Shiny: The Firefly Guide to Producing More Creative Content

Shiny: The Firefly Guide to Producing More Creative Content

Reader Comments (112)

  1. “If nothing is created, there is no creativity”

    Great point! It doesn’t matter how fantastic or groundbreaking your ideas are if you can’t put them in action. Every company needs to not only dream big, but produce big.

  2. Saddly I think I’m more of a Jane Cobb type, where I just shoot as much as I can and see whats left standing in the end.

  3. Wow. You put my name in the same sentence as Warren Buffett and Paul Allen. I’ll need to grow into that sentence, for sure :-).

    I’ll also like to call out one other thing…

    When you read Warren Buffett’s Biography “The Snowball” by Alice Schroeder, it was mentioned that Warren Buffett focuses on his inner score card instead of outer score card. He focuses on what he believes is right, as opposed to what other people in the world believe is right.

    Zoe is like that also. She’s not afraid to piss off the captain when she believes he’s making the wrong decision.

    – Derek

    • I noticed the same sentence: Paul Allen, Warren Buffett, AND Derek Halpern. That’s great company. 🙂

      I’ve also been dying to read “The Snowball.” This gives me one more reason to do it.

        • A shorter Buffett biography that’s also fantastic is “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist.”

          I actually read that one before The Snowball came out, and that’s one of the books that prompted my reading addiction, heh. In the book, Roger Lowenstein had said that Buffett spent time reading biographies of all the best financial people (Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc). Once I read that, I decided I had to read them all too.

    • I was also going to give big props to Derek for being lodged between those two names.

      Good for Derek.

      Nice tactic, Simone.

      Plus, great support for Jonathan’s book. I started digging into it also and have a hard time putting it down.

      Great analysis, as always.

      I related more to Phineas and Ferb since my kids have practically every episode memorized. (I even have a hard time stepping away from them – genius writing.)

      I haven’t seen Firefly, but my wife is a Castle addict, so I’ll have to check it out.

  4. “Because analogies help us learn, and because Firefly is the best show that has ever been on television …” this is my favorite blog post of 2011. Copyblogger + Firefly = Pure Awesome. Thanks, Sonia!

  5. Sonia

    I love Firefly- as you can probably tell from our exchange on Twitter (and you should be the River of Copyblogger – fragile, a little crazy…and utterly deadly;) ) – so I love this analogy.

    Anyway my dilemma is that I’m more of a Mal – I have hundreds of idea. Seriously, hundreds. I’ve got six products waiting to be written on my bass site – and the notional ‘product list’ for my One Spoon blog has got 24 items on it!

    The way I’ve found to turn myself from a Mal creative to a Zoe implementer is by using deadlines. So if I decide I have to get something done then I have to get creative in creating an unbreakable deadline. Usually that involves setting up a ‘Pre-Sell’ offer to my list and actually taking some money. I absolutely HATE letting people down – so having that kind of publication deadline usually ensures that I apply the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair and get it done.

    Might work for others too….hope it does!


  6. I loved the analogy here. Because I’m a huge geek, and because it’s true.

    I think I’m pretty balanced between 60% Zoe and 40% Mal.

    And 100% delighted to be able to codify my entrepreneurial style by Firefly characters.

  7. You lost me with Firefly, but I think I caught the main idea. 😉

    This comparison is great. I’m definitely a Mal, and almost everything I’ve done this year has been trying to bring out the inner Zoe. I’m not balanced at all, so I have to work on getting things done and not just dreaming about ideas. And your right, getting things done is what actually matters.

  8. Sonia,

    I LOVE this post and I’m going to show it to my Firefly-loving family!

    Here’s my dilemma: I have a lot of Mal in me but I don’t have a Zoe to help me. I’ve always wanted a Zoe, but my life has forced me to be Zoe–much to my chagrin. In fact, I’ve often had to be Zoe to the many Mal’s I know.

