How I spot young talent (catch them in the ‘Expression Phase’)

This comes as part of my ramblings and loose thoughts for my next book, which I’m “Writing in Public” first through blog posts.


I’ve decided to move these back to the website, and am experimenting with keeping my newsletter simpler.


The below follows this most recent post on that awkward creative phase when you ‘just have ideas’, don’t follow through with anything, and riddle yourself with guilt. These people don’t realise they’re on a very natural and healthy journey towards creative brilliance. The post today is about the next phase of that journey.


If you want to stay up-to-date with what I share, the next book, what’s happening, and opportunities for young people, young entrepreneurs and educators, sign up to the Doorman.


Do you see what I see? πŸ‘€


Take the 2‘ is an Instagram page with 133 followers and no posts since April 1st, 2021. It’s theme is rugby league, a sport that is popular on the east coast of Australia, but not really anywhere else. To the unsuspecting onlooker, there might not be anything too special about this page.


I’m guessing you’ve never heard of it, nor the Torch, a substack-based newsletter just like this one. When you check it out, it’s unclear to you exactly what the theme of the newsletter is. The posts have titles like “One Breath”, “Can Better Mean Different” and “Demystify Meditation”. The writing pieces here are well written, but where is it all going? And, is it still active?


Continuing on our tour of obscure internet micro-projects, next up is a Youtube Channel called ‘Future Shapers‘, with self-recorded TED-style talks by young people… the page has a whopping 24 subscribers, and the last post was 10 months ago.


Imagine you had a portfolio of stocks you were going to track… but instead of ‘stocks’ you were going to track projects. Well, none of you would choose these projects. They seem to have been abandoned, and when looking at them you might ask, what’s the point of this anyway?


But you don’t see what I see.


Van Gogh’s First Painting 🎨


This morning I googled ‘Van Gogh’s first painting’ (evidence provided below).

The result? Well, Google is smart at these things and picking them up. Google would have you believe that the first sign of Van Gogh’s incredible self-expression was Potato Eaters.

But what was Van Gogh’s first sign of creativity? The answer is hard to find, because he did not start as a painter.

“His interest in art began at a young age. He was encouraged to draw as a child by his mother, and his early drawings are expressive, but do not approach the intensity of his later work



In David Epstein’s book Range, he unpacks the very non-linear path Van Gogh took between first drawing around 1866 and then really immersing into painting in the 1880’s, including an erratic range of jobs and projects. He eventually found that painting, rather than drawing, was the medium in which he could thrive.


Look behind the first projects πŸ“”


Take the 2, The Torch, the Future Shapers Youtube Channel… on the outside, you might not see anything special. But don’t look at the project β€” look at the people behind them.


Or, as I discuss in my beloved Eiffel Tower Principle, don’t look at those people as they are now but rather, what they will become (named Eiffel Tower Principle after the early haters who protested against the Eiffel Tower going up in Paris β€” they lacked the vision to see how it would fit in to the Parisian skyline).


You have to crawl before you walk, walk before you run, and the same is true of running projects, offering leadership and being creative. Josh Hodge, co-author of 18 & Lost? So Were We is one of the people behind Take the 2. And, if I were you, I’d write down the names of some of the people behind The Torch newsletter β€” Wilson Texas, Aina Azri, Luisa Kramer, Mark Bacon and several others.


And Future Shapers the Youtube channel was my initiation. It was my desire to accelerate the creative paths of a cohort of friends I met last year who couldn’t yet see and understand their own potential. The seed of this desire has since blossomed into The Constant Student Community. The idea behind Future Shapers has adapted and evolved, now manifested in a different project.

I call it the Expression Phase


The creative’s journey often begins with a very small step that society misses which I label as being part of the ‘Expression Phase’.

To refresh your memory, this follows on from what we discussed last week, when in stage 1, people are β€˜just having ideas’ and not executing.

The step is so small, it doesn’t normally garner attention, and in this day and age, often takes the form of an abandoned project. These projects are usually:

  • A managed Instagram page
  • A podcast
  • A Youtube channel or videography practice
  • A blog
  • A ‘this is me’ personal website


Projects in the expression stage might be rough around the edges


Think about a toddler beginning to walk. The toddler’s first steps are crude, undefined, poorly mobilised and wobbly. The first steps are awkward and far from perfect β€” but we accept this, because walking is a very simple and well understood stage-based development β€” the toddler must go through crawling, and make the transition to smooth, seamless walking over time.


Being creative and delivering projects is just the same. The first stage sees people developing ‘poorly’ thought out (by professional standards) projects that normally have little to do with a clear mission or purpose out in the world β€” they are normally all about the individual getting comfortable expressing themselves creatively. Think of it as them taking their first steps, and getting used to the new sensation of walking, extending beyond their comfort zone.


The journey through the expression stage


Think again of a toddler β€” toddlers don’t do much giving to World Vision and they don’t offer to clean up after dinner. Their major focus is on them and their world. In Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development he deconstructs this in Stages 1 & 2, the ‘Impulsive Mind’ (early childhood) and ‘The Imperial Mind’ (early adolescence). Projects at this stage are indeed impulsive and about the individual, rather than delivering the project for a clear target market.


For example, things like Take the 2, The Torch or Future Shapers are perfectly fine for you and I to digest, but a big inspiration behind them is the creators thinking ‘this would be cool’. When I ask a lot of our Constant Student members who are early in their writing journeys ‘who do you write for’, many of them say, ‘I write for me’.


This is why a lot of personal blogs and websites start with random, scattered topics and many ‘dear diary’ style entries. They’re not yet Seth Godin or Tim Ferriss… but they could be. If nurtured correctly, they would be. What you wouldn’t recognise by checking out these pages is that these people are on the path there.


What should we do as a culture?


Encourage young people (or all people) to begin expressing themselves, often it’s tricking them into consistency around:

  • A blog or online writing habit (Write offline first and send pieces to friends, before you get comfortable!)
  • A podcast (do it just to meet cool people!)
  • A youtube channel or working in videography
  • A themed Instagram page

Make it normal. Make it normal for everyone, or most people, to do one or more of the following:

  • Start a blog or substack newsletter, just like this one.
  • Start a podcast
  • Make videos
  • Write books

Naifeh & Smith (2011), 36–50.


Tralbaut (1981), 25–35.

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