Make Creation Contagious

Go make stuff. Good, bad, or in between, just go make stuff.

Hey there friends, and happy Tuesday! Today’s post is more of a letter to myself than a deeply-researched paper. That being said, it’s from the heart, so I’d love for you to share your thoughts—either with me by commenting, or with someone else by forwarding this email/sharing this link. Thanks!

Group projects suck for a reason

Have you ever had one of those group projects in school where you’re the only one who seems to do anything?

It usually starts like this:

  • You get assigned to a group with three other random people from your class, and you all are given a project.

  • The group agrees to meet up create a plan/brainstorm.

  • You and two others attend the meetup (the fourth had some excuse for not attending).

  • One of the people in attendance doesn’t really care much about the project, despite their initial interest.

  • You and the remaining other person decide that you’ll have to do most of the work, but that other person eventually fizzles out or half-does the work, leaving you to complete it.

  • You think unkind thoughts about your peers as you pull an all-nighter to compensate for their shortcomings.

It seems like everyone has an experience like this. What you don’t notice in the moment, however, is why it happens.

We tend to think in the moment that our classmates are just idiots who don’t care as much as we do. But almost everyone has at some point been the person who has had to compensate for their peers, even if they had to be compensated for in a different group. So it can’t just be that 80% of the population are the kinds of people who ride the coattails of overachievers.

Rather, what happens in these groups is the contagion of lethargy.

At first, the group is interested in doing well and getting a good grade. But that one person who can’t be bothered to show up weakens the resolve of some group members. The next person gets a little discouraged, and they start to recede. And, slowly but surely, the frustration at the ineptitude of one’s peers causes them to become the next domino to fall.

In January, I wrote about how cynicism and optimism can each become contagious. As it turns out, quite a lot more can be contagious as well. Crime, loneliness, divorce, and so much more can be contagious. But so can wonderful things like generosity, marriage, and entrepreneurship.


Okay, that last inclusion may feel a little bit out of place. But hey, a guy’s gotta segue.

In 2021, Matt Clancy wrote an article on the contagiousness of entrepreneurship that has stuck with me for a while. He goes over academic research that shows:

  • Children of entrepreneurs are 60% more likely to become entrepreneurs themselves.

  • Business students who spent just a few hours collaborating with entrepreneurs were 30% more likely to start a business.

  • Scholars who study under academic advisors with a history of filing patents are more likely to file patents themselves later in their career.

Now, it’s hard to identify a super strong causal relationship here, but Clancy (and the researchers he cites) do a solid job trying to eliminate a lot of the variables that could explain this gap. He explains that:

for most people, starting a new business is literally unthinkable, in the sense that they just don’t think of doing it. But being around someone who has done it plants the seed in your mind that it’s a possibility, something you really could do.

Matt Clancy

The more you try new things, the more that others around you see that it’s possible to try new things.

But this also shows your future self that what is possible as well.

Studies have shown that 90% of startups fail, and 20% of new business fail within the first year of their existence. But a quarter of businesses are run by repeat founders, and serial entrepreneurs are almost twice as successful as novices.

The key to success isn’t hitting it out of the park on your first try; it’s doing enough on your first try to learn and give your future self the opportunity & permission to keep trying.

As entrepreneurship goes, so does creativity

Entrepreneurship is inherently a creative endeavor. Because of this, we can extrapolate some of the learnings about entrepreneurship and apply it to things like art, music, and… you guessed it, newsletters!

Let’s think back to our group project scenario. Imagine if all parties stayed involved in the process. The project at hand might not have been perfect, but those people who coasted would have an easier time on future projects with the lessons they learned.

We tend to think of ourselves as the lone contributor in these group project scenarios, but we so often are unknowingly the would-be contributors that end up falling by the wayside. As the popular saying goes, we aren’t in traffic; we are traffic.

And the group projects haven’t gone away; they are frequent in the business world. Public policy is often an exercise in group projects. Heck, what is a civil society but one big group project?

And while lethargy is contagious in groups, so is creativity. We don’t realize how often we have a chance to become the reason that another continues forward with a creative pursuit simply by pressing forward with our own. In doing so, we can open up doors to others, inspire them, or give them insight into how they can overcome an issue they are facing.

One example is present in my own life. I love writing songs and making music. For a long time, I had no desire to record it, for all of the fears that one usually has (read more about that here).

But I met friends that had recorded some music. And it wasn’t great! But in the moment, I needed it to not be great—I needed someone else to show me that it’s okay to write and record music that isn’t great. I still haven’t released anything, but I have some songs recorded, and am planning on recording some others with some friends of mine.

I now get to be a reason for them to record music they previously never intended to record, and to maybe release that music for people to hear one day.

It is so, so easy to make stuff if you understand that it’s an investment in yourself and others.

Just be the change, just make things

There’s a famous quote that is often attributed to Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” That’s actually a paraphrasing of what he originally wrote in 1913:

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.

Mohandas Gandhi

When you create, the feeling of embarrassment is inescapable. Whether that is writing music, scribbling down thoughts in a newsletter, or starting a new company, so much of the creation and self-promotion process feels awful and inauthentic.

But it feels a little bit less bad each time.

You slowly but surely give yourself more permission to create, and to share your creations. And you also help others do the same.

When you create and share with those around you, you are making a deposit in them and in yourself. You are changing yourself and the world around you.

You are not just asking for your friends to subscribe to your newsletter; you’re also showing them that anyone can create something. And you’re not just committing an act of self-aggrandizement in sharing your thoughts; you’re signaling to your future self that making and sharing things you love isn’t actually all that scary.

Game developer and live streamer Pirate Software said it best here:

Failure isn’t making something that doesn’t win awards. Failure is quitting on making things—or not even starting to make things—because of a fear that you might be a little bit embarrassed that your work isn’t worth consuming.

But the quality of your work isn’t always what makes it worth consuming; it’s that you’re creating at all. Maybe the stuff you make sucks. I know I’ve made some stuff that makes me cringe today. And that’s okay!

Because the best case scenario when you create something is that your creation is awesome. The middle case is that nobody really cares about it. And the absolute worst case scenario is that you create something bad enough that someone consumes it and thinks “wow, the bar is so low, I can make something better.”

The net output of even the worst case scenario is that good things get made.

So go make stuff.

And be infectious about how awesome it is to make stuff.

Make creation contagious.

How was this post?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.


or to participate.