A Small Fiction: What the Tiniest Project on the Internet Teaches us about Creativity


James Miller couldn't bear another day in the office. He was working in data entry, or as he preferred to call it: ugh.

I dunno about you, but my career path is littered with side projects: big ones, small ones, some as big as yer head. (Sorry, couldn't resist. #Coconuts)

Often times, when I got unhappy or restless in a job, I'd tinker on the side. James was no different. A lifelong writer, he felt this ever-present itch that just needed to be scratched. Working yet another day in the ugh industry simply wasn't gonna cut it. So he launched one of the tiniest creative projects on the internet, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or, if you prefer it: POOF! He exploded overnight. Or if that doesn't pop your bubblewrap, I can always just tell you the truth: The very first comment James received was a cheery "This sucks." The years that followed have been just as messy, if a bit more fun.

That's just how it goes in our work, no matter what we do. Things always feel like they're somewhat messy. But I find that if we can look past the mess and complexity and try to make things simple, we can get proactive in what we build instead of reactive. Doing so requires one specific notion -- one that James Miller's story teaches us today.

In our year-long journey to master the art of reinvention, to keep refreshing our work over time in order to never grow stale, things can be, as the kids say, messy AF. They seemed that way for James -- still do, most days. But on those days, he can hold onto two component parts of his work that help him keep things simple, and once he does, he becomes proactive and creative again. He begins to evolve his work again, bit by bit, each and every time. That's impressive enough on its own, but you'll be even more flummoxed when you hear just how compact his project is.

And no, James is not the CEO of a Fortune 100. He's not the founder of an exciting new tech startup either. He won't appear on How I Built This or on the cover of Fortune magazine, and he certainly won't trot onto a stage in front of thousands of people to present his keynote speech, My One Simple Secret to Success (And You Can Too!).

James just felt that familiar ugh. He had a job. He had no time. He had too many ideas. Or maybe he had too few. Or maybe it was somewhere in the middle. I dunno. It's messy. And that's the point. James was able to face the complexity we all face each day and put himself back in control. He found a way to see past the mess to make things seem simple. Breathtakingly, delightfully, magically simple.

I think you're gonna love this story as much as I loved weaving together the parts and pieces. It was a fun edit for me, and I know it'll be an inspiring ride for you.

Hear the story on the Unthinkable podcast below, or subscribe free via Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or wherever you listen.

Unthinkable shares stories of conventional thinking in our work and the people who dare to question it. Each episode is a sweet-sounding, atypical approach to telling business stories and distilling insights that help us question conventional thinking in order to think for ourselves. Entrepreneur called it "one of the hottest podcasts out there." Salesforce called Jay "a creative savant," while Fortune, Forbes, Inc, the Content Marketing Institute, and others have all praised the show's unconventional style and sound.

Posted on March 21, 2019 and filed under Wrinkles.