the 25th hour interview // grant spanier
"If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?"
...That’s the question we’ve been asking to a range of creative people that we’re inspired by. And to kickstart our 25th hour campaign, this week we spoke to the compelling Grant Spanier, founder and co-host of the 10,000 HOURS podcast. We ask about his experiences, influences, how he chooses to unwind, and why he still regrets a failed 6th grade spelling bee.
Before we begin, describe what you do in one sentence (if possible!):
writer x director x designer
Tell us a bit about your project 10,000 hours...
10,000 HOURS is a podcast (for now) that came out of my project with Seth Godin in 2013—I knew I wanted to have a banner for conversations or collaborations with other creators. 10,000 HOURS was a product of my desire to start those projects & conversations, which we launched in January, 2014. The name is loosely based on the now-popularized "10,000 hour rule" from Gladwell's book, "Outliers," in which he discusses the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master of anything. We're not arguing about that concept necessarily, but rather using it as a lens with which to engage people from all walks of life, and on varying points of that 10,000 hour spectrum. Thus far we've been able to have some really incredible conversations with (mostly) creators—from Seth Godin himself, to the voice of Siri (Susan Bennett), to someone just getting started in their work/career. It's a fair amount of work, week-after-week, but it's such a rewarding project.
Whilst 10khrs is premised upon 'putting in time', and dedicating those hours to creativity and life's passions, how important do you think it is to take time out, and to commit hours to downtime?
Brute force is folly. After several years of gruelling, almost silly effort, I've so, so seen the value of space. As a storyteller and a designer I often advocate for "negative space"—that is to say, extra acreage around my designs..."white space" as it's sometimes called. In storytelling this is subtlety and subtext and quiet moments, lingering moments, silence.
"I've come to understand that balance isn't only integral, it's inevitable. My entire life, truly, is devoted to my passions in one form or another. But I've discovered that I am not designed to go 100 MPH for 100% of the time."
I need to pace myself.I need to create room for ideas to develop, for work to evolve, for relationships to evolve, for energy to be dedicated to other areas of life besides what I would call "the work."
The great, ironic joke of this is that, ultimately, I think this "downtime" is more productive. It's the fertile ground that ideas, solutions, and I think, happiness, sprout from. I am much, much more productive when I'm happy. I create more when I have space to do so.
For you personally, how important is downtime? And how would you describe the ultimate way you’d choose to relax and unwind from a busy day…
Hmm. Since my "work" and my "personal life" are basically intertwined, I find that there's quite a bit of overlap. Thankfully my work is creative-driven, and what makes me happy is creation/creativity.
But even if we're looking at the ebb and flow of the creative process, there's exactly that—ebb and flow. Consumption, space, creation. Much of my downtime is spent in a few ways: 1. consuming things I'm curious and excited by—books, movies, music videos, etc. 2. hanging out with people I love—much of this time seems to be taking photos, talking/having a drink, going to shows, playing games 3. working on passion projects or more experimental things 4. traveling 5. writing 6. projects I don't do during more regular working hours (like painting, or poetry, basically a form of creation I don't do for my business/work).
My ideal downtime from a stressful day might include sushi, reading, street photography, and/or a movie. My instinct might be to rest extensively, but I've learned experiences are more rewarding.
In one of your blog posts you talk about how your "work" is intertwined with who you are, and how you're incredibly lucky to do what you do… Do you ever draw lines between "work time" and "me time", or is the distinction more blurred?
I think "work time" vs "me time" is an ever-evolving continuum. Actually, that might be what attracts me (and why it works) so much to a more freelance-style existence—I don't work as well on standard hours, or with regular constraints. I find myself riding inspiration and making space for another wave, in-between.
The truth is this: I'm really into making stuff. I'm really curious about stuff. This isn't a humblebrag or a badge of honor, but rather just a truth of my being. This naturally drives a lot of my work and a lot of my research and, probably, my somewhat-varied interests and multi-disciplinary nature.
So, again, the lines are blurred, but in a really healthy way. My work sort of gives me context for the rest of my life, and I don't really see many distinctions between "being creative for work" and "being creative in my life"—I think the two are one-in-the-same, with the only difference being the involvement of another party and a paycheck. I love to create. I strive to live a creative (and thereby honest, learning, evolving, driven) life. So, I create whenever I can. And sometimes that means "creating" space for non-creation, i.e. experience, meditation, and consumption.
"It's surprising how often my best ideas come from the space between—showers, meditation, closing my eyes, relaxing on the couch and considering, a walk around the studio—no work and just vibe, probably including an upbeat song."
You've met some incredible people on your journey with 10khrs, and in previous blog posts you've spoken about your 'mentors'. Who would you say has influenced the person you are today?
I'm half-grinning as I type this...but my parents. As I progress in life I realize the wisdom/gifts they gave me, especially the ones I resented. There's incredible value in allowing yourself to be the "bad guy" and I'm thankful my parents put my best interests over their sensitivity to my feelings—i.e. they were tough when it was required, instead of trying to be my best friend. I respect and appreciate them for that choice.
Besides that, I've had a range of mentors both in reality and in consumption of their work. Sage Rider, a creative director/writer from Target, told me early on (quoting Sally Hogshead, I think), "Jump, and a net will appear." That stuck with me, and was a big part of me jumping (over and over again). Chuck Palahniuk's work, essays, and guidance, have been instrumental for me. Seth Godin was a mentor by way of his work for a few years, and has eventually become a personal connection who has made a huge impact on my life.
