Please enjoy this transcript of my conversation with Joey Cofone, Founder & CEO of Baronfig and author of The Laws of Creativity. Transcripts for other episodes can be found here.
Joey Cofone, Founder & CEO of the much loved “tools for thinkers” company Baronfig, joins me on Outlier Book Club to decode his new book, The Laws of Creativity. We cover why creativity isn’t magic, how creators across history from Albert Einstein to Grace Hopper and Bruce Lee wielded creativity to reach incredible heights, practical ways to hone your creativity, a framework for generating ideas, Joey’s process for writing the book, and so much more.
“At this point in my career, I have art directed over 100 products from a rough idea into consumer’s hands. I’ve collaborated with incredible creators like James Clear and Roxane Gay. There came a point where it was very obvious how it all worked and fit together—because I was always interested not just in what I was doing but how I was doing it.” — Joey Cofone
Transcript – #142 The Laws of Creativity: How to Unlock Your Originality and Awaken Your Creative Genius | Joey Cofone, Author & Founder of Baronfig
Daniel Scrivner (00:00:00):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Outlier Academy, where we decode what iconic founders, renowned investors, bestselling authors, and outlier thinkers have mastered and what they've learned along the way. In each episode, we dive deep to uncover the tools, strategies, habits, and hacks that we can all apply in our own work and lives.
Daniel Scrivner (00:00:18):
I'm Daniel Scrivner, and on the show today I'm joined by award-winning designer and entrepreneur, Joey Cofone, to break down his brand new book, The Laws of Creativity, which includes 39 laws that anyone can follow to become more creative. It demystifies creativity, explaining why it's not magical. It gives you a repeatable process that you can follow to become more creative. And it even shows you how to become excellent at it. Each of the 39 laws of creativity are illustrated with inspiring, enlightening, and surprising stories of iconic creators across history, including Albert Einstein, Serena Williams, Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Houdini, Grace Hopper, Bruce Lee, and many more. Joey breaks down how these titans of history wielded creativity to reach incredible heights.
Daniel Scrivner (00:01:00):
Joey is the founder and CEO of Baronfig, which is known for its incredible pens, notebooks, and journals like James Clear's Habit Journal. You can find a searchable transcript of this episode as well as our episode guide with ways to dive deeper at outlieracademy.com/142. That's outlieracademy.com/142. Please enjoy my conversation with the award-winning designer and the author of The Laws of Creativity, Joey Cofone.
Daniel Scrivner (00:01:28):
Joey, I am so thrilled to have you on Outlier Academy. You're the founder of Baronfig and you're the author of The Laws of Creativity, which I am holding right side up, but my video looks flipped or mirrored the opposite way. Tricked me for a second. Thank you so much for coming on Outlier Academy.
Joey Cofone (00:01:44):
Daniel, I'm psyched, man. Thank you for having me. I'm ready to talk about ideas.
Daniel Scrivner (00:01:49):
I want to start... Well, we're going to spend this episode, this conversation going all over this 400 plus page book and your newsletters and a bunch of the other ideas that you've contributed around creativity and design. But where I wanted to start was talking about the origin story of the book. I know that you spent eight years as an English major, so you were writing, you have a heavy writing-focused background. So maybe you always thought about writing a book. Why write this book? And what was the origin story behind deciding to launch off on this challenge?
Joey Cofone (00:02:24):
Yeah, I was eight years of school, where I did literature and philosophy four and then designed for another four, and it was a cool rollercoaster. But this book came to life, or I planted the seed, when I was seven years old in first grade and I walked into class, teacher handed out a worksheet, we've all been there, you got a color it, cut it out, put it on the board. Cool. I am a competitive person by nature and I wanted my worm, which it was a little cartoon worm, to be the best worm in class. So I sat there with my arm around it and I'm coloring this thing. I'm talking to myself, "This is going to be the best ever. Oh my goodness, yeah." And then I cut it out. I go to the board and I guess I took a long time because everybody had theirs up already and they all looked the same. They were different, different colors, color with dots, but they're the same and so was mine. I was so, so upset, I couldn't put myself through putting that up on the board.
Joey Cofone (00:03:21):
So I turn around, I go to my desk, the teacher catches me and calls me out. And of course I said, "It's all right, I'll be right there." Well, I'm sitting at my desk, I think I might've even been crying. I was close to tears, seven year old Joey. And I'm looking down, head in my hands and see the shards of paper and I go ahead. I decide, oh my goodness, this is an opportunity. So I draw a boombox, a necklace, a microphone. I cut those out, put them on the worm, put it up, and now everybody is standing around me, dumbfounded that I had done this. My worm is different from everyone else's. The teacher I'll never forget, she looks at it and she goes, "I've never seen anything like it."
Joey Cofone (00:04:04):
And from that day forward, I was addicted to what I would later discover is creative thinking, is just doing it different. Ideas that are not the norm or a little bit remixed on what people expect. And low and behold, as I'm growing up, I start to realize that people don't think they're creative. Most people think that creativity is reserved for designers or painters or sculptors or others, but not themselves. And the older I got, the more angry and frustrated I got at this ridiculous idea. And so I took a ton of notes on my phone over 10 years, with multiple phones actually, and eventually when I sat down to write it, the table of contents was done in a couple hours then I was off.
Daniel Scrivner (00:04:51):
When you were writing the book, who did you have in mind that you were writing for? Because as a designer, I found a lot of value by reading through the book. So as someone who has lived a creative life or feel like I have those muscles and I flex those muscles a lot, I found it really interesting. Who else did you write the book for? Who are you excited to read this book?
Joey Cofone (00:05:10):
Yeah, that's a great question because the common knowledge, wisdom, is that you write a book for very specific person with a very specific need. And I think most of the time, the vast majority of the time, that's right. But I could not resolve that idea with the book that I had in my head. And I mentioned this to you earlier, but essentially think of the dictionary. Who's the dictionary written for? It's not just one person, it's a host of types. And so I challenged myself to write this book for people who think they're creative and people who don't. And to constantly be looking at that from the two threads of, okay, what is someone who's not creative, how are they going to parse this? And someone who is, what are they going to get from this? And so I'm glad that you enjoyed it and I have people in my life who don't consider themselves creative and they've enjoyed it. So it's only the early days. But I hope that over time I realize that I've succeeded. I'm not sure yet.
Daniel Scrivner (00:06:14):
I mean it seems like a weird comparison, but I love the idea, the analogy of this almost being like a dictionary of creativity for anyone because these are all, I think that's one of the things I loved, is it's all very, I think creativity typically feels very subjective. You've done a great job of making it objective. Anyone can come, grasp onto the ideas. They're easy to understand, they're compelling. It's really interesting.
Daniel Scrivner (00:06:39):
I want to ask a question about how you distill down the laws for something as big as creativity because I imagine that would feel like an overwhelmingly daunting task when you set off on that. What was your process and how did you go about distilling down and arriving to the final 39 laws that are in the book?
Joey Cofone (00:06:59):
It is something that I wanted to do for so long and having those notes on my phone for so long that when I sat down, it came together within a couple of hours. And the best way I could describe it is Newton, whether the apple actually hit his head or not, he did "discover" gravity and write the law of gravity. But what's important to take away from that is that he didn't invent gravity, obviously. Apples didn't float until Newton came along. I haven't said that before and I love it. He just wrote what he observed. And so for me, I did the same thing is just at Baronfig, at this point in my career, I've designed and art directed over a hundred products from zero to consumer's hand. And I've collaborated with incredible creators like James Clear, Roxanne Gay, and so many others. There came a point where it just was very obvious how it all worked and fit together because I was really interested in not just what I was doing but how I was doing it. I didn't invent it. I wish there were 40, so it was an even number. Everybody's like, "Dude, what are you doing 39?"