    The problem is that one kind of creativity does not substitute for the other. As much as I’ve tried to be satisfied with practicality and getting-it-done creativity, it just doesn’t work. I really need impractical, all-over-the-place creativity to feel satisfied.

    Mal is SCREAMING to get out of his Zoe-prison.

    Now Mal is a tough guy (remember the episode when he was getting tortured) so I don’t have any fears that his imprisonment is going to kill him.

    It’s just that the Serenity is less fun without him.

    I know my metaphor is all over the place, but I think you get my point.

    I’m totally looking forward to unharnessing my Mal (and that day is coming very soon).

    Thanks for the very fun post!


    PS. I can’t wait to see what you write with a Dollhouse metaphor!

  9. When I started reading, I thought, I’m a Mal for sure. But then, I thought about the people I really admire as ideas people, and realized perhaps I’m more a Zoe.

    My ultimate conclusion? I’m actually both. More Zoe than Mal, in that I like to have action steps & clearly defined goals and am not afraid of hard work to get there. But, as I try to fall asleep at night, I have wonderful Mal-esque inspirations for new products.

    Maybe I’ll call myself Mal & Zoe’s love child?

  10. I’ve always been a Mal (Kirk).
    I’m learning to be a Zoe (Spock).
    I’m enjoying expanding on both.
    I agree with Paul’s statement about deadlines.
    If I don’t put them in place, I can wander around
    the things I’m supposed to be doing for a long time.

  11. Brilliant observations! Thanks for applying the sci-fi goggles to this issue! I think I’m a cross between Mal and Zoe and almost always at odds with myself. I either have too many “great ideas” that I don’t have the time to execute or am too bogged down with “doing” to be creative. Only once in a while do I hit a nice middle ground. It’s a real dilemma for small business owners and I think your suggestions are really good.


  12. Wow, Sonia, you have outdone yourself with this post. Any writer who mentions Mal, Zoe, Phineas and Ferb all in one article is a hero in my book. 🙂

    As for my business – I’m a Mal, and I have aligned myself with my perfect Zoe by working with my developer/right hand woman/best friend Michelle Panulla. I can attest to the fact that getting this combination right creates a super-powerful team in business (and in life!)

    Great post, Sonia – thanks for making me smile and proving that I have chosen the right partner for my business!

    • I second what Beth said. Reading this post (and all the comments) has reaffirmed that I’m with my tribe…you know, all of sci-fi geekdom.

      I don’t yet have my own Spock/Zoe partner, but every now and then my left brain kicks in and I get a boat load accomplished.

      Just published an article today on the same topic (using a different t.v. show as the metaphor) and I won’t bring it in here as there are already WAY too many t.v. characters confusing non-geek readers. But would add that it seems t.v. is providing quite the creative punch to the writing today. 🙂

  13. I never realized before I got in to the industry that marketing is the epitome of creativity. Unfortunately, I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that I am a Mal. Zoe and I are in negotiations. I’m hoping we can begin a nice, productive work relationship very soon.

    Great post!

  14. As someone new to the internet marketing world, I can only dream of having someone to bounce ideas of and get a response and so you end up being more like Basil Fawlty (don’t know if the non British people would understand that), but his heart is in the right place even though nothing ever works no matter how hard he tries.
    I think early in your career online, you need to be Spock, cool and calculated, not allowing shiny objects to distract you.
    After a while you can become more Kirk and take more risks but calculated.
    It’s taken me 6 months in internet marketing to figure this out.

    • OMG, the Basil Fawlty guide to anything would be pretty fantastic.

      I like your Kirk/Spock breakdown. OTOH, sometimes when you’re just starting out, you can afford to be Kirk — no one knows who you are or what you’re doing, so you can do crazy things.

  15. You had me at Firefly,

    After I shed a quick tear for our fallen friends, I realized I was a Mal and I have no Zoe in sight! Thanks for pointing that out to me because I really need to focus to bring ideas to fruition. I’ll definitely be checking out Jonathan’s book.

