Spotify's CEO gets it

Daniel Ek, the founder and CEO of Spotify, doesn’t do a lot of press, preferring to maintain a low profile that keeps the focus on the product instead of an individual. But for September’s issue Fast Company, he agreed to an interview. And to say it’s worth the read is an understatement.

His thoughts on productivity and creativity resonated on a personal level:

“I’m really organized. I don’t do social calls. For so many people, you’re beholden to this social thing, if I don’t show up, someone is going to be sad. I’m just pretty ruthless in prioritizing. What I tell my friends is, I like to be invited, but I probably won’t come. The transparency helps. This is how I’m wired. It’s not a personal thing. It doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy your company. It’s just means that I’m focusing on something.”

Each time someone requests your time and attention, what they’re actually asking is for you to say no to something else. In my case, saying yes to a social event — or emails or social media — means saying no to either my work or my wellness, both of which I’m rarely willing to sacrifice without cause. As Ek mentions, I’ve learned it helps to be upfront and honest rather to set people up to be repeatedly disappointed.

Ek goes on to talk about one of creativity’s persistent myths:

“People think that creativity is this free spirit that has no boundaries. No, actually the most creative people in the world schedule their creativity. That’s the irony. So I try to do the same. I just don’t have as many meetings as you think. Instead I have a lot of me time where I’m just thinking; I’m at a white board drawing by myself. Occasionally I might have someone with me. If I have a call or another meeting, I’ll just block it out if I’m in the zone. That’s unorthodox because it means that you’re breaking social contracts, you’re disappointing someone because you didn’t show up. But if you’re really, really focused, those are the times when the breakthroughs come.”

Creativity needs room to breathe, to roam, to materialize. And for me, this rarely happens in front of a screen. It’s usually when I’m walking through the park, reading a thought-provoking book, or scribbling some incoherent ideas on a Post-It note that my creativity comes alive. Then I leverage technology is to help me document, design and share the output produced from those creative insights.

And lastly, there’s this nugget on performance, which I alluded to in this post:

“I’ve recently gotten to know the hockey player Mats Sundin; he was the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs. One day he said, you don’t just become a captain and end up on the all-star team. I said that I realized that it must take a lot of work. ‘But people get it all wrong. People think it’s about performing at your peak. It’s really not. It’s about having your lowest low be higher than someone else’s high.’”

There it is: your lowest low > their highest high.

Read the Ek’s entire Fast Company interview for more truth bombs like the ones I mentioned above.