Daniel Scrivner (00:08:17):
No, I mean it would have to be 39. It can't be an even 40. So it just wouldn't work. Wouldn't work at all. I want to talk about, So in everyone listening, everyone watching, please forgive me. This book is amazing as are many of the newsletters that you've published. So throughout this podcast, I'm going to read off a bunch of things just because I think they're amazing and it's better that people hear your words and not me trying to paraphrase your words. But you have a wonderful line in the introduction of the book that says, "What is creativity? In order to understand how creativity works, we must first understand what it is as well as what it is not. In its purest form creativity is a force." For people listening, talk a little bit about what creativity is and what it's not and why it is a force because I think that's a really interesting framing.
Joey Cofone (00:09:02):
Thank you. I wanted to pose it in a really abstract way and then I wanted to bring it back to really concrete. So the abstract is where I like to start because it's like a pallet cleanser. And we just talked about gravity, it's a force of nature. Creativity is a force of psychology. It's just the way our brains work. Human beings are unique amongst the entire animal kingdom because of our ability to imagine what is not in front of us. And it is essentially to be creative. If you asked me earlier what's my superpower? As a whole human being superpower is creativity. Guaranteed 100%. And so you've got this force, the psychological force, creativity, that is in its simplest terms, creativity is the practice of ideas. And when you are endeavoring and bringing those ideas to life, it's self expression. And that's it. And it doesn't need to be painting, it doesn't need to be design, it can be creating a spreadsheet, it can be organizing your cloth. All of it counts as creativity.
Daniel Scrivner (00:10:14):
That's a great answer. Hey, I want to talk a little bit about and demystify creativity because one of the points that you make is that creativity is not magical, which I think is a really important note to hit on. And this isn't from your book, I'm also going to quote from, you've got a bunch of newsletters I really like that we're going to link to in the show notes. This one's from a newsletter that you sent out called The Truth About Creative Magic. But the line is, "While the results of creativity are often magical, the process to get there is not. The practice of creativity is as reliable and unmagical as accounting or baseball or law or any other endeavor." Talk about why that's important and why it's important people understand that creativity is not magic.
Joey Cofone (00:10:54):
That's one that frustrates me is while I was writing the book, people are going, "Oh dude, are you going to teach us the magic?" And I was always like, "I am not because it is not magic." So that was such a sticking point to really get this book out. And first I'll just pose the question to anyone, which is, if you think creativity is magic, if you think it's this thing that may come or may not, like the muse may or may not strike, how do people like you or me or other designers, people who get paid to mostly do creative things, how do they reliably get paid?
Daniel Scrivner (00:11:29):
Yeah, that's not magic. It's not magic at all.
Joey Cofone (00:11:31):
Right? Because if they didn't perform every day at work, they're not getting paid. No one's going to stand around and hope that they figure it out today and no one's going to pay that paycheck. And so the best way that I could describe creativity, in this regard, is what's a city in the world that you have not been to yet but you want to go to?
Daniel Scrivner (00:11:51):
I really like to go to Belgium. I don't know any specific cities.
Joey Cofone (00:11:53):
That's awesome. Let's just say Belgium. So Daniel wants to go to Belgium, now I want to go to Belgium because we're going on this journey together. He's never been there and I've never been there. But both of us can tell you exactly how to get there. We would go outside, we'd walk or take a bus or a cab or whatever it is to the airport, get on a plane, fly, land, get in a cab or whatever again, follow signs and eventually get to Belgium. And that's a guarantee. Okay. So while the end is a mystery, I have no idea what I'm going to get when I get there. I can tell you how to get there every time. The creative process is the same. You follow the same processes of roads and maps and signs and vehicles and you get to the end. But I can't tell you what it is, but I'll always be able to tell you how to get there.
Daniel Scrivner (00:12:44):
So well said. I mean just an immediate counterpoint that I think of is every design team has a design process. You never go to a design team and they're just like, we just hang around and then all of a sudden, have random times, this idea emerges and it's fully fleshed out and we just ship it. No, every design team has a process and it is very rigorous. In my experience the better the design team typically the more rigorous the process.
Joey Cofone (00:13:08):
Absolutely. Well said.
Daniel Scrivner (00:13:10):
Which I think is a good, I don't know, rebuttal of this idea that it's magic. And I want to talk about that a little bit more for a second. This is another quote from one of your newsletters and it talks about, it's like what is the opposite of magic? The opposite of magic is some sort of process or some sort of systemization and you're answering a question in this newsletter and your advice was to lean into systemization. "Do not try to avoid it or offset it, systematize the hell out of your approach, figure out what works for you and sharpen the process to a point." Talk about why process is important and just any other thoughts you have around systemization
Joey Cofone (00:13:49):
Well there's this belief that we have left brain and right brain thinking. And a lot of people divide that into left brain and right brain people and that's wrong. And so we have these creative types that are undisciplined, starving artists. And then we have the "suits" with all the rules. And what that does is just misleads us into thinking that to be one thing, you must be this entire thing, which is to be creative you expect it to be flying by the seat of your pants. And so that person that asked that question, I could tell that they're like, "Hey, I just can't get a whole grasp. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't." And I could tell that they were not employing enough discipline because they clearly can, if you can make it a success relatively frequently, you should be able to over time make it extremely frequently.
Joey Cofone (00:14:45):
Once you crack the nut, it's there, you just got to piece together multiple times. And so discipline becomes a really important factor to people who are in that creative leaning process. And then just to put a end cap on that. When you have the other side, which I just call the suits, but the discipline people, left brain, sometimes they can forget to let go of the process. And that's just as important as leaning into a process. And so really it's where are you on the spectrum? And then finding your way to the middle, whether it's too much or too little process.
Daniel Scrivner (00:15:25):
I want to kind of outline a basic process and, well, I mean this is in the book in many ways, just said a little bit differently, but at a high level you've talked about the general approach to creativity as being get inspired, research, iterate, and then finalize. And you have interesting thoughts about each of those. Just to zoom way out for a moment, can you talk about that high level kind of four step process of creativity and maybe share some ideas? I think your ideas around finalize are really interesting.
Joey Cofone (00:15:57):
Yeah, there is a whole lot to this. Are we going into kind of, we're almost going into those four laws you mentioned earlier, but I don't want to...
Daniel Scrivner (00:16:07):
Yeah, we'll come back to those. So I think just high level for this question.
Joey Cofone (00:16:09):
I know. I don't want to get too deep, but essentially what all of those are saying is really you can't create something until you know what you want to create. And you can't know what you want to create until you've kind of absorbed enough information to be able to combine ideas into something that can funnel through to the rest of the process. And so what I think I would love to say here is actually, in terms of what do I create, is really reset your mind on what creativity is in action and process, which is the practice of ideas. You're not creating, your combining ideas. And so people tend to think that they're going and making this brand new thing and then they're floundering because there's no handhold to actually ground yourself. And then of course without the inspiration and research and you're just pushing yourself down a funnel and really just off a cliff.