  16. I hate and love these Copyblogger days. I’m so entranced with your blog and all the comments, I keep checking back to read and I don’t get any work done.


  17. Re: “Part of what makes a creative life…so hard is that Captain Mals are the ones who tend to be drawn to this kind of life, but then we have to turn ourselves into Zoes to actually build something.”

    I think I’m more of a Mal. Then every now and then, I have one brilliant idea, then another, and another. I become as you said, an “Idea Terrorist” – boy that sounds bad.

    Anyway, this year it’s been more about finding systems and processes, and creating an environment for myself such that I can be a Mal but also, be more like Zoe to turn around and execute.

  18. “Give them lots of step-by-step tutorials. Even better, give them checklists and manuals they can hand off to someone else when they finally give up trying to do it all alone.”

    “Give them reassurance, frameworks for creativity, and tools to develop their ideas from blah to breakthrough.”

    When I found those two statements, it felt like I just uncovered a pair of gold treasure chests on the beach. Thank you for sharing the map Sonia.

  19. I’ve always thought of it as King Arthur and Merlin, but I love Firefly, so I’ll go with it.

    As a Zoe, I can tell that being a Zoe without a Mal is hard too… I’ve been chastised for doing great projects so many times I can’t remember them all. The response of the plodders is usually “who does she think she is?” Zoe needs a Mal to blow the horn and keep Zoe out of meetings so she can work!

  20. I think I am more of a Simon… I do a good job keeping sites alive on Google when I have the tools and when programmer Jayne isn’t the man-ape-gone-wrong messing things I’m trying to work with.

  21. Fast-twitch and slow-twitch creative types? Never thought of it that way.

    I always thought of it as different aspects of the creative process – sparks and grind.

    “Sparks are fun, but the grind gets it done.”

    The trick is to sustain the sparks during the grind so you can redirect as you go. That first idea is a launching point and things evolve from there.

    As Ray Bradbury once said, “Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall.”

  22. I am soooo a Zoe, and it’s so nice to see the “Zoe type” listed as a creative individual. I’ve often referred to it as bringing the talents of an engineer to the mind of an artist.

    I’ve worked with plenty of brilliant people, and sometimes all they need is for someone to dig in and actually accomplish the Really Cool Idea they just had.

    • I’ve worked with a number of business clients like this. Helping a Mal channel their ideas into actual execution is a big key. What’s even better is occasionally my creativity comes into it and is welcomed. We build off each other and an original idea becomes even better between us. A Mal and a Zoe working together is a beautiful thing. And out of the last year and more than 100 clients, that client is the only one I’ve been truly successful with.

  23. “…because Firefly is the best* show that has ever been on television”
    *you spelled most overrated wrong

    Have you not seen Breaking Bad? I’ll never understand why everyone thinks that Firefly is so fantastic. I’ve tried to get into it about 4 times. I never get past episode 3 or 4. It puts me to sleep, every time. It has decent acting, so-so writing, so-so directing, but that doesn’t make it great. Battlestar Galactica is better. I couldn’t even finish the article. Sorry.

  24. I don’t watch television because I figured out I can read the copyblogger posts and keep up with all the TV shows.

    I would have to say I am a Mal; a daydreamer, but there is good business in dreaming.

  25. I’m a bit of both, but mostly I’m a Mal. I’m so glad it’s normal to come up with a bajillion ideas and get stuck because you don’t know which one to use.

    Also, I love you guys for the Firefly reference. 🙂

  26. I am definately Zoe in my everyday life and online business. I like being in the trenches and doing the dirty work.

    I like getting thigs done.

    Your idea is great to look at the different creative types in online courses – most people get stuck on what type of learner they are – either a visual, auditory – but that is more about the content and not about the learner at all.

