? How could you do that or say that? And that is what kept me from saying it for so long, and now I'm saying it to you and I'm saying it in front of many, many people is that, you know what? I love the beauty of nature and I respect it. And I am constantly in awe of the world that we live in, both the natural and the unnatural. However, I found myself, whenever it was time to go do something outdoorsy, I was waiting to go back inside. And even at 34, even after all that I had learned, there are still these residual things that are hard to acknowledge. And this was one of them, because of societal pressure. I mean, your reaction is what? That's totally fine. I've gotten that so much. And I laugh about it because it is, I don't hear anyone else saying, "I don't like nature." But I just, I'd rather be inside. I'm a nerd that wants to be in front of screens and in my VR and on my via video games, it's just...

Chris:

With your air conditioning, you hardwood floors.

Joey:

Yeah, man. And that's just the way it is. And I bring that up because I want to illustrate the point that the self-acceptance is not necessarily a key turning point, but just continuous little changes in how you look at yourself and there'll probably be more things. I'm sure you have similar experiences where we just keep realizing more about ourselves.

Chris:

Yeah. A bunch of things to talk about there. The reason why you got such a big reaction from me was this story took an abrupt turn because I thought you were setting up, "I'm a city boy, I've lived in New York, and then my childhood was like, I'm all outdoors and Chris, I'm moving to the woods. I'm done with city life." And then when you're like, "Nope, I don't like the outdoors, it turns out." That's why I'm like, what? Right?

Joey:

Yeah.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barrow for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sandborne for our intro music.

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