Joey Cofone (00:17:11):
So to bring it all back, basically you've got to do one step at a time. I'm not sure if that's where you wanted me to go. But combining is really important. And I'll just give quick examples. My favorite from the book, it's kind of like Pokemon is our love of pets combined with our fascination for fantasy worlds. Or the iPhone is just a phone combined with computer. And it really is that simple. And when you can say that in the beginning, this is what I want to make, you are able to then pull a lot of inspiration from each of those fundamental concepts to shape them down into the process further. So just as cliche as it sounds, you really have to go one step at a time. You can't just jump into the what most people might call the fun part.
Daniel Scrivner (00:17:56):
Well, totally. Or you get lost and frustrated. And if you don't have the guardrails in place, you haven't clarified where you're going, so at some point in the process you're just like, what is even going on? What am I creating? What is good even look like? How do I know if this is good? You grapple with all those questions. And so I think thinking about it as a process is really important.
Daniel Scrivner (00:18:17):
And I want to talk a little bit about finalized. So we're going to come back to this again, talk about one of the laws in the book, but this is, again, from one of the newsletters you sent out and I just thought it was too good not to touch on for a second and then we'll come and dive into it in a deeper way in a little bit. But you end up talking about that finalizing is really choosing an end. You can improve your creation forever. I'm sure this is extremely applicable at Baronfig. You've got products. I'm sure you're always seeing things that it could be tweaked, might be tweaked, you think you might want to change something about, but at some point you must admit diminishing returns and accept good enough. Can you talk just about that at a high level and why that end step is so important?
Joey Cofone (00:18:56):
Yes. So there's bleed over with the law that you mentioned, but think of Zeno's Paradox, which is essentially if you take a distance and you divide it in half, you'll never reach the end. You'll just keep on dividing it in half infinitely. And that overlays very well with creating. So the very first step you take is when you've got nothing to something is a phenomenal step forward.
Joey Cofone (00:19:27):
For Baronfig the first notebook that I made was actually, I had an idea of what a cloth bound notebook should be back when this wasn't a thing. I went to the store, I bought it. I went to the art store, I bought painting canvas. I cut it all up and I used masking tape and I made this first version that was absolutely horrendous. But in terms of Zeno's paradox, I just went halfway to the end and I went from absolutely nothing to holding something that I was able to show some people that I was working with so that they could understand, even minimally, what I was trying to go for. What happens is as you keep cutting that distance in half and half, at some point you cannot tell that that distance is being cut, that the diminishing returns are invisible. You're the only one that sees. And at that point, that's when you just have to make a decision to stop because if you're eventually going to... What you're doing at that point, you're not making it better, you're making it different.
Daniel Scrivner (00:20:28):
So well said. I mean, I think anyone who's a designer or creative or an artist is going to resonate with that point you just said because there does reach a point in every project, at least the ones that I've worked on, where I can still see the difference. But I think your point there, and it's a great one, is that's great, but you need to take a step back and you need to put this through the lens of, well, somebody else that doesn't know about the pixels and this thing isn't vertically centered, optically aligned, or whatever it is that you're thinking about in your mind, isn't there, they may not care and so it doesn't matter. I want to bring up this a weird parallel, but I have to bring it up really quickly that you talked about there having cloth bound journals and obviously on Baronfig, I think they're all cloth bound, correct me if I'm wrong, are any of them leather?
Joey Cofone (00:21:14):
No, there's all cloth bound. And then we have a few paper bound versions.
Daniel Scrivner (00:21:18):
And I know you have a strong opinion about why cloth bound and why not leather. I would love it if you could get into that for just a second. Why is the cloth bound important?
Joey Cofone (00:21:28):
Well, there's a host of reasons. I mean, leather is certainly an animal byproduct and pleather is just silly. And so for me personally, there's something beautiful about cloth bound anything really. That I love the texture and the feel, and I think it's a little bit more, human is not the right word, but it's the word that's coming to me right now. And at the time, especially when we made it, was extremely unique. And like I said, a whole host of reasons. Have you read something that I don't remember?
Daniel Scrivner (00:22:10):
No, doing research for this. I remember coming across a quote where you were basically like, I hate leather. I don't want leather on any of our products. And that obviously stuck in my mind.
Joey Cofone (00:22:19):
Yeah, yeah. I'll tell you something that you haven't said, which is, I don't like leather for obvious reasons, it's an animal byproduct. And I don't need to contribute anymore negativity to the world than I have to. But even the biggest reason, I hate the imperfections, they drive me nuts. Little scratch here or little wave there. My goodness, as a designer. And it's wrong to want a natural material to have unnatural perfection. And so as a designer, clearly I had the choice and I chose cloth.
Daniel Scrivner (00:22:58):
Yeah, you chose well. You have a strong opinion about it, which I like. I want to go back to the book and talk a little bit about the way that you've decide to theme it and section it. So in the book there's 39 laws, not 40, it's 39 laws of creativity. There cannot be 40. But you've split it into three distinct sections and you call those the laws of mindset, the laws of action, and the laws of greatness. And I felt like I couldn't not bring that up because you grouped that intentionally. There must be some thoughts in your mind about why they're grouped that way. Talk a little bit about those themes, those sections, and if there's a story behind each.
Joey Cofone (00:23:36):
When you write a book about creativity, the first thing that someone thinks of is the creative process. It's definitely a keyword of sorts. And I probably started there where I listed that out and that became the middle of the book, was that those three sets of laws are foundation, process and excellence. And I realized in doing this, that these laws were not going to hit for the uninitiated if I didn't first teach you how to think creatively.
Joey Cofone (00:24:07):
How to recognize what weird is. How to understand the value of expression. What real destruction looks like. Connecting versus creating. Facing the unknown. Failing and continuity. Competing against yourself and the value of play in all of this. If I didn't teach you those things, no matter how well I taught you the process, it's going to go on deaf ears. And so mindset became a requirement. And so I had these mindset laws, seven of them. And then the laws of action, there's 18. It's the bulk of the book, it's the creative process, which is in chronological order. You could use it as a guide to create something. And then after that I thought, wow, now that I've done all the stuff that I want to tell most people, now there's the stuff that I know that no one else knows or that very few.
Daniel Scrivner (00:24:59):
It's the AP, the honors course.
Joey Cofone (00:25:01):
Yeah. And that's the greatness. Because I have, like I said, had the privilege of working some really incredible people. And so then that became a necessity. But what I think is worth saying here, in a way the reader is lucky that I am not an author, a career author. Because if I were, I probably split these into three books and charge you three times. But I'm really interested, I was more interested in just getting this idea out, which is why it's 400 pages. I could have done three 200 page books probably, but I had the pandemic. My wife was like, "If you don't do it now, you're never going to do it." And so I just wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. And my goal was just to essentially create a picture of creativity and wherever it landed, I thought it was going to be 60,000 words. My goal was 60,000. And I realized that was two thirds of the way through and they had only 60. So anyway, that's the answer to that.
Daniel Scrivner (00:25:57):
That's so cool. I really like that you... Well one, I appreciate that you put it all into one book. It's slightly intimidating to look at. It's amazingly easy read. So for anyone that looks at it and is like, "Oh my God, the size of the book intimidates me," it's very easy. It's very fun to read. And I'm glad you didn't do it as three separate books. Now I want to ask a question and it's what is your favorite law? And the way I want to ask it is not your favorite law for all time, maybe you've got one, maybe you don't. Or if there's a law that resonates with you right now, because I'm guessing at various points in time one of them is resonating with you or one of them is on your mind.
Joey Cofone (00:26:35):
It does seem like I could answer this differently every day. Today I think the law of competition. Earlier, before this recording, we talked about the difference between people who are really good at something and people who are really known for the same thing. And that there's not necessarily an overlap. That Venn diagram is not quite so-
Daniel Scrivner (00:27:00):
Not even close.
