Where I don’t know leads


“I don’t know.”

Those are three very powerful words. They help us to explore new territory, push past boundaries, and face our fears.

Admitting that you “don’t know” allows you to be more creative than those who do. The naivety of not knowing makes it easier to overcome difficult problems, because you don’t know whether or not the ideal outcome is possible yet. You’ll explore and tinker until the pieces fall into place or don’t, whereas experts won’t even attempt to explore because they already know what’s possible and what’s not. To quote author Steven Farmer: “With no expectations anything can become.” Not knowing is a creative asset, it should be pursued and harnessed.

Of course, not knowing can be a hinderance to productivity as well.

Not knowing means you know that you’re going to make mistakes. It means that you’re walking into a moment that is both cold and dark, where you’re not sure whether you can come out on the other end or not. Not knowing can be paralyzingly frightening.

It’s those who are able to push pass the fear of the unknown that reap the rewards.

Sure, you might fail, you might reach a dead-end, you may even temporarily embarrass yourself. But if the alternative is to discover completely new solutions, to learn more and expand your potential, to do what nobody else is doing, it seems that not knowing what you’re doing (and doing it anyway) is worthwhile anyway.

You’re facing your fears when you admit “I don’t know,” you’re also embarking on a quest to do something very much worthwhile.

Photo by Andreas Overland.

Creativity is just not that hard


It feels like we’re constantly trying to convince ourselves that being creative is some type of magic act.

We look at the process of having new ideas as being so complex that it just can’t be understood. Or we attribute the process to an ethereal being, or to a science we don’t understand, or to the influence of those around us, or whatever else.

But creativity isn’t complex. In-fact: it’s overly simple.

To be creative – to have unique thoughts or insights – is simply to observe, to be curious, to ask questions, and to ruminate. That’s all it takes to create original work, to solve ridiculously difficult problems, and to resolve issues that require a creative touch.

Look to anyone throughout history that has inspired you with their work or ideas.

What do you think it took for those people to do what they were able to do, to see the world differently? The answer is just that: all it took was seeing the world differently. And if we’re to do that it requires no extraordinary feat, merely the willingness to do so and to continue doing so even when we feel as though we’ve gone too far.

The automobile must have been an immensely frightening thing for people to have witnessed replace the ever-so-popular horse-drawn carriage. But people like Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, Karl Benz, and Henry Ford saw the world differently. They each saw how it could change and why it would be best to do so, and they turned out to be right.

Or what about Picasso and his bizarre cubism artwork? When he first showed his piece “The Weeping Woman” in 1937, many artists must have laughed and explained to poor Picasso that such contrast-rich, frighteningly emotional, and unstructured work could never be displayed in a public museum. Yet Picasso’s painting currently hangs in the galleries of the world-famous Tate in London. His other works selling for millions of dollars around the world.

Then there’s the writing of David Foster Wallace, which was so bitter and cold with emotion – something very few, if any, authors could get away with during the time – that his first novel was labeled “a manic, human, flawed extravaganza” by The New York Times. He later went on to write the novel “Infinite Jest” which, upon it’s release, for the first time in decades received such national attention that the magazine Rolling Stone sent a reporter out to follow David Foster Wallace on his national book tour for it.

In all of these cases (and undoubtedly countless more) the contributing factor to each success was their willingness to simply be curious, try something different, and go forward with it. Truly seeing the world differently. Each person was no more intelligent or overly gifted than anyone else. They each simply became curious and asked questions about how their work (or the world) could be different.

And seeing the world differently isn’t all that difficult. It’s as simple as asking: “What if?”

What if this book I’m writing was instead made into a series of short, animated films? What if my music was more focused on the silent pause between notes than the notes themselves? What if I painted this portrait at 1,000 times the size I was going to paint it at? What if I worked through a proxy to do my job? What if things were backwards? What if I had to do this with my eyes closed? What if? What if?

What if you stopped believing that creativity was so complicated, so magical, so difficult to understand?

What if, instead, you realized that being creative is simply a matter of perspective, and that you could change yours right now, today, if you wanted?

What if?

Original photo by Mark Rain.

Gaining perspective through travel

If you want to be creative you need to have an understanding of the idea that there are countless different ways to see and interpret the world.

This is why we travel, or so claims Jonah Lehrer in his article Why we travel. Jonah explains:

“Seasoned travellers are alive to ambiguity, more willing to realise that there are different (and equally valid) ways of interpreting the world. This in turn allows them to expand the circumference of their “cognitive inputs”, as they refuse to settle for their first answers and initial guesses… . We don’t spend 10 hours lost in the Louvre because we like it, and the view from the top of Machu Picchu probably doesn’t make up for the hassle of lost luggage…We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”

Looking at the world from a different perspective can open your mind to new possibilities. Traveling to a far off beach or city allows you to ‒ quite literally ‒ take a step back and see your problems or concerns from a distance.

When was the last time you took a vacation? Even if it’s just to a neighboring city for the weekend, getting away from your usual environment can be very rewarding. Do yourself and your creativity a favor and plan a trip to another place.

Seth Godin and what it takes to be creative

Famous author and blogger, Seth Godin, is a creative genius.

But Seth is not a creative genius because he is more creative than you or I. Seth is a genius because he knows what it takes to really be creative. He has said in the past that creativity comes from boundaries and knowing where the edge of an idea lies.

Recently Seth wrote a blog post about what it means to be creative, and his description may surprise you.

Again linking back to his original thoughts on creativity and boundaries, Seth writes: “For me, creativity is the stuff you do at the edges. But the edges are different for everyone, and the edges change over time.”

How true is that? What you think is routine, something you do everyday (whether it’s in your work, or not), other’s may find creative inspiration from. The boundaries of our lives, the edge of everything we do, are creative in some way or another. It’s just a matter of finding the edges of everything you do in order to find your creativity.

In order to find the edges of what you do – and to be truly creative – you could simply ask other’s around you for their thoughts.

Ask the people you work with what you do that makes you creative? Ask other’s if there is something you do that always blows them away or makes them say –I wish I could do that!–

Read Seth’s full post here, then find your edges (and if you don’t think you are creative, stretch what you do a little to be creative)!