I've read some incredible non-fiction work, consumed content (videos, essays, tutorials, etc.), or worked with other humans that have totally altered my trajectory: Ed Catmull (Creativity, Inc.), Steve Jobs (as a human and the bio by Walter Isaacson), Simon Sinek (Golden Circle TED talk, Leaders Eat Last book/talk at 99U), Nora Purmort (who is braver than most humans but wouldn't admit it, and who stands up for shit) Josh Long (working with him on the Seth Godin project, seeing his generosity), Barrett Brooks (his writing, his friendship), Tim Ferris (especially his podcast), Merlin Mann (especially his essays and his podcast, Back to Work, also his talk "Scared Shitless"), Paul Jarvis (his consistent and honest writing), Stefy Cohen (working with her on the Seth Godin project, seeing her create so much incredible change), Vince Koci (for co-hosting my show and supporting ridiculous ideas + shipping it), Tony Franklin (for carving a path and honestly showing me the way), Braden Lee (for trusting me to make stuff), Kevin Horn (for sharing his expertise), Jake Woodbridge (for trusting me and being trustworthy), ... this list is exhaustive and it's not even close to complete. It looks like the transcript from an annoying Oscars' speech, eh? That's because these homies, and so many more, are what power a creative lifestyle. Their work, their support, their love, they power the machine.
Truth is, mentorship becomes a loose term as we go along. We can learn from everything and everyone around us, if we're open to it. I'm so thankful I'm surrounded by such beautiful souls.
What was the last book you read cover to cover?
I read books all the way through, if I start them, if only for my own peace of mind. The last book I finished was Ed Catmull's "Creativity, Inc." and it's so good. Such a delightful balance of business + reality + constraints and artistry/creativity.
Especially for anyone trying to build a creative business, or managing creative teams, or trying to make great art (even commercial art). So valuable and wise. It's a really generous piece of work.
Name one city you'd never tire of returning to and explain why.
I went there for the first time a few weeks ago. That place is so, so different. And disconcertingly similar. And and and. It's really incredible. It has a lot of beauty and history and secrets that are worth discovering.
Technically Tokyo is a "metropolitan prefecture" but I'm going to count it as a city. And as such, there's an incredible amount of land, culture, and experience to be explored in Tokyo. And the food, ah, the food.
Please go. I'll go with you.
We couldn't help but notice a comment on your website about a certain failed 6th grade spelling bee (onomatopoeia is a ridiculous word, we agree)... But are there any other resounding regrets in life that you'd like to share with us?
Regret is an interesting topic, and one I've thought a lot about. I've considered ways to be more self-aware and figure out what you want, so as to prevent it (like in episode 31 of 10,000 HOURS with Seth Godin—www.10KHRS.co/ep31) or ways to make sure you find value/can't fail (like in episode 35 of 10,000 HOURS with Jake Jorgovan—www.10KHRS.co/ep35). I think a lot of my outlook has to do with finding value, wherever it might be.
It's so, so easy to beat ourselves up, to blame ourselves when we make mistakes—thing is, when we make ourselves the victim we lose out on the learning that can happen. There's way more value in accepting our mistakes and seeing beyond them, beyond ourselves. The two things I "regret" most often at this point are: saying "yes" to someone/something when I should protect my time (out of respect to others, really) and following a path (whether that's with a client, or another person) that I can sense is destructive. That's easier than you might think. We're programmed to appease each other and find the weak point in each other (i.e. the point of least resistance), and sometimes that means we convince ourselves we're right, when really we're just craving escape from responsibility/tough decisions.
Also, I know what you're really getting at, and yes, I completely regret that spelling bee. Onomatopoeia? Seriously?
You've given us 10,000 hours, and we're giving you an extra one... If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?
K, this is two-fold. I'm cheating, but bear with me.
I would spend it ENTIRELY on me. Which, of course, would eventually be spent on other people. So often we delude ourselves into being "busy" and essentially wasting our time on things that keep up that charade. I think it's more responsible (and generous) to take time for you, especially when that manifests as energy for other people.
I'd probably take that extra hour every day for myself in yoga and/or meditation. When I'm happier (a byproduct of yoga/meditation) I find I'm more capable, productive, generous. Thus, that hour multiplies into way more positive energy that I can give/create. And I think that it might manifest as making stuff for other people. Making stuff for people is so, so fulfilling. When I write letters or thank-you notes, or make something for someone, etc. Uhhhh. People feel that and you feel that and it's all such good vibes.
So, I'd create more space for myself, which ultimately creates more space for other people.
Thing is, we're all capable of being a multiplier—our energy and inspiration and output and generosity begets more, more, more. Just like the "regrets" question though, I don't need 25 hours.
"I'm capable, as we all are, of working within my/our constraints. We only have so much time in the day, and in our lives, but that's OK. And the sooner we accept the finite nature of resources, including our own lives, the sooner we're free to legitimately give and receive and create."
Constraints, responsibilities, resources—these are seen as the enemy, but I think they are simply the guard rails. Accept them, accept challenges, create within and expand them, if you can! If people would simply reallocate the energy they spent complaining, and instead spent that creating, I think they'd be astounded at what's possible.
It's not easy, but it's worth it. Onward!
If you found yourself inspired by Grant's perspective, tweet the post so others can enjoy it too! You can keep updated with Grant's latest thoughts and news on twitter and medium. Stay tuned for our next 25th hour interview.