The Creator Flywheel

There are no such thing as perpetual motion machines. Nothing can kick off the same amount of energy as it consumes in perpetuity. But flywheels are real – they’re behind our best habits too. And once we understand them, we can build our own. There’s even one for being a creator.

The idea of a flywheel is you can spin them up, and even get them spinning faster and faster so they almost seem like they’ll spin forever. Spoiler: they won’t. But, the metaphor is really cool, and worth understanding, including its limitations. 

When I think about creativity, I have a flywheel I keep present in my head. Before I show you what it looks like, it’s worth revisiting Jim Collins’ explanation of what makes a flywheel. This might be the best of his business ideas FWIW too. 

Collins says a properly defined flywheel reads like a self-fulfilling philosophy. It “captures the sequence that ignites and accelerates momentum.” If we want to make stuff, it doesn’t get much more noble than that.

To list out the steps, he says we should:

A. focus on repeatable successes (i.e. stuff we have already proven works, nothing theoretical), 

B. keep the sequence to 4-6 steps, and 

C. be able to explain why the process loops and accelerates (aka “compounds” in finance terms).

The Creator Flywheel looks like this:

  1. Muse  
  2. Curiosity
  3. Creativity
  4. Habit
  5. (Repeat)
The Creator Flywheel by Cultish Creative. It starts with muse, triggering curiosity, captured by creativity, harnessed by habit, and then starts all over again.

I know what you’re thinking. “Muse?!” Yes. That’s where it starts. Let me explain with an analogy from what I wanted to call this before I settled on The Creator Flywheel. 

The ButterFlywheel

A creative habit is a lot like chasing and catching butterflies with a butterfly net and jar. Before you can start, butterflies need to exist. That may seem silly or obvious, but it’s an essential starting condition. 

Muse = the existence and appearance of butterflies. 

Nothing is worth spending time on unless it in some way captures our attention. Knowing what captures your attention is priceless. In this case, it’s butterflies, but again *metaphor*

Curiosity = oh look, a butterfly. COOL. Want to catch it?

The chase to catch, play, wrestle, struggle, win over our curiosity is the whole reason we create anything. It’s the act of trying out a new food, or jotting down the idea to ponder, or picking up the guitar to pluck out the melody. 

Creativity = getting the net, chasing, and catching the butterfly

Once our curiosity is in the net, we need an answer to “what now?” A lot of creative processes stop here. It’s the “I wrote in my journal a few days, but it didn’t really stick” syndrome. In the Personal Archive process, this is where we are compelled to have a complete thought. 

Habit = put the butterfly in the jar, and don’t forget the air holes (!)

And now the most important step to make the flywheel spin: once the butterfly is caught and safe in our jar, we have to ask – 

Could there be, might there be, do you think there is… another one out there? 

There is. We have to look. We have to invoke the muse, and let the world deliver, so we can do it again. 

The process loops. The more we are in the habit of knowing butterflies exist and where to look for them, the faster The Creator Flywheel spins. Our curiosity, creativity, and habits are the push. Over and over. It’s a damn near magical thing. 

Ps. if you ever feel stuck, use The Creator Flywheel to look for the next step OR remind yourself to start over. 

BONUS: Read this 2019 post, “Know Your Flywheel” and hey, this post today is a cool example of a Personal Archive at work if I do say so myself