Forget everything you’ve been taught

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Many years ago I taught myself how to design and program websites and apps.

I’ve been fortunate enough to create a decent career off of the things I taught myself. Yet, a lot of what I make today can easily be criticized by more accomplished designers or developers.

My designs always feel sporadic, following no clear form or evident theme. My programming is often sloppy and it takes many rounds of edits to get things to where I want them to be.

But you know what? The things I make work well and look good pretty damn good too (according to reviewers, clients, and peers). My work may not be perfect, but it gets the job done.

Most importantly, because I’m self-taught, all of my work is more original and stands-out than that of other, traditional designers or developers.

Because I self-taught myself the processes I use to make the work, I tend to do things a little differently than what others expect. It’s often more creative.

All creative work deserves this approach.

Whatever your craft is – be it dancing, painting, design, writing, architecture, whatever – it’s more important to be original and creative than it is to be perfect and right. Always, for any creative work, this is true.

The world can’t teach us how to be original. Instead, institutions and mentors can only teach us how things have always been done in the past.

Of course there is value in knowing what’s come before; in knowing what the great artists, poets, and explorers throughout history have tried, and failed at.

What’s more important now isn’t learning how everyone else does the work. What’s more important is to forget what you’ve been taught.

It’s more important for us as creatives to be original, to find our own way of designing, or writing, or dancing, or playing an instrument. To bringing our own sense of style and understanding into the world where repetition and copying of techniques as well as styles is overabundant.

I’m not devaluing the importance of schooling or mentorship here. An education is absolutely, without-a-doubt important.

But consider the fact that what you learn in a school or through a mentor isn’t going to help you be more creative. You may learn what mistakes to avoid and how to use the necessary tools, but you won’t learn originality. That only comes from your own experimentation, your own exploration of ideas and techniques.

Creativity isn’t about being right or ideal. It’s not about learning what’s come before for the sake of repeating it or doing the work the same way.

Phil McKinney summarizes this notion well in his book Beyond the Obvious. McKinney writes:

As adults, we use our education and past experiences to solve the problems we face rather than relying on questions. It’s these historical assumptions of what works that prevents [us] from generating new ideas.

Creativity is about being original. The best way to be entirely original is to figure out the path you want to go on for yourself and then run like hell.