John Legend Lays Down 4 Steps To Maximize Your Creativity

And who wouldn’t heed the creative advice of a 10-time Grammy winner?


John Legend is not a proud man.


Sure, he has much to be proud of (10 Grammys, an Academy Award for Best Original Song, two NAACP Image Awards, etc.) but when it comes to his career as a solo artist, he’s not above creating a democracy of collaboration with other musicians.

John Legend performs his new single “Love Me Now” at The Fast Company Innovation Festival

“I’m always paying attention to new producers and new albums I like, and in some ways [my] new album Darkness and Light is a reflection of that,” Legend says.

For Darkness and Light, Legend’s fifth studio album out December 2, he felt inspired by the works of Alabama Shakes, Miguel, and Chance The Rapper, all of whom are featured on the album.

“Knowing the track record of a great creative person makes me want to do something with them and then we see what happens when we get in a room together,” Legend says. “It’s not always going to be magical, but you’ve got to try it and see if it works out.”

That experimental approach to creativity is just one lesson in how Legend approaches his craft–and how you should approach yours:


Make The Time

“It’s important to want to be inspired, to push yourself, to make beautiful, inspiring content. But part of it is actually making yourself do the work. For me, I start with just scheduling writing. The most productive people, they schedule time to write. And for me I do it at the studio because it makes me feel like I’m really going to work and I have a certain amount of hours that I’m going to devote to it. I’m not going to be confused as to what’s home and what’s work. I’m going to focus on work when I’m at work and then I go home and be at home. That doesn’t mean I won’t get inspiration at home, but to actually work on the song and finish it, I want to do it in the studio when I feel like I’m at work.”

Aim For Quantity Over Quality

“It’s important to generate a significant quantity of work because all it won’t be great, and I’m very comfortable discarding stuff that doesn’t end up being great. But the fact that I’m putting that work in and [pushing] myself creatively to continue to generate ideas means there’s a better chance that I’ll come up with some great ones.”

Don’t Be A Dictator

“It’s important to collaborate with talented people that help make you better. Almost every song on [Darkness and Light] is co-written with other songwriters. I’m not so proud that I think I have to come up with every idea myself. I’ve always thought that it’s important for me to collaborate with some of the best people that I can to push me creatively, make me come up with new ideas that I might not have come up with before because of that dynamic of working with someone new or someone that is different from me.”

Know When To Walk Away

“Sometimes I just take a break, walk away and go for a drive, just get away from that room for a while and then come back to it. Usually if you free your mind a little bit and jog it a little bit I think you can come up with some ideas. And sometimes you need to take a break and listen to good music, for a songwriter. Distract yourself with somebody else’s great music and it may make you think or something, may provide a spark.”

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.