Joey Cofone (00:27:01):
Close. Yeah, not so similar. And I think what's a good reminder in reaction to that, because I could get frustrated easily if I thought about it too much, which is that I am in competition with myself. And that's how I've always operated. And this is a new endeavor for me. I've never wrote a book until now and entering a world I've never thought about until now. And so the law of competition is going to be a great reminder going forward that people are going to do it the way they are doing it. And if I try to be like that, that's not helpful. And so I need to just do it my way. And the law reads for everyone out there, it goes, "Do not compare yourself to others, but rather compare today's you to yesterday's. Strive to be incrementally better." And right now I'm feeling that.
Daniel Scrivner (00:27:53):
I mean, it's well said. I also feel like it goes to the heart of the entire idea behind the book, which is to be you, not to be playing a comparison game. But to just be, almost like shut off the multiplayer version of the game, this will speak to you, and to go into the single player mode. It's just you. You don't have to worry about what anyone else is doing, just focus on your own game. We're going to get into, gaming will come back up later in the interview.
Joey Cofone (00:28:19):
Do you have any gaming consoles at home? Is there a part of you?
Daniel Scrivner (00:28:24):
No, there's no gaming consoles at home now, although I'm sure that'll change in time, especially we've got two young boys. One of them just got into iPad games, which is, I'll not go down that rabbit hole. But there's some good iPad games, there's a lot of terrible iPad games just filled with ads and just crap. But the game I did grow up with playing Diablo and Diablo still has a really special place in my heart, as nerdy as that may be.
Joey Cofone (00:28:48):
Diablo's great. I've got Diablo on my Switch. Highly recommended it for kids. I'm sure you know-
Daniel Scrivner (00:28:54):
Diablo on the Switch?
Joey Cofone (00:28:55):
Yeah. Anyway, I don't know if Diablo, but yeah, super great. They're a little young.
Daniel Scrivner (00:29:00):
That's mine. That's about it.
Joey Cofone (00:29:02):
Daniel Scrivner (00:29:02):
And then I've got a couple of younger brothers and Final Fantasy, the like five, six, seven, maybe eight was in our house for years, growing up.
Joey Cofone (00:29:10):
Daniel Scrivner (00:29:11):
I wanted to have a section in this interview that was very practical because we're talking about, I think your book does an amazing job about making creativity feel simple, feel obvious, feel very practical in terms of how you can apply it and how you can do it. And so I picked out four laws, and you alluded to this earlier, that were really interesting to me. That felt like if somebody listening only kind of took away these four laws, they'd kind of get a lot out of the conversation. And were, we'll talk about each of these for a second, but at a high level, they are how you define the problem, how you gather inspiration, how you limit yourself to try to force creativity and how you publish imperfection. So in many ways, this is a little bit of a reiteration of what we talked about.
Daniel Scrivner (00:29:55):
But I want to start with this first law, which is the law of precision. And I love the title of it. Anyone who's a designer knows that if you're not precise in terms of what you're trying to create, get yourself into a lot of trouble. The law is, you say in the book, "Sharpen your understanding of a problem through investigation. Peel back the layers until you are left with a single question that when answered, resolves the heart of the matter." What else do you have to add to the art of precision and why is precision important to creativity?
Joey Cofone (00:30:24):
Yeah, there's a lot to that and I love that you're pulling this up. So creativity is often described as problem solving, and it's part of it. The real definition is the practice of ideas and that can manifest in many ways. Problem solving is one of those ways. But the key thing about problem solving is that problem solving is one third of the process of solving problems. And I believe we even touched on this earlier in a different way with inspiration. But the two steps that need to happen before you do problem solving is first you need to have problem seeking and then problem sharpening, and then you have problem solve. So when you're defining the problem, creating deliberate and separate steps for those.
Joey Cofone (00:31:12):
So in the book, I talk about Tesla and how Elon Musk and Tesla have really evolved self-driving cars. And so initially they first asked, how can we make cars drive themselves? And you would think, wow, that's a great question. We're going to solve that. And so what they realized is that for car to drive itself, it would need to parse the road on the fly rather than a given directive. And so it went from how can we make cars drive themselves to how can help we help cars to read the road?
Joey Cofone (00:31:46):
And then when they had that question, they realized, oh, we can read the road, but there's so many variables, how is a car ever going to figure it out? And they connected them all and they made the neural network. And then if the real question became, now that we know how to make them read the roads, how can we help cars learn so that they can do this? And I'm sort of jumping around, but eventually it became how can we help cars learn from each other? And so we have this exponential growth of information sharing that eventually allowed Tesla to really do self-driving cars. And so that is an example of they seek a problem, they sharpen the heck out of it, and then they were able to solve. And that's the law of precision. It's really taking the time.
Daniel Scrivner (00:32:27):
Yeah, it almost feels like, I don't know, an inverse Russian nesting doll where you're trying to get from the fuzzy, vague, not really clear problem to something that's super precise, something that's super fine grained.
Joey Cofone (00:32:39):
Oh, I like how you say that. Inverse Russian nesting doll. I feel like [inaudible 00:32:44].
Daniel Scrivner (00:32:45):
Oh, don't worry. The Russian nesting doll is definitely something in the book somewhere. I'm just taking it and rephrasing it in a different way. So don't worry, that's your own idea. It's a good one.
Joey Cofone (00:32:56):
Well, I love what you said.
Daniel Scrivner (00:33:00):
So the second step... Just to kind of encapsulate that. So we've found a problem and then we've gone through all the work to try to really chunk that down from something that's course grain, big ,lumpy, not super clear into something that's fine and precise. The next one, and these are relatively in order, and then I'm going to jump at the end to the law of good enough, which is many chapters after these. But the second one is gathering inspiration. And I love the way you framed it. You talk about law of the muse. "Do not start from zero. Do the necessary research to collect relevant ideas. Use these as inspiration, plucking the best parts to combine into something of your own. Don't wait for the muse to strike, reach out and strike it yourself." Talk a little bit about why gathering inspiration is so important. I love just the first sentence, which is "Do not start from zero." You say that and you're immediately like, well, of course.
Joey Cofone (00:33:54):
Yeah. Well, I'm so glad that that resonated. It's often where we think if we need to create something new, every piece has to be new. And we've established that a little while ago that it doesn't, like with iPhone is a phone and a computer. And so what you're really doing is, I say in the book, in the law of connection, where making a really great idea is you take a few fundamental concepts and use them as building blocks to create a full concept, your idea. Well, the more information you gather, the more stuff you explore, the more building blocks you have, the more likely that you are going to stumble upon a concept that you like. Seems obvious, sometimes I wonder if I'm just saying the dumbest thing on earth because it's just like, that's obvious, I guess. But what I think is also important in this chapter in addition, is that a lot of times we think that the muse needs to reach out and strike us and I'm saying, strike the muse.
Joey Cofone (00:34:57):
There's passive inspiration and that does happen. And passive inspiration would be, I tell the brief story of a guy named George de Mestral walks through the woods, some weird little things stick on his pants, he brings them home. After going through the woods many times before and not caring about them this time he's like, "Ah, I should look at that." Puts it under microscope. Dude invents Velcro like five or 10 years later because of that. And that's passive inspiration. Something happened to him, he wasn't looking for it and he made the most of it. And that's awesome.
