Abandon ideas to discover creative ones

If you want to be creative, you can’t hug your ideas, or how you generate ideas, or how you go about your day. Creativity requires that you live and breathe curious exploration. The best way to have great ideas is, after-all, to have many ideas. And the more ideas you generate, the more you increase the likelihood that a few of them will be pretty creative. In creative circles this insight feels almost cliche, but even working with professional creatives for 10 hours a day, I’ve come to learn we often forget how valuable it is to simply iterate quickly and regularly. For example: Pablo Picasso is known for producing thousands of sketches and paintings, though only a handful would avoid the garbage pile or fireplace. Over on Inc, Jessica Stillman reminds us of Picasso’s own words on the matter:

“'Action is the foundational key to all success.’ Have truer words ever been spoken? If you want to be more creative, don’t sit around thinking about how to be more creative. Try stuff. And then try more stuff. Continuous iteration, experimentation, and hard work are the basic building blocks of breakthrough ideas. Armchair pondering? Not so much.”

Edison and his team of innovators made a largely debated number of attempts to discover the perfect filament for the lightbulb. Einstein was known for doodling day-in and day-out until his papers were covered in many ideas which ended up only leading to dead ends.

If any of them had held tightly onto any one of their ideas, would we have ended up with the paintings, innovations, and inventions we have today?

I’ve written about this before:

“How many paintings and sketches do you think van Gogh made (and destroyed) before anyone noticed him? Or how many tons of clay did Michelangelo have to go through before he wound up with the statue of David? How many versions of Infinite Jest did David Foster Wallace draft until the final, 1,079 page version shipped? Even more important: how many words did J. K. Rowling have to write before somebody thought it would be worth reading?”

The important thing isn’t that in each event the individual tried 10,000 times to come up with the perfect idea. What matters is that they weren’t afraid to continue to try, even when they likely stumbled on an idea they felt warmly about.

To have the most creative ideas we need to be open to letting go of the ones we have.

Read this next: Worthwhile ideas are 1 in 10,000