How to Be Creative in Life

I finished my PhD at Stanford in four years and started my first job at Google three months ago. I wanted to summarize my previous life as a “successful” student and share some immature thoughts about career development. Then I realized I am neither qualified nor capable to do so. I decide to narrow down the scope and offer some random advice on how to be creative in life (I know, this does not sound like “narrowing”, but, anyway..). Creativity discussed here is in a very broad sense. It basically means the ability to surprise yourself and others in a good way.

1. Do not assume others necessarily know more than you do. A corollary is you shouldn’t take things for granted and should always have the courage to speak out. You will sometimes be surprised how ignorant people actually are. This (occasionally) happens to me at both Stanford and Google.

2. Before accepting an opinion from someone, “investigate” the person’s background (family, education, career, etc.) and try to understand his or her stance and motivation. No one is really objective; hence you should not let a biased viewpoint affect your own decision. And yes, this principle applies here too.

3. Push the boundary, and push more. Always try to think bigger and deliver beyond what you are asked to, on the premise that you are doing what you want to do. This is how changes are born and impacts are made. To quote Larry Page, you should have a “healthy disrespect for the impossible.”

4. Think strategically and do what you deem is right at the moment. Follow your intuition. It is very difficult to justify the righteousness of a long-term decision. By following your gut you create faith and void the chance to regret. This naturally implies that when you feel something is utterly wrong, stop doing it right away.

5. When you feel strongly about something and think there might be a chance to achieve, give it a try. The cost of trying is extremely low and the cost of missing can be lifetime-high. When I say “strongly”, I mean it.

6. Never feel ashamed to ask questions. Try to leverage others’ intelligence in a healthy way. It is dumb to spend 10x more time on something puzzling to you when your friend or colleague treats it as common sense. Borrow their wisdom appropriately and return with your acknowledgement. You need a lot of bridges to lead to your destination. In a team environment, asking questions is crucial to the improvement of work efficiency and the creation of new ideas.

7. Make friends and have great conversations with them. Watch movies and read books. Inspiration cannot be prepared and it always arrives with the collision of minds. This actually follows from the previous point.

I have real-life examples to support each of the arguments above. However, it would be too verbose to write them down. The conclusion is: we all want our lives to be novel; we can start with making more connections, being more impulsive, challenging the authority, and delivering beyond what is expected.

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