Joey Cofone (00:35:26):
But when you want to engage creativity, you shouldn't wait for it. And then you have active inspiration and that's gathering it. And there's just two dimensions to it. Step one collect and step two assimilate. You go into a category of something you really like and the iPhone and the computer, the computer and a phone is a great idea. Just gather a bunch of computer stuff, gather a bunch of phone things, see what people are doing, digest them not just as wholes, but as the components. And then you have just a massive library of stuff to use and put together. And you could do it all in your head, which is the greatest part.
Daniel Scrivner (00:36:06):
And this is really common. Talk about it for a second. Oftentimes if you're kicking off a project or on a design team, you'll come up with a mood board or an inspiration board. And it's effectively that, you're going and pulling a bunch of things that have the vibe or the feel or the aesthetic or something that you think is interesting that you want to try to have. And you try to put that into a visual board that can sometimes look like image vomit. But that process is enormously helpful because you go from something that's foggy and vague in your own mind into something that's slightly more concrete because you can see it visually, you can react with it, you can share it with other people. I want to touch on something I think is also really important here, which is this idea that, well, if I go and I take inspiration, I'm copying. I can't copy. And so talk a little bit about why it's not copying to take a broad set of ideas and then kind of meld them together into something unique and different.
Joey Cofone (00:36:59):
Sure. Do you want me to touch on the Picasso quote?
Daniel Scrivner (00:37:04):
Yes, that sounds great.
Joey Cofone (00:37:07):
Okay. Pablo Picasso, everybody knows legendary Spanish artist. And he said, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." Great artist steal. That irked me for the greater part of my life. And whenever I try to look it up, I would see these pro-plagiarism blog posts about how you just take from other people. And Picasso said it's okay kind of thing.
Joey Cofone (00:37:34):
And I frankly didn't understand what the heck Picasso was talking about until one day I'm sitting on the subway, I look up and I see an ad that is clearly inspired by a couple other brands and I was offended. Oh my goodness, they stole those. And then I realized, well wow, they're doing things that the other companies were not. And it dawned on me in that moment what Picasso meant. And it's so obvious that when I say it's almost like, well, what else could he mean? But when you borrow, you're taking someone, but it's something that's still someone else's. What he's saying is when you steal, you make it your own and you change it. And what he meant by that was to take what you see and bring it into who you are and everything that you are, and then let it out and now it's yours. And it's so profound. And that's the difference between plagiarism and inspiration.
Daniel Scrivner (00:38:36):
Well, it gets to a really important point, and I'll just go off on a little bit of a tangent for a moment. But again, going back to this idea that creativity isn't magic, that it's a reliable process. Every design team in the world does this. Every design team in the world collects reference libraries and puts them up. Their job, they know at the end of the day, is to take that and come up with their own spin or twist on it. Your job is to accomplish something singular, something that's different, contributing a new note. But again, just going back to the point, you can't start from zero. You need to start from something.
Daniel Scrivner (00:39:10):
Another analogy in my mind is like, let's say you wanted to design a Victorian, is it better to just sit down having maybe a couple vague Victorian ideas and houses in your mind and just start sketching as best you can? Or would it be better to study it and really look at all the different styles of Victorians, look at maybe styles in different parts of the country, look at styles from different parts in time, and then at the very end distill that down into something that's unique and different that has your own angle or imprint on it is. I don't know what comes to mind.
Daniel Scrivner (00:39:42):
We're halfway through. I want to talk about two more. The third one that I really liked and that felt very actionable is this idea of the law of simplicity. "While counterintuitive, the more options you have, the less likely you are to make progress. Keep your parameters tight, your path narrow, and you will find that innovative thinking appears faster and more reliably." And so I guess my read on this is partly around giving yourself constraints and the power of constraints. And part of it is just less is more kind of reiterating that idea you need to pair down.
Joey Cofone (00:40:12):
Yeah, I think what happens very quickly is people get concerned whether or not someone's going to be able to understand their idea or they're going to be concerned if they're ostracizing a certain user, and so they throw everything in. We've seen software with a thousand features that people use 10%. That's this kind of thinking that we're talking about. And the law of simplicity is essentially calling that out. And the best way I like to describe it, getting deja vu here, we didn't talk about the field yet versus the road, but the field and the road is in a nutshell, say I drop you in a field, 300 acres, I'm a city boy so I don't actually know how big 300 acres is but I assume it's pretty large.
Daniel Scrivner (00:41:00):
Joey Cofone (00:41:02):
Right, it's pretty big. And I tell you, "Hey, find the exit." It's a gate and you're going to be like, "What? Which way do I go?" Now if I put you on a road, the beginning and I say find the end, there's only one way to go, straight. You can do that to yourself, for yourself, by creating limits and parameters so that by the time you're ready to get to work, you're just driving straight. And that has a lot to do with creating the right limits. And there's ways to do that when you're building your idea. And I really enjoy talking about when you communicate your idea, which is something I call the attention pie. So imagine a pie that has a hundred slices and for every element that you add to your communiqué, you divide the slices in half.
Joey Cofone (00:41:53):
And so if I, I use in the book, if I give you a flower, it's a hundred slices. For a brief moment, a flower is the whole world for that person. The moment I tie a red bow around it, I just assign 50 slices to the bow and 50 to the flower. I devalued the flower by half just by adding, I've made it worth less. And that's fine, you need a couple things when you're communicating, but what you want to avoid is not adding 10 things and each thing only gets little 10 points of attention. And now it's so valueless that the receiver of your communication no longer understands what you're doing. So all that's to say is there's value in limiting what you create and there's value in limiting the way you communicate what you create. And they can be the same or they can be different and you can manage them. For example, the iPhone is way more than a phone and a computer. We know that. It's a lot, but when we communicate it that way, it's easy to parse.
Daniel Scrivner (00:42:56):
I love this idea of a communication pie. I think I'll be using that. I might steal that. And you might see that show up in other places because it is, I think, a very profound, easy to grasp way to kind of understand what's happening there. Last law, and this gets a little bit to what we talked about before about choosing to finish, but I just like the way you phrase this and you talk about it as publishing imperfection. It's the law of good enough. "Aim for perfection and you'll find yourself smothered by perpetual searching and disappointment. Instead, publish the simplest, clearest version of your creation and go from there." Why is that so important?
Joey Cofone (00:43:31):
Oh, this is one of my absolute favorites. So there's a couple that go deep in philosophy and this is one of them. So the law of good enough is if you aim for perfection, and I know people that do this, you're never going to be satisfied. You're never going to be able to hit the law of the finish line where you're able to say, I've had enough. Because you're, again, creativity is a force of human psychology. You're fighting your psychology in that way and you're not going to reach the destination. And so what happens is perfection becomes endlessly pursued, which is terrible. Or if you do publish it, then you now feel like you have an imperfect creation that was put into the world, which is also equally terrible.
Joey Cofone (00:44:16):
So the way I like to talk about it is think of the philosopher Plato. There's a concept that he has, we now call the Platonic forms. And this is wonderful, wonderful idea where it's the idea in our head of something is the form, Plato's forms, aka the Platonic forms. So let's take a circle for example. Circle's an easy concept to discuss. In our head, a circle is absolutely perfect, absolutely perfect. Every point is equidistant from the center. In reality, everything that, there are circles all around me, unfortunately everything seems to be tied to something I can't show you, but grab my mic, grab my light. But all these circles in reality are not perfect, but they're good enough.
Joey Cofone (00:45:03):
And that is the law of good enough is that you have to accept that there's thousands of thousands things around you in this very moment, I am here in this room, there are thousands of creations that someone had to say it's good enough and none of them are perfect. You are no different. You have to do the same thing. You have to go through that, almost like the process of grieving. There's a little bit of loss involved to say, "I've done what I can now I have to let it go."
