The creative path is the one discovered along the way

What often differentiates the artist and designer from the analytical thinker or engineer is their ability to think through their work as they're working on it.

The analytical thinker is analyzing information before anything's begun, then re-assessing after-the-fact. The engineer creates a blueprint, prepares resources based on the blueprint, then builds the bridge to spec. There isn't much wiggle room for sudden or dramatic change when you're in the middle of constructing a bridge, so the plans get made and the work gets done according to the plan.

But for artists or creatives, the work is constantly evolving, always in a state of change. There is still planning and reflection, but it's more fluid and the work influences the plan just as much as the plan influences the work.

I was recently reminded of this point when reading John Maeda's Redesigning Leadership. John puts the point elegantly:

"Artists don’t distinguish between the act of making something and the act of thinking about it—thinking and making evolve together in an emergent, concurrent fashion. As a result, when approaching a project, an artist often doesn’t seem to plan it out. She just goes ahead and begins, all the while collecting data that inform how she will continue.
A large part of what drives [the artist’s] confidence is her faith in her ability to course correct and improvise as she goes."

Making matters for the artist because it’s how she learns. She could spend a lot of time up-front doing what analysts, engineers, and managers do: addressing what’s known, diving into existing variables, and gambling on the outcome or marching forward over—or under—prepared. Or she can jump into the work and rely on her ability to adapt and change course as she goes.

One approach isn’t any better than the other for anything in particular, but the latter method—of making and thinking along the way—allows for more creative exploration by default.

By making and allowing yourself to adapt as you go, you free yourself up to do just that: to make things up as you go. To change course, alter the goal, modify the expected outcome, throw white all over the canvas and start again. When you set things like vision and goals up-front you limit what’s possible. Vision and goals are you saying you know where it is you want to go, but creativity is about just starting and figuring out where it is you're going by getting there.