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Articles tagged “ideas”
If you’ve never performed a choreographed dance routine in front of 100 people, let me assure you that it can be more than frightening.
Standing up there on stage, the dancer is tasked with showing not only their ability to move, but to prove that they have what it takes to completely dedicate themselves to something they are passionate about. A mistake may very well be an accident, but it could just as easily come across as an indicator that the dancer didn’t prepare hard or long enough.
The tension grows as the audience does as well. From 100 to 1,000 people the cost of a misstep becomes huge. Suddenly there’s a 10 times increase in the number of eyeballs that might potentially see a misstep.
But nobody can make it as a world-class dancer unless they face the fear of performing in front of at least 1,000 sets of eyes.
This is the cost of any creative risk.
A writer who only publishes his or her work in a close-knit circle of friends and acquaintances can’t become world-renown. There’s simply not enough traction in such a small circle of readers to make it happen. Likewise, an artist who is too shy to display his or her work in a large gallery (digitally or physically) will struggle to thrive. The musician who refuses to put her work on SoundCloud because “the comments are too aggressive” is going to have an even harder time performing in front of a real, new audience far away from home. Not always, but more often than not.
Similarly, the inventor who hides his or her invention away for fear that someone will break it is missing the point all together.
To grow creatively we have to push our personal boundaries.
Why? Because creativity doesn’t exist where we already know how the audience will react, or where we know the feedback will be mostly positive and encouraging. Creativity doesn’t exist in the scope we are most comfortable with. It can’t. By definition creativity lies just outside of what we know and are comfortable being around.
To really find our creative potential we have to explore our edges, even if it makes us feel like our ideas or actions are no good, too risky, or ridiculous. We have to be at least somewhat uncertain.
Photo via Flickr.
To be a writer you have to write, of course. But you can’t simply write a paragraph and call yourself a writer.
Arguably, to truly be a writer you have to write more than a book too. You have to write and then keep writing. The same is true of painting, sculpting, performing, and even teaching.
This is also true of creativity: if you want to be creative you have to continuously work on it. But breaks are good for creativity too, it turns out.
Researchers have shown that taking breaks provides the brain with precious time for idea incubation. Breaks allow us to literally break the cycle of thinking that often causes symptoms such as writer’s block. When we break out of our current processes of thinking, it allows moments of eureka-like insights to occur.
What commonly happens for the amateur – or naive – creative is that he or she takes a break, and then another break, and then – before long – there’s too much other stuff to do and not enough time or focus to get back on the creative work.
We know this is a problem for creativity (apart from the obvious reasons of procrastination) because it trains us to be short-term with our thinking. As a result of breaks becoming more of habit and less of utility, our attention waivers at the slightest flash, beep, or craving.
You know what I’m talking about. Right now you’re likely tempted to check your phone, or email, or another website. To close the window, or open a new one, or get up from your desk altogether. If you’ve made it this far without jumping away: congratulations. Keep reading.
Scientists have shown that persistence pays off for creative work; those that can consistently show-up to do a task without distraction tend to fair better and produce more creative results.
This sounds conflicting at first however. Research shows that we need breaks in order to allow ideas to incubate, but additional research indicates that we should be persistent if we’re to gain the benefits of what psychologists and neurologists refer to as “working memory.”
It’s working memory that is failing when you walk into a room and immediately forget why you did so.
Working memory is also attributed to our ability to work on something while, at the same time, recall more distant memories or ideas that can be tied to the work.
So what do we need to do if we want to be the best creatives we can be: take more breaks or be more persistent?
Essentially this is how creative ideas fully come about: as a result of you being focused and persisting in the work, but at the same time being able to subconsciously recall additional information through working memory without being distracted by that information.
Professional creatives are those who have found the proper balance of persisting through problems or projects with taking the much-needed breaks that yield powerful insights.
Even those who have found a balance still struggle to maintain it from time-to-time. Sometimes the distractions are too plentiful or the work is too enticing.
But it’s from years of dedication to the work that the best creatives have thrived. Only from those years of dedication have the creative greats throughout history realized the power of both persistence and idleness.
By taking well-timed breaks (and that’s key here: timed breaks), then returning to the work, you ensure that you are giving yourself the time to let thoughts simmer, give your brain a break, and also that you continue on with the work.
Sometimes the work takes only a few hours, other times it can take months or years. The point to remember is that you have to keep returning to the work.
When the work is completed, the ideas are overflowing, or success has been unburied, the great creatives understand that those moments are breaks too. Breaks from the larger body of work: of becoming a writer, a painter, an artist, a dancer, a musician, or whatever else.
If you want to be creative – or a successful creative worker – you have to decide now, today, that you’ll keep showing up. Then, when you start feeling exhausted or stuck, taking a timed break and coming back to keep working.
Lamp icon by David Papworth.
“Ideas can’t be stolen, because ideas don’t get smaller when they’re shared, they get bigger.”
Seth Godin explains the big mistake we all make about ideas.
Consider who we, as a global civilization, are moving faster and faster into a type of “Imagination Age”. A time where technical skills and a informational knowledge are not enough to provide value in the society. Instead, we each need to have the ability to generate creative ideas on-the-fly and do something with them.
Whether or not you believe an Imagination Age is truly coming, what is evident in the modern world of instant information, robotic progress (including AI), and technological breakthroughs, is that we – as creatives – have to be better equipped for managing our own creativity.
More than any other time in history, it’s not enough to simply have good ideas. We have to know how ideas work together, and be able to formulate possibilities instantly.
What that means is that simply maintaining our creativity isn’t enough.
In his book, Focus, New York Times Science reporter and Pulitzer Prize nominee Daniel Goleman explains what traits we need as creatives in the coming years:
- We have to pay attention to ourselves, how we feel, what inspires and motivates us, and how we prefer to work
- Other people, what motives our peers, what problems are they encountering in their lives and what solutions might we offer them
- And the world, what problems are at-large in the world as a whole, who is doing what to solve those problems, and where in the world are interesting things happen.
To benefit from these traits, we need just one thing, undoubtedly the most powerful tool in a creative’s toolbox today. What is it?
The ability to not only pay attention to our own creativity and abilities, but also to those we might be able to collaborate with or solve problems for, opens up a vast world of possibilities. Far more is possible when we pay close attention to ourselves and our local – as well as broader – communities.
In her article “The Creative Adult is the Child that Survived” Rita King exclaimed this truth elegantly:
“The only thing stronger than your imagination is yours connected to the billions of others all over the world.”
Of course, the only way we’ll be able to benefit from collaborating with the imagination of others is to pay attention.
It’s true of our own creative passions as well. Without the ability to pay attention to what we’re focusing on now (and asking whether it’s the best thing or the thing that matters), how will we know what to work on?
Where is your attention lately? Is it on the type of creative work you want to be doing, or is it time to adjust your focus?
If you feel completely unsure, simply remind yourself of what you want to achieve.
Photo via Deb Nystrom.
Incredibly excited to announce that I’ve partnered with Startup Vitamins to release this exclusive poster!
“Only by making your ideas happen do you put breath into them, see what they are, and how they work out. In the long run, the idea don’t count, execution does.”
Go buy the poster at StartupVitamins.com and please like, reblog, and share this post!