How to Harness Your Creative Stallion: The Stallion Theory

In this video, the creator explores the concept of creativity using Jerry Seinfeld’s metaphor of a stallion in your head. He discusses how creativity can either be harnessed and used for good or can run wild and cause destruction. The video focuses on how to harness creativity through structure, specifically using a framework of destination, vehicle, petrol, and keys. The creator emphasizes the importance of deadlines, constraints, and clear instructions in order to overcome creative angst and procrastination. The video ends with the suggestion of creating a system to harness creativity and achieve desired goals.

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Key Insights:

  • Creativity is like having a stallion in your head that can be harnessed or can cause self-destruction.
  • Creativity responds well to structure, challenging the myth that structure and creativity are at odds.
  • Creating a framework or structure helps turn creative energy into action.
  • Creative angst is the result of creative freedom without guidance or constraints.
  • Too much freedom can lead to decision paralysis and procrastination.
  • Deadlines are crucial for getting things done and focusing creativity.
  • A tight brief or clear instructions help harness creative energy and make progress.
  • Breaking down goals into categories of context, instruction, constraints, and deadlines can provide clarity and direction.
  • Harnessing the creative stallion is an ongoing mission that requires experimentation and finding what works for each individual.


One of my favorite metaphors of creativity comes from Jerry Seinfeld. He has this idea that creativity is like having a stallion in your head. That stallion can be used for good if you learn how to harness it and ride it properly, but it can also run around and just mess things up. You either learn to ride this thing, or it’s going to kill you. The wilder the stallion is in your head, the greater your potential is for creativity, but also the greater potential for self-destruction.

Huge thanks to Canvas for sponsoring this video. Now, there’s a pretty big reason why I’m making this video. I’m an illustrator, an author, and a filmmaker, but lately, I’ve been doing none of those things. Instead, I’ve been thinking about doing those things. And as I said in an old video, thinking about stuff is not doing stuff. Call it procrastination, deferral, perfectionism, whatever. It’s a cycle of inaction. But thankfully, it’s a cycle that I’ve recently stopped. And as for how, well, that’s what this whole thing is about. The Stallion Theory: how aimless creativity destroys your life and hopefully what we can do about it.

The way Seinfeld harnesses his stallion is by writing down jokes on yellow legal pad paper. His next move? He saves it in this accordion folder. Every single thing. There’s this one documentary that really gives you a sense of the scale of this practice. How something small and simple, done consistently over time, changes everything. What I love is how this challenges that myth about creativity that somehow structure should be kept separate from it. But the reality is these two forces aren’t at odds with each other. In fact, creativity responds incredibly well to structure. But what does that actually mean? What kind of structure does creativity respond to?

In this video, what I want to do is build one of these structures. And typically, I see these things as written frameworks. They take this big, amorphous, ambiguous feeling of creativity and get it somewhere where we can see it, where there are specifics, where it’s outside our head and not so weird. This is one that I made for myself. So I don’t know, hope you like it.

Destination, vehicle, petrol, keys. Fix your car, got it? The destination is something that you would like out of life, something bigger than yourself, a place you’re going. The vehicle is the tangible medium that you express yourself in, be it art, music, books, games, whatever. Petrol is anything that gets you and keeps you in the flow state. It’s what keeps the whole thing moving. And the keys, and it’s important to separate these three things, is the thing that gets you off the couch, the ignition. It doesn’t have to get you into the flow state, and it definitely doesn’t have to serve whatever the big goal is. It just has to kick you into gear.

A fun example, and I actually have this, is this book, „Green Eggs and Ham“ by Dr. Seuss or Dr. Zeus, if you want to get pedantic. So let’s say Dr. Seuss’s destination was bringing magic and joy to the world. Let’s say his vehicle was a children’s book. Now that’s the top-level stuff. But with this book, where the magic happens is the interaction between the petrol and the keys. The thing that gets him into the flow state, but also the thing that kicked everything off. This book started as a $50 bet with his publisher that he couldn’t write a book using less than 50 unique words. The publisher was skeptical. Dr. Seuss was like, „Watch me, bruh.“ This fired him up. This got him off the couch. This was his keys that spark the ignition. But it’s not the thing that keeps him going. No, the petrol, the flow state. So when you read accounts of how he wrote this book, he had all of the words on a wall and was seeing it like a gigantic math problem. A train. A train. A train. A train. Could you? Would you? On a train? To balance the brevity, the repetition, the rhythm. Apparently, for a young Dr. Seuss, this whole thing he did with the focus that somebody might do with Sudoku or a crossword. And the end result was a literary classic and $50.

