What do a startup king, a social network innovator, a hip hop prince, perhaps the best actor on television, and two absolutely hilarious dudes have in common? They're all among the Most Creative People—and we can learn quite a bit from the way they work.
We talked to PayPal founder Max Levchin about how he keeps snagging startup ideas. Turns out it's a lot about controlling chaos in ways we've discussed about why ideas come at random and why you need to document everything.
Levchin's method is like this: He talks to tons of random creative people, asks them questions about their craft, takes extensive notes of their quandaries, and then compiles—and reviews—all of his research. What comes out of it? Companies—like his new mobile payment solution Affirm—and loads of paper. Dude has a crate of 200 legal pads sitting in his garage.
The director of online operations for Facebook India, Kirthiga Reddy has helped grow the social network's user base from 8 to 71 million users over two years. What did it? A little California import: the flat culture of Silicon Valley, so different than the hierarchical norm in India.
"You're not here to do just what you're told," she says. "You're here to see gaps and to act upon them."
What's it take to make what many consider the best rap album of the decade? Kendrick Lamar unpacked a bit of the origin of his miraculous good kid, m.A.A.d City: he grew up in Compton, the California city that cradled gangster rap and serves as his inspiration.
"There are so many thoughts of being scared of failure when you're trying something there," he said. "And that's what holds a lot of people back—when you're stuck in this position, when you're constantly seeing negative things and you want to do something positive but you're scared that it might not work. I believed I could make an example for those around me—once I did and I started seeing some type of results, it made me believe I could represent the whole city."
Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston talked to us about pinches of poison. He says that his role is to play the honesty police when new people come into collaborate—and any inconsistencies are little vials of poison for the viewer, like if Walter doesn't sleep on his side of the bed or take his seat at the kitchen table. The audience, he says, is aware of poison, even if only implicitly.
"They can take two or three or four pinches," he says. "But they might not feel great. They might not be able to articulate why they're not attaching themselves to the show. But they might say, 'Why did that happen?' Because we lied to you."
Being hilarious is hard work: Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele detailed how they turned more than 330 ideas into 82 sketches for their hit Comedy Central show.
How does it work? The writing team pulls apart each sketch idea, tracing the anatomy of the funny. Then the idea goes to draft, gets notes from Key and Peele, then a table read, and finally gets multiple pitches to the network before the creators decide what airs. It's a long, narrowing process.
"Anyone who’s really utilized collaboration," Peele says, "has a philosophy like, ‘Let’s throw it all against the wall and see what sticks.’ That’s how we do it. At a certain point, we’re cutting scripts that we love."
Bottom Line: Ask questions about where people are coming from, represent where you're from, be honest with your audience, and don't be afraid to kill your darlings.