A little while ago I came across a PBS special on one of my favorite heroes, Thomas Edison. This is a man with so many patents, who achieved so much, who was so devoted to bringing on genius into the world. He clearly changed our lives.
This Mastery Session is all about his Menlo Park, where he developed this laboratory in a huge warehouse space, where he and his small team would go to work on their inventions. It would be a place where Edison could get away from the world and where he could get his best ideas, distraction-free, to bring on what he did to the world.
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This Mastery Session is all about a Secret of Massively Creative People. Here’s the back-story: A little while ago I came across a PBS special on one of my favorite heroes, Thomas Edison. This special got behind his mindset, work routines, and it got behind him as a visionary, a man with so many patents, who achieved so much and was so devoted to bringing on genius into the world. He clearly changed our lives.
I know you know this, but one of the things he did I still remember from this documentary. He went to the council in Manhattan in a time where homes were lit up with candles and kerosene lamps. He said, “I want to do something that’s never been done in the history of humanity. I want to light up a full city block in Manhattan.” In the beginning they laughed at him, because every visionary is initially ridiculed before they were revered. But then they said yes. What he did was, he took this technology and he was allowed to dig up the streets of Manhattan and he laid down the cabling and he set some power stations. It went on for a few years, and people were wondering if he was going to be able to make it. Then one day, he did something that stunned the world. He pressed the button or he flipped the switch, and a whole city block in Manhattan got lit up.
This is a man who was a true visionary and a truly creative person. I’ve been reading about Thomas Edison more and more about how he literally set up his work routines. What this Mastery Session is really all about is his Menlo Park. What he did was he developed this laboratory. It was fairly large. It was this huge warehouse space, and it was in Menlo Park. This is where he and his small team would go to work on their inventions. It would be a place where Edison could get away from his family and get away from the world. For hours and hours, you probably know about his sleep routine. He would work for a few hours and then take an hour of rest, work for three hours, take an hour nap, work for three… He would work around the clock (but this Mastery Session is not about sleep cycles, it is really about Menlo Park).
What I’m suggesting is he created a space that inspired him. A place where he and his team could go to divorce themselves from the world and drop from beta to alpha state. Where he could get his best ideas, distraction-free, to bring on what he did to the world.
I’m going to offer you the challenge with great love and respect. Develop your own Menlo Park. If you’re an entrepreneur, maybe rent an office next to your current office that’ll be your Menlo Park. If you are, let’s say, an advertising person, fine, you’ve got a minimalist, cool office. Maybe rent a hotel room every week that you can go to, and that’s going to be your Menlo Park. If you’re a CEO or even if you’re a manager. If you’re a frontline person, maybe you go work in a coffee shop three times a week at 4 o‘clock every day. That’s your Menlo Park. If you are a photographer or an author, like me, find your Menlo Park. I have places where I go and no one can find me, where I do my best work.
To make this even more tactical for you to find your Menlo Park, let me offer you humbly a few suggestions that will allow you to do so. Because I can tell you from experience, this is one of the game-changing moves to help you become massively creative.
The first idea is this: Ensure that your Menlo Park, your space for acute creativity, is inspirational. For me, I love sunlight. This new thing where everyone on an airplane shuts their windows so they can watch TV, I don’t really love it. First of all, having sunlight allows me to beat jet-lag. Secondly, having an eight-hour or ten-hour flight where I have sunlight, no distractions, that’s game time. I get my best work done on an airplane.
For me, that means lots of sunlight. It means I’ve got quotes all over the place. It means I’ve got the kind of tables I like. It’s got lots of white. I also borrow from Steve Jobs his number one management tool, the whiteboard. In my Menlo Park, I’ve actually had glass walls installed that I can write on with a dry erase marker. I tell you, the frameworks I come up with, the goals, the strategy sessions I have with myself in my Menlo Parks, I’ve got a few Menlo Parks, are absolutely needle-moving strategy sessions.
What do I mean by foreign? You’re going to develop your Menlo Park in the place where you work. Or maybe it’s, like I say, in your community. But I find when I travel, when I go to Paris, when I go to Rome, when I go to Belgrade, when I go to Panama, when I go to Shanghai, when I go to foreign places, being in foreign land provokes vast amounts of new ideas. The second encouragement when you build your Menlo Park, have some in foreign lands. A number of months ago, I went to Rome, one of my favorite places on the planet. I always stay in the same hotel, and I stay in the same room because it overlooks this incredible courtyard. When I get into that Menlo Park – BOOM! I just shift. I turn off my devices pretty much for three or four days. I basically, in that room, pull out my cameras and I shoot videos. I write blog posts and I write books and I eat great food, which I order from room service. Then at the end of the day, I go out and I hang out with my friends and we have great food and great conversations. The idea, though, is it’s foreign. The brain craves novelty. When you’re in a foreign land exposed to foreign language, foreign art, foreign architecture, it’s stunning what shows up in your Menlo Park.
In a world where people are addicted to checking their social posts and checking their smart phones, do not bring your devices into your Menlo Park. Watch what happens to the quality of your thinking. Watch what happens to the quality of your work. You’ll shift from this distinction I teach a lot at my live events, from fake work to real work. The Picassos and Rembrandts and Van Goghs weren’t really interested in mediocre work. In their labs, in their studios, it was all about deep work that changed the industry.
The more papers you have all over the place, the more books you have all over the place, the more messiness you have, that will actually distract you. Keep them very Spartan. One of my friends is a very, very, very famous author, one of the top, I think, three in the world. What he did for one year, he lived in an inexpensive motel. I said, “Why did you do that?” Basically, it’s because he became so famous and he could’ve spent his time in so much luxury, but luxury dilutes hunger. I just made that up, and I think it’s worth repeating. Luxury dilutes your hunger. As you become more successful, whether it’s an author, whether it’s an entrepreneur, whether it’s a creative person, whether it’s a business- builder, whether it’s an athlete, as you become more successful you do not want to lose the fire in your belly. That’s why I loved what he did. He took a year off and lived in a cheap motel. It kept him hungry and allowed him to do his best work. It was a Spartan environment.
I had a dinner with a billionaire the other night. Guess what he’s doing? He’s going back to university. He’s going to sit in a room with 18-year-olds. Because if he gets a few more credits, he’s going to get one of those degrees that he always wanted to get but he didn’t get. One of my favorite people, he’s a great friend. His name is Norm Hardy, and he runs an iconic winery. Where did he spend the summer? As a parking lot attendant outside of his winery. No one knew who he was. Why did he do that? It kept him hungry.
The final tactic that will help you to install your Menlo Park, and obviously I’m so excited to share this concept with you, because I know it’ll help you so much. The final tactic is simply this: schedule your periods in your Menlo Park. Here’s a great brain tattoo: The things that you schedule are the things that will get done. The things that you schedule are the things that you will get done. I schedule my week on a piece of paper, and one of the things I do is I have my time chunks, my time blocks. I’m most productive in the morning. I will have 8 o‘clock to 1:00 PM in my Menlo Park. I call it “deep creative time.” It’s right on my written schedule, which then allows me that incentive and that focus to go into my Menlo Parks where I get away from the world.
Again, if you want to do world-class work, you can’t be available to everyone. You got to get lost. You can’t be too easy to find.