The idea is that frameworks help us take this creative energy and do something with it. Which is why what we just did is actually only a third of the framework that I want to build today. So consider this the context. We still have instruction and constraints to go. And to work that out, we’ve got to take a step back and look at why we get stuck in the first place.

Chapter two: What is creative angst? Creative angst is what happens when the stallion doesn’t have a harness. It just breaks stuff. It’s the whole „idle hands of the devil’s plaything“ phenomenon. In psychology, there’s a concept called state orientation, a style of responding to a dilemma or conflict that’s characterized by prolonged analysis and assessment of alternatives, rather than by swift, decisive action. The hesitation of state orientation thus leads to the preservation of current mental and behavioral states. Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking, not changing, thinking more. The nothing happens. In the context of this video, that’s exactly how I would define creative angst. But outside of ourselves, what else could be causing it? I believe that creative angst is a byproduct of creative freedom. Creative freedom is the freedom to do anything you want and twist. It’s not super cool.

Chapter three: The problem with freedom. Imagine two pieces of paper. The first one’s blank, and the second one has a little instruction that says, „Draw a happy dog balancing on a beach ball.“ If our aim is to be creative and rid ourselves of this angst, which one gets us there faster? Ironically, it’s the one that limits our freedom. And the answer we can deduce from jam. Yup, jam. In the world of sample advertising, you know when you’re in the supermarket and someone gives you a little biscuit and they’re like, „Buy the rest of our biscuits, please.“ There’s this jam company that wanted to know whether it was better to put out six jams or like 106 jams. We all know where this is going. It’s the paradox of choice, right? When people are presented with too many options, they freeze, they defer, they procrastinate, they don’t buy any jam. It’s a tragedy, a jam tragedy. Oh my God, I’m such a dad. I’m sorry. This is the problem. Okay, it’s too many things. There’s a lot of things, but yes, this particular company found that the fewer jams led to more jam purchases. Less choice equals more action. And action, when it comes to creativity, is the name of the freaking game. The page that tells you to draw a dog on a beach ball is not really about the dog on the beach ball. It’s just about getting us out of the zone where we are deliberating. Where you procrastinate, and then before you know it, you’ve lost like eight years of your life staring at the page and you’re like, „Ah, shouldn’t have done that.“ So in a world that puts freedom on a pedestal, and particularly creative freedom on a pedestal, like you can do whatever the heck you want, what we’re trying to do here is break that. Instead of seeking creative freedom, we are going to seek creative focus.

But before we get into that, I want to talk about how I’m putting this thing together. Let’s talk about Canva. Canva, you probably know, is a design tool, and a lot of us have used it to make things like resumes or a lovely party invite. But Canva is also so, so much more than that. With Canva’s new visual suite, you can plan, create, schedule, and publish all of your designs in one place. It’s the perfect product for me to make the tool that this entire video is about. So I was pretty stoked when Canva got on board. Using that print feature, you can make a planner like I did, a calendar, business cards, even mugs, at just a click of a button. And using their new magic design feature, check this out. You know that little dog on a beach ball from way back? Basically, I put it in, and immediately received tons of templates built around my image. Then, I can choose a style, add whatever text I want, and boom, template paradise, baby, all ready to edit. From dogs to dogs in their Docs feature, you can use their new magic write tool. That’ll help you shake off any writer’s block that you might be going through and give you just a bit of a head start. What’s cool is you can use magic write anywhere in Canva, not just Docs. And their presentations tool can literally make anything look exciting. For my silly ideas, I’ve been using it to make pitch decks to show Aaron and Billy, and we also use it on Black Nets and stuff. So it was genuinely super helpful. Website, social media posts, presentations, pretty much anything you can think of design-wise, Canva is a truly incredible tool to help us get all of our weird ideas from inside our brains onto the freaking digital screen so we can share them and also make them look nice and pretty at the same time. And they’re right, beach ball dog. If you are curious, there is a link in the description of this video that will get you a 45-day extended trial of Canva Pro. I’ve been using it heaps lately, and it’s totally worth it.

Chapter four: Deadlines. Life has a deadline, a literal deadline. So it makes sense that everything that we do within this model life should probably have a deadline as well. Otherwise, we are insulting existence. That’s a bit much. You’re probably familiar with Parkinson’s Law, that work will stretch to fill the time allotted. A deadline puts boundaries on how much time we can allot to something, which usually is the thing that makes things actually happen. My guiding rule is systemize if you’re gonna write, make yourself a writing session. But you gotta know when’s it going to end. Is it going to be an hour? Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Here are two stories that I can’t stop thinking about at the moment.