Daniel Scrivner (00:45:30):
Well I love because I think there's another powerful idea embedded in that, or at least something that feels actionable embedded in that, which is if you find yourself grappling with something and you're unsatisfied with it, think about the surface area and maybe the solution is to take the surface area and shrink it way down as a way to, like you said, rather than trying to have this be amazing, why not try to have this be amazing? And it seems to me like a helpful axiom that if you're frustrated by something, you can't feel like you're getting it good enough, think about the size of it, think about the surface area of it,
Joey Cofone (00:46:04):
Right? Because you may be trying to swallow a pill that's too large.
Daniel Scrivner (00:46:08):
Yeah, totally. Which is a thing all the time that you grapple with. Everyone's got finite resources, finite time. I think this comes up a lot, especially in startups where there's just constant tension between we want to make something that's really, really, really great and we also need to be moving really quickly and shipping stuff quickly and trying to square those two things. And I think advice I give a lot is to take the surface area down. I really like that principle. So those, again, just to read these back, these are just four of the 39 laws: law precision, the law of the muse, the law of simplicity and the law of good enough, to me felt like a really interesting actionable way to move from an idea you have all the way through kind of executing it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:46:51):
I want to talk about one more thing. In the book, it's full of vignettes, it's full of quotes, it's full of stories from iconic creators across history. What was the process like to research those and do you have a favorite story or figure or icon that's in the book?
Joey Cofone (00:47:06):
Oh my goodness, I have so many feelings about all of it. But it was an interesting process because actually each third of the book was very different in terms of how I made it. The first third was easy because I had a lifetime of stories in my head that I just was like you're this law, you're this law, you're this law. Boom, this is great. I'm going to kill this thing.
Joey Cofone (00:47:26):
Then what happened in the second third is I started to run out of stuff in my head. So I had to go read stories. But since I still had so many available laws to that I had to attach stories to, I was able to read stories and quickly say, "Oh that's good for this law. That's good for this one." Was really challenging was the last third where I had like 10, 12 laws that I needed to have the stories for them. That was a challenge. Those took me as long as the first two thirds because I had to go read story after story. That was wonderful, wonderful information, but it didn't apply to the point I was making.
Joey Cofone (00:48:04):
As far as my favorite goes, the one with Bruce Lee really changed me as a human. When I wrote this chapter, it changed my life and I won't spoil too much because this was close to my heart. But one of the parts that Bruce Lee, I actually would go so far and say I am accidentally a student of Bruce Lee at this point, which is he had a philosophy called Jeet Kune Do, which is essentially the way the philosophy of no philosophy. It's sort of the opposite of mastering one thing is learning a lot. And then alongside that, he had this flexibility approach to life that I didn't know was compatible with being so disciplined. And he has a famous quote, he probably heard it, which is "Be like, water can crash or it can flow, it could be powerful or it could be smooth. You put it in a teapot, it becomes a teapot. Put it in a teacup, it becomes a teacup."
Joey Cofone (00:49:08):
And before I wrote that chapter, I lived such a rigid and disciplined life because I thought, oh, that's the way that to excellence. And when I read about and studied Bruce Lee, I realized that there's just like left brain, right brain, there is a spectrum and there's a balance and a compatibility that has to happen in both directions. And it changed. It changed the way I go about living now. I am able to, even though I do get up early and I have my routine, I'm able to move it. Some days I remove things if my wife needs something or the dog won't go to the bathroom and it eats up another 20 minutes. And I used to get frustrated and I just let it go now. It truly changed me. I would say that this book has given me a lot of gifts and I think that's my most prized gift from it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:50:06):
That's so cool. I'm a huge Bruce Lee fan and I own the Jeet Kune Do book. I remember learning martial arts as a kid and being really inspired by Bruce Lee. So that definitely resonates with me as well too. I want to close by talking about two things that are related to the book but aren't the book. And those are the process of writing the book. I've got a couple questions there and I want to talk about Baronfig because I can't not ask you a few questions at least about Baronfig.
Daniel Scrivner (00:50:31):
The question that I wanted to ask around writing the book is just, and I grabbed some of these from your newsletters and I'll read them in just a second, but you super openly shared how you wrote the book. So obviously you have a writing background, but what I thought it was just amazing, I always think it is helpful to kind of demystify something that feels big and magical like your book does, and turn it into something that feels extremely practical and simple.
Daniel Scrivner (00:50:56):
And I'll read just two quotes of things that you did to try to force yourself to write this book. So one was you talk about, this is a newsletter called Strategies for Personal Accountability. We'll link to it in the show notes. You can find that at outlier academy.com. But you talk about that used a habit tracker to write and it took you 199 writing sessions at 417 average words to complete the first draft. So I thought it was just cool and I'll ask a question in just a second, but another technique that you used, it's from the same newsletter, was you talk about that you love to play video games and when writing, for example, you didn't allow yourself to touch a game controller until you'd written 200 words, which is another just amazing hack of, again, just carrot and a stick. So I want to ask a question about these writing sessions and my question is, what did they look like? And then I guess what I'm curious there, specific time of day, location, any specific tools that you use?
Joey Cofone (00:51:51):
Yeah, great. I'll answer all those. And then I want to give, I think, one of my most valuable tips that I haven't mentioned. So also well done on, you really did the work to pull value out of a conversation. So major props.
Daniel Scrivner (00:52:06):
Thanks, I appreciate it.
Joey Cofone (00:52:08):
As far as, practically speaking, how did I write the book? It was during the pandemic and I still had to work a full day. And it was a stressful time for obvious reasons. Running a company, figuring out the pandemic. We were all, and by all I mean planet Earth, we're all stressed to say the least. But then I closed my laptop at the end of the day. I actually pick up my iPad and I wrote it on my iPad. I used the keyboard that Apple, I think it's in the other room, that Apple makes with it.
Joey Cofone (00:52:42):
And to my surprise, I used a program called Ulysses, wrote it on an iPad. Never thought I'd do that. And a lot of the times I was actually just lying in bed, totally lying down, not even sitting up. I was like, just had my head propped up and it was on my chest and it was just typing away. And then I was exhausted. But I was thrilled to get to this project and I had a goal every day of 200 words. As you can see, I did 417 on average. There were some days I pumped out 2000 and there were some days I did like 201 and I was like, that is it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:53:19):
Just hit it.
Joey Cofone (00:53:20):
But I made the book go forward every day. That's kind of the practical picture. But one thing that I think really changed the game for me is I did something that, I avoided a trap that a lot of writers fall into, going back. I had a rule that I would write the chapter from start to finish. I would let my wife read it out loud. Still appreciate that, Ariana. She read it out loud, she'd give me some feedback. I would also see in her eyes what was confusing and what wasn't. I would make my edits. Then I never looked at the chapter again. I didn't even read it, ever. It was in the Ulysses. I was a dead to me and I went to the next one and if you read the book, you can see I do speak to each chapter. So I added that later. Didn't worry about it at the time. I wanted to make progress because I know that especially with writing, you can go back and just edit to death. And it wasn't the time for it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:54:20):
I mean it's the end of choosing when to finish and it's like never ending finish line. It's dividing in half.
Joey Cofone (00:54:24):
Absolutely. So I did 82,000 words in 11 months. And actually I wrote a lot because I thought that I had this idea that you lose 10% in editing. So I wrote a lot because I'm like great a lot to work with. Well my editing team, four people who did a wonderful job, they loved what was there and wanted me to add more, which I did not expect. So the book ended up being 92,000 words and I actually had to write a couple chapters after the fact, two chapters specifically. And it was a amazing experience. Not that I want to do right now, again. Give that a decade.
