Rick Rubin is often referred to as one of the most important and prolific producers of our time. The man has produced over 200 albums, ranging from artists like Jay-Z to Johnny Cash to Lana Del Rey. If someone has something to say about cultivating the creative process, I think Mr. Rubin is more than qualified.

Recently, he debuted his book The Creative Act: A Way of Being. Unfortunately, I am reading one too many books right now, and am refraining from picking this up until I get through my current pile. But for now, I’ve been listening to the numerous podcast interviews he’s been doing about the book. This interview was particularly insightful, and left me with a few good take-aways:

There are no shortcuts.
Our capitalist-driven culture really wants to find a way to streamline processes — to make them efficient and repeatable. And of course, this bleeds into the world of marketing, too. I’ve struggled with this as a creative, but the truth is that creative thinking is inherently unconventional. You cannot expect break-through solutions to be born out of a codified process. You need to play and experiment and explore. Sometimes you need to go through the process of making 100 iterations before you realize your first idea was really the best. You just have to. Hearing Rubin insist on this was really quite validating.

Keep your ego out of it.
Creativity is also inherently collaborative. Even if you are working on a solo project, “You are collaborating with the universe” as Rubin puts it. No great work happens without the influence of others, and everything is essentially a remix. Keeping our ego’s out of the process and not worrying about who has the best idea really makes for a better end-product. Our focus should be on the work itself, and assessing if it’s in alignment with the larger goal of the project. Rubin does this by taking samples from people without having names associated. This way he won’t be biased by the reputation of the folks he’s working with, only the work itself.

Know when to press in or pivot.
You know what else creativity is? Intuitive. You don’t always get data to help you make decisions. In this interview, Rubin talks about the evolution of artists over their careers. In some cases, people just want AC/DC to be AC/DC for ever and ever. It’s working; audiences are eating it up and the artists are fulfilled with their work. In other cases, artists felt a deep need to deviate from their genre and follow their curiosity. There were no right answers! What it takes is tuning into intuition.

There’s a difference between a craftsperson and an artist.
This was an interesting concept to noodle over. In marketing, we often play the role of both the craftsperson and the artist. The craftsperson is tasked with, “making the thing that somebody ordered.” Sometimes, that’s all budgets and timelines allow for. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the artist? The artist makes the thing you didn’t know you wanted — didn’t know you needed. Obviously, arriving at these solutions requires a deeper dive into the creative process. When time and budgets allow, we often find the most effective solutions may be a bit of a detour from where originally planned to go.

Overall, what I learned from our boy Rick is that there is nothing linear about a deeply authentic creative process. It’s varied and intuitive. It’s larger than the self. It’s a process to surrender to, not to control. Not every project we work on requires going that deep, but some do. And I think it’s worth making space for great creative work to happen when we can.