The first story starts around the same time I do, in the early ’90s, baby. It’s about the game series Duke Nukem. Yeah, Duke Nukem one, Duke Nukem two because it’s the ’90s, you’ve got the obligatory naming convention of Duke Nukem 3D, and then of course, Duke Nukem Forever. It’s the same as Jackass, innit? But the real story can be told by the years that these games came out, in order, 1991, 1993, 1996, and 2011. What? That’s a hell of a gap. So after Duke Nukem 3D, the devs have hit three home runs. And now it was time for their fourth, right? But instead of smashing it out of the ballpark, they sort of choked under pressure. They had creative freedom to do whatever they want. They were hungry fans. There was money. There was Duke freaking Nukem, baby. But here’s where those jams in the supermarket come back in. They stalled and choked. They overthought. They deferred. They procrastinated. They kept changing the game engine. Meanwhile, technology and society just kept changing around them. And so by the time that they were actually ready to release the fourth game, people said it was underwhelming, that the humor just didn’t translate to a modern audience. And worst of all, it was just a jumbled mess. There was no freaking focus.

Compare this to Goat Simulator, the iconic goat simulation game. This is our second story. Our protagonist is this guy Armin Ibrisagic. Our setting is the one-month game jam at Coffee Stain Studios. This is where you’ve got 30 days to just make a game. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be done. Armin, in a move that I really respect, just kept pitching goat games. What if a goat did this? What if a guy did that? What if a goat had, like, a Tony Hawk Pro Skater type of gameplay? Bingo! This was the thing that made Coffee Stain Studios light up. They greenlighted it, and in a couple of weeks, under serious time constraints, like Armin was doing things like literally going to an online marketplace and buying his goat model for 20 bucks, and he’s building and he’s building and he’s building. And eventually, they make this little gameplay video which goes up on YouTube. And yes, the response was electric. People really got on board with the idea of Goat Simulator. Something about the absurdity, the frivolity, the goat of it all. It connected. The game gets finished, gets released. And this philosophy of „done is better than perfect“ is so entrenched that the Goat Simulator website literally had a message that warned people against buying it. „Goat Simulator is a small, broken, and stupid game. It was made in a couple of weeks. So don’t expect a game in the size and scope of GTA with goats. In fact, you’re better off not buying anything at all. Actually, to be completely honest, it’d be best if you spent your 10 bucks on a hula hoop, a pile of bricks, or maybe a real-life goat.“ The game was a smashing success, with multiple extensions being made, released, and loved. And just this year, we got Goat Simulator 3. There was never a Goat Simulator 2. To segue from one livestock animal to another, what we saw was Duke getting Nukem’d by their inner stallion while the Goat Simulator team learned to harness theirs. While they both had direction, only one of them had a deadline. The brain is so easy to master. You just have to confine it, and it’s done through partition and systemization.

So let’s wrap this all together in chapter five: the freedom of time brief. This is a David Ogilvy quote, advertising one of their Mad Men-type dudes. „Give me the freedom of a tight brief.“ I believe that a tight brief is how you harness the creative stallion. And the way to make a tight brief is to put all of the elements we’ve talked about together. Let’s look at somebody who’s already made one, Anne Lamott. It’s a simple one that I love. It’s for the book that she is currently writing. „Write two crappy pages a day.“ So when you break down her brief, it sits in these categories: context, instruction, constraints. Her destination is spreading the message of the book to the world. Her vehicle, the book itself. Petrol is the flow state that comes when she’s writing. And the way that she gets there is by telling herself to be intentionally crap. Her clear instruction: „Write two crappy pages a day.“ The constraints is that these pages must be part of the book she’s writing. It can’t just be like a fridge manual or something. Quality is negotiable, quantity is not. And the deadline is daily.

So all we need to do is break down whatever it is that we want to do and put them in those categories ourselves. That’s the tool. And while this sheet of paper might not be groundbreaking, it does get us to articulate the foundational stuff. What we’re doing, why we’re doing it, how to start, how to keep going, and what we’ve got to do to get there. Let’s come up with something you can do. That’s where you start. Everything. That’s how you start to build a system. Harnessing the creative stallion is a lifelong mission, and it takes a million different attempts and methods. But with every new tool that we find, we get one more way to get back on the horse. And given what that horse can do, if we don’t, just that extra little bit of clarity can definitely go a long way. Anyway, subscribe if you’re new. If you want more info, check out these videos. I hope I’m pointing at the right things. And have a gorgeous day. Catch you.