    I just wish more people realised how important it is


  27. Shiny!

    Apart from my love of all things Firefly / Serenity, this post is awesome because it breaks down the two sides of my brain. 😉 I think I’m more of a thinker / idea / strategy person on any given day, but I also like to get stuff done. I’m not sure which one cames more naturally because I do spend so much time implementing that it feels integrated with who I am.

    I have to say that I love me some crazy Mal plans, and big damn heros. 😉

  28. Great goram post! I think people tend to forget that the first word in “creative” is “create.” You might be right, in that the Zoes of the world don’t consider themselves creative types, but as proactive contributors, they certainly are responsible for creating content that moves and seizes attention. And really, what could be more important than active content?

  29. Great post. I think of myself as more of a Mal type. I have all these great ideas, the drive and passion, and everything else. I also have a Zoe type of creativity, but it’s not that developed yet. I do have someone who I can count on who does have a Zoe type of creativity, and she is the one who actually gets things done.

    Weird, it’s like your post is talking about me and my girlfriend.

  30. Learning at it’s finest. Two of my favorite shows—Firefly and Phineas & Ferb—used to teach me one more amazing thing.

    Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with the “fire hose” of ideas that I can hardly think straight, let alone get anything done. I’ve recently had to stop reading everything except three blogs—this being one of the keepers—and learn how to say ‘no’ just so I can get something done. Now I know why.

    Thanks Sonia!

  31. A very nice article and gripping analogy. If we get down to it, I think one has to be utterly dumb not to be creative in one way or another.

    What binds us to our ignorance of what we are is a matter of confidence.

    I can still remember the day I learned how to swim – my uncle threw me into the water.

    We can only know what we are if we put ourselves in a situation that calls for its emergence. .

  32. I never watched Firefly, but your reference to the Kirk Spock dynamic I really understood haha! Well I feel like I’m some kind of a mix of the two, but I do know that OVER ANALYZING is a problem for me that keeps me in the thinking/planning stage of things. This is really detrimental when it comes to any creative project. For me, it’s making music and practicing guitar. Good article! I might think about checking out that book, but I kind of feel like I might get stuck reading and not taking action 🙂

  33. Really loved this post, Sonia. Interesting that my favorite character on tv now is Castle played by Mal’s Nathan Fillion.

  34. Superb post – you brought to life the rather abstract ideas of dreamers and doers in a very engaging and entertaining fashion. Brilliant!

    I don’t even know what sort of show Firefly is (and I’ve never seen Star Trek beyond knowing some of the character’s names) and I was hooked to the end.

    It seems that I’m all Mal, however, so I had better find a Zoe to get stuff done for me!

  35. Another brilliant blog, Sonia! Just when I think Copyblogger can’t possibly grab my attention with a headline any better, you go and do something like this. 😉

    I’d like to think that I’m a good mix of Mal and Zoe, but I try to be more of a Zoe now that I’m in a managerial position. As you mentioned, she gets things done, and that mentality is necessary when corralling a team! My boss (the CEO) is definitely split right down the middle, but his big ideas and entrepreneurial background scream “Mal” to me. Needless to say, it works out pretty well around here!

    Ah, content and Firefly – two of my favorite things together at last!

  36. Couldn’t take not knowing what Firefly was any longer. In case any other lurkers to this thread want to know, here’s part of the Wikipedia entry:

    Firefly is an American space western television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. Whedon served as executive producer, along with Tim Minear.

    The series is set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system, and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a “Firefly-class” spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things”.[SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF TEAMS I’VE WORKED ON!]

  37. Awesome post on using both your right brain and left brain to be creative!

    You need outside-the-box thinkers – but then you also need people who can rebuild a brand new box.

    It’s funny – but I think have been both Mal & Zoe depending on the working relationship. Just like you can sometimes feel like the straightman in one relationship and the goofy guy in another one.

    I think a big key to success is training yourself to be both the creative-thinker and the focused idea executor.

