This weekend, I began reading The Contrarian by Max Chafkin, a biography about the billionaire entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel. Regardless of how you feel about the infamous PayPal co-founder and made a $500k angel check in Facebook’s early days, Thiel’s conviction and point of view are extremely clear. I’m reading this book to explore alternative perspectives and enjoy biographies. In Silicon Valley, many know about the question Thiel made famous: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?"
Remaining strong in your beliefs is more important than being a contrarian. If being a contrarian is going the other way of the popular crowd, having a strong belief system is standing on the grounds of what’s important to you despite the crowd.
Coming from a Roman Catholic family, "credo" is a familiar word in my upbringing. This Latin word for "I Believe" was the foundational prompt recited every Sunday with the Apostles'Creed. For lay folks, think of it as the pledge of allegiance for Catholics. This isn't a newsletter issue about building a religion or tech cult. It’s about understanding what you personally believe in as a creative person. What is your creative credo? When you have something written down or manifested, it holds your beliefs more accountable. Stacy La recently spoke at On Deck Design in a fireside chat. We talked a bit about how she defined design principles during her time as a design leader at Clover Health. Creating memorable cards that could be top of mind for people is such a genius idea. Being reminded of Stacy’s brilliant idea inspired me to reflect on writing down my own principles and beliefs.
Your belief system will guide how you navigate your work and career. What you stand for likely determines what companies you choose to work with and who you collaborate with.
Iterating on your credo
Crafting a belief system is no small task and requires a lot of thought. Take time to iterate through the ideas. Writing something down is one step. Believing in something comes down to how you act on it. I asked myself the following questions during this exercise:
What is it you deeply believe in?
Why is it important to you?
What has to be true in order for you the belief to stay true?
How do your beliefs show up in your life and work? Are you living up to your credo?
I’ll share a few working examples of credos I’m reflecting on; definitely a work-in-progress (WIP):
Every human should be able to should have every opportunity to bring their ideas to life
The best way to be productive is to reduce the iteration cycle
Capitalism can be the most powerful vehicle for fostering creativity
I don’t believe in being a maximalist in anything, so constraints and refinement are important. Let’s take my capitalism claim on creativity and see how I edited it. Saying “I believe in capitalism” is too broad and I wanted to clarify what I think it can enable.
On the right, I created a list of things that need to be true in order for this credo to be effective. The photo above is one of many iterations of notes I’m refining, and I’m still not done. This belief inspires me to fund people’s creative projects from the liquidity I’ve earned over my career. I feel there is a responsibility to re-invest, especially for those who haven’t had the chance to participate in the capitalist ecosystem.
Your creative credo is how you show up in the world
Writing a creative credo doesn’t mean you have to publish it. I don’t know if I’ll ever publish mine fully, but the constant refinement is helpful. If you’re doing it for anyone, do this for yourself. Question it, refine it, and live it.