Creative tempo (Part 2): Diverging, Testing, Converging

Exploring new ideas at a controlled beat

This is part 2 of Creative Tempo, a series to understand how creatives can become prolific by publishing consistently. If you haven't done it yet, read Part 1 first.

In Part 1, we compared different creative mediums and looked at their inherent tempo. We saw that playing on a fast tempo increases the chance of hits. We came up with a contextual definition of prolific creatives and the necessity to test different approaches for each new creation. The remaining question was: how?
How can we publish frequently? Frequently and differently each time?

Welcome to Part 2.

Diverging. Converging.

Underlying the publishing tempo of creative work is a pace. A constant pace between two phases: diverging and converging. We're either looking for new options or focusing on one.

Our life swings, like a pendulum, between exploring options or exploiting the best one. Either diverging to new potential ideas or converging to what we think will work. Balancing these two modes is a tension we face all the time.When we're diverging, when we are exploring options, we operate in a relaxed, contemplative and playful mode. Contrarily, when we're converging, we'll have a goal to attain, adrenaline rushing, stress and perhaps a deadline to meet.We diverge to feed our heads with inputs, being "creative". We converge to use our heads on an output, being "productive". Breathing in. Breathing out. John Cleese talks about finding that balance quite elegantly with what he calls the Open and Closed modes.

Diverging longer, diverging better

Original work and ideas come from long periods of divergence. Diverging is difficult to do because we feel discomfort: we don't have deadlines, we don't know where we're going, we're just exploring. In our society, we've gotten really good at converging: focusing on outputs and productivity. Divergence is not clearly linked to outputs, the Return On Investment (ROI) is difficult to measure. So it is dismissed.And so we spend our work lives converging without exploring other options. But spending more time in "diverging mode" ultimately leads to more original work. There is a lot to learn from artists and scientists who become accustomed to the unease of divergence.

One way I've gotten better at diverging is by going on digital sabbaths, days where I turn off all my screens and just write in my room. I let my mind roam and explore new ideas. To spend more time diverging, Cleese explains that having a safe secluded space with a time constraint is ideal. On longer time scales, gap years are exactly this: plenty of time to explore options. In meeting rooms, teams will diverge then converge with brainstorming sessions.

The power of testing

Testing is when we eliminate options and choose what to focus on. It's what we do to go from diverging to converging.

Testing can happen in many ways: in our heads, in conversations, in prototypes. Testing is a "fragile" moment, doing it prematurely and we might miss the golden idea, feedback can be demoralizing or misleading. So we tend to avoid it altogether. And we keep our ideas in our heads.

Becoming good at giving and receiving feedback, as I write about in ABC feedback, is a true superpower to get better ideas and shortcut the diverging/converging cycle. A good conversation can fuel us back with a different perspective and energy. To set the pace when I create, I set a fixed day and time to get feedback, to test my different ideas.

In addition, we should always be worry of our intuition: we tend to overestimate how successful our new work is going to be. In his book Originals, Adam Grant suggests seeking feedback not from our bosses but from our peers, who will are most likely to predict success or failure.

Deadlines against dead projects

To become better at converging, there's no one better to learn from than Steven Pressfield. In the War of Art, Turning Pro and all his ensuing books, Pressfield describes how we self-sabotage with excuses and end up never actually publishing anything. Instead of giving ourselves 3 months to "research" a new project, we should write our plan in an executive summary and stick to it.

To converge better, I think we can also learn from software teams and how they work in sprints. Reading Shape Up inspired me to create the tiny products model. The gist of it is simple: what can be created given a fixed time constraint? With most creative projects, we give ourselves "the time we need" to get something done. This makes it easy to procrastinate and never actually publish anything. We should work backward from a defined time constraint.

To become prolific, we need deadlines. For the last year, one way I kept up with deadlines was having accountability partners. Missed a deadline? Send your accountability partner $50.

The other way I made myself liable to converge was joining creative challenges. With a countdown, a clear objective, accountability, we just stop procrastinating. There's no better feeling than joining others who have the same goal and challenging each other.

Concepts covered

  • Diverging vs Converging: the underlying pace of creative tempo

  • Testing: in-between phase to diverge and converge

  • Digital sabbath: method to diverge better

  • Accountability partner: method to converge better

  • Creative challenge: set rhythm to converge better

To recap, we have shown that underlying the publishing tempo of creative work is a constant pace between two modes: diverging and converging. Spending a set amount of time diverging helps find more original ideas, while spending a set amount of time converging ensures we actually publish our work. By formalizing the testing phase between divergence and convergence, we can set a rhythm to get going. We can use tools like digital sabbaths, accountability deals and creative challenges to help us publish more.

Over the long run only creatives that have been consistent win out. Not missing a deadline, not missing a beat, is the most important thing. And when we "play on the right tempo", the tempo disappears and we start to dance. This is what Part 3 is about. To get it the next parts in your inbox, just subscribe below.

Created by Ben Issen

Based in Paris, Ben founded Supercreative. With his team, he creates tools and videos to help creatives be more productive. Prior to that, he worked at Webflow and launched a design agency. @ben_issen


Jun 3, 2021

Time to create:

6 hours

Time to share:

1 hours

Reading time:

3 minutes


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