David Heinemeier Hansson

February 12, 2024

The compounding seeds of creativity

Early on in my career, I learned a very important lesson about creativity: It can’t be saved for later. Creativity is perishable, just like inspiration. It has to be discharged regularly or it will spoil. And if you let enough of it go to waste, eventually your talents will sour and shrivel with it.

This was counterintuitive to me. I naively thought I could run out the clock every day on a creatively dead-end job, and then pursue my all own endeavors full of zest at night, with all the creativity I had saved. But it didn’t work like that. Spending eight hours a day spinning my intellectual wheels would get me nowhere at night when I finally tried to move.

That’s how I realized that being fully engaged at work is how you plant the best seeds for your own adventures. So when weighing the pros and cons of a given job, you ought to think carefully about whether you’re cultivating those seeds, and tending to their long-term value for your career and your spirit. Nothing spoils them both like a bullshit job.

I fully appreciate that not everyone gets to do their favorite things all the time at work. And some times you’re assigned a particularly arid plot to turn. But it’s exactly then you must realize that at least half the creative equation is completely under your control. That you can will the way to rain, if you chose to sieve reality through a new perspective.

I like to imagine this sieve as one of those corny self-help tapes: I will make the most of my time here. I will find the sharp creative angle on even the most blunt, boring problem. I will exercise all of my intellectual capacity today in service of raising my talents for tomorrow.

I’ve seen that A/B test run time and again over the past twenty years with employees. The ones who are able to judo seemingly boring problems into interesting pursuits always end ahead on creativity and competence, and have more of it left over at the end of the day.

And a few years later, the person who discharged all their creativity against even the most trivial problems has grown their intellectual granary manyfold over the one who kept holding back.

As you sow, so shall you reap.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.