Daniel Scrivner (00:55:03):
You're taking a break, you're taking break.
Joey Cofone (00:55:05):
A big ass break.
Daniel Scrivner (00:55:05):
We can come back.
Joey Cofone (00:55:08):
It was rewarding. And so the biggest tip I could say is if you're writing something, whatever section or chapter you're on, don't go back once you write it. Doesn't matter.
Daniel Scrivner (00:55:15):
Yeah, just keep moving. Just keep moving. It reminds me of that quote, "Movement is life." You just got to keep making progress. Because I feel like the easy default is to just be like, ugh, never going to make it. You don't feel like you're making... You have to keep it. A thought that I think about a lot is how do I keep the things that I'm doing that I want to do, that I want to make progress on, a positive feedback loop where I'm perpetually excited to go back and spend more time doing it as opposed to a negative feedback loop. And I think that is a powerful trick to make it a positive feedback loop. Can't go back, can't judge yourself constantly.
Joey Cofone (00:55:46):
Yes. Because you can just get into a place where if you think progress is the editing of the chapter and it's not, yet.
Daniel Scrivner (00:55:54):
Once you have got the four person masterful team go at it. But yeah, until you're there, don't worry about it. I want to ask one more question, which relates back to this idea of publishing perfection, which was, and this is probably going to be a hard or difficult question, so a apologies in advance. How did you know that the book was done? And what I mean by that was, you obviously, I'm guessing, have the final say. It's published by Baronfig Circus. You've got this team of editors, I'm sure you respect and trust. But how did you go about making the decision to say, "Okay, cool." Was it using the law of imperfection and just saying this is good enough? What was your rule of thumb there?
Joey Cofone (00:56:32):
I put a lot of trust into the editing team. So there was someone who was editing from the perspective of marketing, just like, "Hey, are your chapter titles something people would want to read?" Thankfully they were. All of this is my writing, but that's what they were there for. And then someone was sort of a developmental editor along with another developmental editor. For those that don't know, a developmental editor comes in and says, "Here's the high level ideas that you're doing and here's how they could be better." And then you have a copy editor at the end, which just cleans it all up. I put trust in them. I put a lot of trust in them and they're wonderful to work with and definitely would do it again. Also, I kind of was just like, I really want this out by the holiday 2023, I want to be done with this, 2022, I'm sorry. I want to be done with this. And so that was a driving factor really is just like there's a, I'm not doing this forever.
Daniel Scrivner (00:57:28):
I mean this is using constraints. You use constraints on yourself.
Joey Cofone (00:57:32):
And I also wanted to finish by my 35th birthday, which was last December 11th. And so-
Daniel Scrivner (00:57:39):
Joey Cofone (00:57:40):
Sorry, my first draft. Thank you. So I was like, all right, first draft's done by my birthday. That's my gift to me. And I hustle the last two weeks. I got three chapters in two weeks, which because they were so difficult to find stories was quite a challenge. And then the editing and blah, blah, blah. But to me, I think it really is good enough. I can, eventually, I put this out in the world, I could if I want to make a second edition. And there I got to the point where I was just diddling with things that no one's going to know but me. And being so familiar with the process, I sort of just knew this is the time.
Daniel Scrivner (00:58:19):
Makes sense. No, makes sense. Yeah. You decided when there was marginal utility. I like the term diddling. I think any designer again is going to resonate with that. Everyone spent time in your files being like, "Oh my God, what am I even doing? I have made the same change back and forth about 20 times and I'm right back where I started." Okay. I could ask more questions about the writing process, but I'm going to stop there. I want to ask a couple of closing questions about Baronfig and where I wanted to start, and apologies if I did not find this in my research, but what is the origin of the name and is there a story behind landing on Baronfig?
Joey Cofone (00:58:53):
Okay, I've got an answer you're not going to like, but I've got a redemption answer to follow. So I'm no longer talking about the source of the name. I'm not telling people anymore. However it is out there for people who are curious enough to find, I stopped talking about it.
Daniel Scrivner (00:59:10):
Well, it's a beautiful name. I mean it's a beautiful name. It's also an interesting name. My thought was it came from just the classic juxtaposition of two very different interesting words, smashing them together. But I will go and do my research and that's a fine answer.
Daniel Scrivner (00:59:24):
I wanted to ask just a question. One of the things I came across doing the research is just the fact that you've been working on Baronfig for a decade. And I told you before we started, I think I stumbled across Baronfig for the first time maybe five years ago. My wife is a writer, she's an avid journaler. She really loves finding nice journals and nice pens. And one year for Christmas, I wanted to get her a nice pen, found an article that was all of the nicest, The 15 Nicest Pens kind of edition, and Baronfig was at the top of the list. And that of course then kicked me off. And I've shopped on the website many, many, many other times. But you've been working on it for a decade. You've had a lot of success. You've released a hundred products, you're in a 300 plus stores, you've shipped to 80 countries. Did you think any of that was possible when you started Baronfig? And what were your ambitions? Was it just getting it off the ground? What were your ambitions in the very beginning?
Joey Cofone (01:00:19):
My ambition was to do better this year than I had done last year, which has always been a guiding light for the company. And beyond that, I, of course, have goals and I have phases and I have all sorts of internal things that we talk about. But really at the end of the day, the most important thing is being a happy doing what I'm doing and having a team be happy with what they're doing. And really, I did focus a lot on just how can we just do better than last year? And every year we would list all the cool things we did and then we'd like, "All right, let's top that list."
Joey Cofone (01:00:55):
I did not think we'd be here. Although I have to be honest with you, if I'm just talking about Baronfig, I'm not satisfied. I'm not satisfied. I have a specific goal about being the company for ideas. And I think we've only scratched the surface. And so I'm sure a lot of founders say the same thing. "Oh yeah, it's good, but I've got more." And I think that part of me is very typical. I think what's atypical is that I'm also just extremely grateful and I am able to pat myself on the back and I'm usually one reminding everyone else like, "Hey, we did this. We did this really awesome thing. We're cool. Enjoy that." If that answers the question.
Daniel Scrivner (01:01:47):
No, it definitely does. I mean, I think any founder can resonate with that idea that you, you're constantly uprising in your mind what you want to create. I'm sure 10 years ago you didn't see this Baronfig. This Baronfig came into existence as you were in the process and now you see a very different Baronfig and you're off chasing that new destination and horizon, which is really cool.
Daniel Scrivner (01:02:07):
I want to ask a couple of processy lessons learned questions. And one of these came from, again, another newsletter, we'll link to it, called The Highs and Lows of Creating Baronfig. But you talk about one of the challenges and the biggest challenge is handling the pulls of a dozen directions in a given moment. "There's always something that can be created or improved or fixed. It feels a bit like Whack-a-mole. This past week I've worked on things as large as the future of the company and as small as adjusting a font size on our website by updating a line of code." And the question I wanted to ask was, I think any founder can relate to that pulls in a dozen directions and that Whack-a-mole reality. Do you have a system or filter for deciding what mole to whack and what mole to leave?