    Some people say you can’t learn to be more creative – I think that’s dead wrong. In my mind creativity is like a muscle that just needs exercise.

    • PS – As soon as I finish watching Lost on Netflix streaming I’m starting in on Firefly, or Mad Men, or maybe Breaking Bad…any suggestions on which one?

      • Breaking Bad is brilliant but bleak. Mad Men is gorgeous but can get emotionally bleak. Firefly is heroic and uplifting but the violence can be very dark — Whedon has a really creepy imagination.

  38. I loved you for writing this before I began reading! I will, from now on, have little Mal and Zoe analogies running through my head as I work. Something I am not sad about.

  39. Sonia, Thank you again for the post, it was wonderful!

    As a Mal (100%), sometimes its hard to find the right Zoe. Then, once having found one, I tend to spend a lot of time trying to make sure the person who is doing all that creative productivity (things I dread) is satisfied. Probably because I can’t imagine they are happy doing all of that all that detail work. Also, as a Mal, I tend to find myself in the role of boss or owner etc., and can’t banish the little thought in the back of my head that says they might just be pretending.

    I would love to hear your thoughts (and perhaps some of the Zoe’s out there) on what makes a Zoe tick and what a Mal can do to both find one and make sure they are satisfied with their work.

  40. I love this! I have always battled between my Zoe (which is more dominant for me) and my Mal sides. I certainly have creativity but my strength is in implementing more than the creativity. Where I get tripped up (every single time) is where my Mal (creativity) isn’t flowing well. I come up with the idea but then I get stuck in the technical aspects of implementation. For example, I have a fantasy novel fully plotted out – but writing the thing has been a beast (for four years or more). It just seems like eventually my creativity on any project longer than an article or short story length ends up fizzling out and my Zoe can’t seem to motivate the other side. Six months ago I started a short story and finished it in 7 hours flat. But I have yet to complete the editing on it.

    Add to that the fact that my Zoe demands everything else in my life to be running reasonably smoothly before allowing the Mal to be free to focus on writing and I end up creating in bursts over long periods of time. For example, I was living with some friends a few years ago and my expenses were pretty low. I felt safe all around and things seemed to be doing well. I wrote a dozen short stories in about a year (about 1 per month).

    Because everything else was doing well, my mind was free to go in creative new directions. But recently, due to job loss and financial issues, I have not been able to write (not even so much as blog) the entire time. But, when I started working again three days ago, it was like someone opened a dam and I’m gung-ho to write again. Even this comment is longer than anything I’ve written in the last six weeks!

    Now mind you, during this period, the Zoe side of me has been very successful pursuing publication of completed works (2 short stories and six articles in the last 11 months plus three major interviews including one TV interview for a local TV station – not huge but certainly good considering everything else I’ve had going on).

    I have been writing for fifteen years and have completed hundreds of nonfiction articles and works, but only 12 short stories, six poems, and have four novels in various stages of completion. Hence the battle between the two. Sometimes Mal wins and sometimes Zoe wins. But the battle between the two has been epic for many years. It’s amazing I can get anything done at all! I would love any suggestions you might have about that!

    Anyway, excellent article – really made a light bulb go off in my head. Hopefully I’ll be able to examine some of these issues and find some solutions. I look forward to reading more of your work (and blogging about this post too!)

  41. The character of Mal and Zoe, gives me the opportunity to examine myself for the first time. I’m more of a Zoe, since I need instruction to start with and from there the Mal in me sets in.

  42. I love Firefly, and you did a great comparison. I find myself to be more Mal-like. I find myself having a lot of great ideas to the point that I get overwhelmed, and nothing actually gets done. Outsourcing helps a lot, but only when you have the money for it, and it’s really hard to find efficient and productive Zoes.

  43. Food for thought. I am always wanting to teach. And for me I love when someone tells me the information I provided helped them. but I always feel that what I put into words is somewhat falling short.

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