Joey Cofone (01:02:47):
We do actually, great question. Ever since we started the company, I've posed a challenge to the team. So you're familiar with Pareto's Law or the 80/20 principle that's often referred to. So for anyone out there that's not, essentially says 80% of your results comes from 20% of your efforts. So I hypothesized, posed a challenge to my co-founder at the time. I said, "What if we just do the 20% and just not do the other 80% that only gives that little final chunk?" And so we've operated on that since. We've oscillated between being really good at it and being not so good at it. Sometimes we can get caught up for sure. But when I am in a place where there's a lot to be done, that's the first thing I think about. The 80/20 and what's the biggest return.
Joey Cofone (01:03:44):
And also a question I ask myself more and more is, "Should I be doing this?" Should I be doing this? And it's hard because when you start a company or when you start anything, you have had to do so much. You're familiar with this, I'm sure. And so you end up accidentally having a lot of skills that can be used at any given time to achieve certain things that the company needs. And so you got to get, if you're not careful, you can really be defaulted to. And that's the challenge I'm facing right now, which is what I wrote in that newsletter, is I need to stop playing Whack-a-mole so much. And really it's been 10 years, I think it's time to make a bit of a dramatic shift in how I approach it.
Daniel Scrivner (01:04:31):
Yeah, it's time to close the Whack-a-mole chapter.
Joey Cofone (01:04:34):
Yeah, it really is.
Daniel Scrivner (01:04:36):
But I do like, I mean it feels like there, the tangible thing, or at least what I'm hearing from that is kind of the two lenses or filters are is this part of the 20 or is this part of the 80 is filter number one. And then filter number two is, should I be doing this or should this be somebody else on the team? Which I think is a really powerful question to ask.
Daniel Scrivner (01:04:54):
I want to ask a couple more questions. One of them is around creativity versus business. This one really resonated with me. As a designer, I think a lot of designers feel like I don't understand business, I don't get business, I'm not interested in business. Obviously you're someone that's grappled with both of those and you're involved in creativity and business all the time with Baronfig. And the quote from one of the newsletters is "Creativity and entrepreneurship have a lot of synergies, but they can just as easily work against each other. I have a passion for making things. It's a borderline obsession because of that Baronfig was born and together with a team of similarly passionate makers at Baronfig, we've given birth to many more products. But there are times, however, when our passion for creating works against us." And I thought it would just be interesting if you could just talk for a little bit about creativity versus business as this powerful dichotomy and how you navigate and balance those at Baronfig
Joey Cofone (01:05:46):
Creativity versus business. It's funny that these newsletters are, they're snapshots of what I'm facing at a given time as well as me trying to answer these questions.
Daniel Scrivner (01:05:56):
It's the tree rings.
Joey Cofone (01:05:58):
Absolutely. It's totally the tree rings. And at the time, I'm a designer, we've established that. My COO, Jay Desai, I've known him since we were 15 years old. We've been roommates. We've gone on adventures together. We've almost died together. And he's a mechanical engineer. We are creators before business folks, but at work we need to be business folks before creators essentially. And that's not an easy thing to keep in mind sometimes because creating is a lot more fun than fixing. And clearly Baronfig wouldn't exist if we couldn't create, but if we don't fix, after a while Baronfig won't exist either. And I wrote that during a time in which we had really, him and I had a conversation and we talked about, okay, it's time to clean up a bunch of things and neither one of us were looking forward to it and we were the right people for that role, that responsibility. And so that was on my mind a lot about wow, how being a maker is in direct contrast sometimes with... Making and business are in and can be in direct odds sometimes.
Joey Cofone (01:07:19):
And you have to choose something that you might not be passionate about. For example, I had an very interesting launch of Baronfig. It's ancient history now, but when we launched the first Baronfig website, it was ugly. I didn't have enough time to make it nice between all the other things I was doing. And I remember accidentally getting wind of all the negative comments that was going through the design community at the time, including people I knew kind of well. And I didn't take it personally at all, because I thought it was ugly too. If someone had said, "Dude, this is ugly," I would've been like, "That's ugly." But I remember making that decision and it was a formative one where at the end of the day I made the call that I am the founder before the designer. And that was tough, but it's been for the better.
Daniel Scrivner (01:08:21):
Yeah, I mean, I like that analogy you just used of the founder versus the designer. It is like you have these two minds, these two perspectives contained within yourself and they have to kind of debate and sometimes one trump's the other and it may not be something you love every single day. I want to ask one final question. Thank you so much for all the time today, Joey. This has been so much fun for me.I hope it's so much fun for everyone listening. We've covered a ton of ground today. The question I want to ask to zoom way, way out, you talked about this idea of Baronfig's not where you want it to be. You want to have this company that's about ideas. Let's jump forward 10 years in the future. Baronfig has been wildly successful and has executed against that. What does it look like? What does Baronfig accomplished? What do you hope it stands for in 10 years time?
Joey Cofone (01:09:13):
I know the answer hands down. I'm sort of like, how much of this do I want to say?
Daniel Scrivner (01:09:19):
That's right. That's right.
Joey Cofone (01:09:22):
I'll say this...
Daniel Scrivner (01:09:23):
Be as careful as you want.
Joey Cofone (01:09:24):
Yeah, I'll say that what Nike is doing for the body, I want to do for the mind. And I haven't achieved it and I hope I will in another 10. I might not. And it might not be Baronfig, it might be something else. I hope it's Baronfig. But I think regardless of what I am doing I have unfinished business with that idea. And my dream is that I hope by the time I'm done with all of this living, that kids will talk about thinkers and the thinker that they want to be like as frequently as they talk about the athletes that they want to be like. And that not only can they just look at a book cover and say, "I want to be like Stephen King" or something, but that there's a forum for it, there's a place for it, there's a culture for it that's bigger than, that's similar to how athletes have become role models. And that really, that drives me.
Daniel Scrivner (01:10:39):
I mean, I love that aspiration. I also love the idea if the first decade we've put that behind us, you're moving into decade number two. The title of this sequel is Unfinished Business. And that is the story that's going to play out over the next decade.
Joey Cofone (01:10:52):
We'll see that. We'll see.
Daniel Scrivner (01:10:54):
Thank you so much for the time, Joey. This has been so much fun. And just a reminder, most of this interview we've been talking about the laws of creativity. Highly, highly, highly recommend it. It was so much fun to read. I don't normally say that about books, especially non-fiction books, and I read a lot of them, so it was truly great, Joey, thank you for time today. I appreciate it.
Joey Cofone (01:11:14):
Well, Daniel, thank you. I mean, time is the most valuable thing there is, and you've given me big chunk and you've done it exceptionally well. And I mean that, or I wouldn't say it, just like what you said about enjoying the book. So thank you. And for those of you who have made it to this part, listeners who have gone in for their hour and 13 minutes or so, or wherever you end up, thank you for spending your time with us. I appreciate that as well.
Daniel Scrivner (01:11:40):
Thank you so much for listening. You can follow Joey Cofone on Twitter @JoeyCofone. That's Joey C-O-F-O-N-E. And you can subscribe to his newsletter, which I highly email@example.com. And you can also see all of Baronfig's incredible products at baronfig.com. You can find a searchable transcript of this episode as well as our episode guide with ways to dive deeper at outlieracademy.com/142. That's outlieracademy.com/142.
Daniel Scrivner (01:12:08):
For more from Outlier Academy, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok. Subscribe to our YouTube channel at youtube.com/outlieracademy or visit outlieracademy.com for more incredible book club episodes covering New York Times bestsellers, including The Wires of War by Jacob Helberg, Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg, Impact by Sir Ronald Cohen, Philosophy for Polar Explorers by Erling Kagge, and many, many other incredible books. We'll see you right here with a brand new episode of Outlier Academy next Wednesday.
On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
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