Ignorance can be Creative

It’s always good to work at the top of your intelligence and do research when you need to, but doesn’t ignorance spur creativity?

Doesn’t some of your best stuff come from trying to figure things out?

Explore what you don’t know, what you don’t understand and don’t be afraid to make things up.

Emotional complexity is interesting. Not knowing how you feel about something before you start is riskier, but also potentially richer.

At its best, creative stuff creates a map to uncharted territory – an attempt to describe ignorance. Whether its finding a new solution to a problem at work or painting a masterpiece, it’s at once totally new but it also makes complete sense.

Most people are scared of ignorance. Think about old maps, whenever there was an unexplored area of the map it would be labelled “here be dragons.” They just projected all the fear and anger and everything terrifying projected onto the unknown. That’s how people treat the unexplored territories in their own heads. Dragons are lurking around every corner.

It’s the artists job to brave the dragons and try and describe what is actually there. Instead of fearing your own ignorance, get excited every time you find one of these areas. Move boldly into it and explore.

That doesn’t mean what you’ll produce is scary, a comic strip like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts (at its height) faced the unknown as squarely as Death of a Salesman or Hamlet.

Ignorance may be bliss to some, but to us, it’s just potential genius!

Love your ideas

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Do you love your ideas?

Sure, you love your good ideas and the ideas that make you money and the ideas that make you laugh, but do you love all your ideas?

Whatever that mysterious force inside us is that lets us connect things together in a way they never have been before, well, that force doesn’t know if an idea is good or not. It just pumps out idea after idea, spraying them all over the place in an endless geyser.

The only way to stop this force is to tell it it’s doing a bad job. To tell it that it’s not making sense and couldn’t it come up with something more useful?

It doesn’t even have to be you saying it, someone else telling you that your idea is stupid can do it. In fact, hearing someone else being told their idea is stupid can shut it off if you aren’t careful.

When that happens the geyser dries up and we find ourselves begging it to start back up again. We just need an idea, any idea, but all we get is a bunch of dust and nothing.

Here’s a way to get around that.

Love every idea you have for just a moment. No matter how silly, stupid or how many copyrights it breaks, just smile and enjoy your idea before you let it go.

I’m not saying that you have to pretend it’s a good idea, just that you enjoy it. Smile it at it. If it’s good, write it down or say it out loud. If it’s bad, just enjoy it like you would a bad movie or a child’s joke.

Every idea thinks it deserves to be enjoyed and loved.

In fact, why not go one step further than just enjoying the idea and actually add to the bad idea. If it occurs to you that the mechanical horses in front of grocery stores should be transformed into highway-ready ecologically friendly vehicles, don’t toss it aside as unworkable. Instead, start designing a way to hold all the rolls of quarters you’re going to need to get to work and back.

Let your ideas start to get connected, then you won’t have to release them. They become part of a web to build a better idea. Instead of throwing things away, you’re using them as a foundation for something else.

Appreciate, smile, enjoy and cherish every single idea you have. Just don’t act on all of them.

Do this and they’ll keep coming.

In fact, you’ll have so many ideas they might start to get irritating.

Not to you, but to all the jealous people around you who struggle to have any idea, even a bad one.

Increase your creativity by making fewer choices


Some people who want to be considered creative spend a lot of time focussed on making every single aspect of their life reflects their creativity. It’s not enough that they are a brilliant painter, they also have to wear crazy outfits and drive around in a car with jewels and feathers hot glued to the outside. Here’s a thought, have you ever tried being completely uncreative in the parts of your life that don’t directly impact your work?

Lots of artists talk about the importance of routine and discipline for their work, but there is also power in making a choice once and sticking with it.

I was reminded of this when I read an article about Devo asking to meet David Lynch. Lynch agreed, but the meeting had to be at Bob’s Big Boy. You see, Lynch ate lunch there every day. This is how Lynch describes it:

I like things to be orderly. For seven years I ate at Bob’s Big Boy. I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush. I ate a chocolate shake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee–with lots of sugar. And there’s lots of sugar in that chocolate shake. It’s a thick shake. In a silver goblet. I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas! I would write them on these napkins. It was like I had a desk with paper. All I had to do was remember to bring my pen, but a waitress would give me one if I remembered to return it at the end of my stay. I got a lot of ideas at Bob’s.

Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip had the same breakfast, english muffin with grape jelly, and lunch, tuna salad, every day at a diner he built for himself.

Einstein famously didn’t like to think about his clothes and wore the same outfit every day. He said, “I like neither new clothes nor new kinds of food.”

Obviously this doesn’t work for everyone, most people find their creative lives enriched by new experiences. However, spend a few minutes looking at your own life. Is there a decision you dread? A process that takes up too much of your life? Try simplifying it.

Eat the same lunch every day, get your hair cut on the same day every month or stop worrying about the color of your socks. Whatever weighs on you, take control of it!

You just might find that spending less time on the trivial gives your more time for the amazing!

(Read more about David Lynch’s creative life in Catching the Big Fish his book on meditation and creativity. It’s on sale for $5.99 on Amazon and it’s a bargain.)

Stealing creativity strategies from businesses

Inc. Magazine has an interesting article on developing and maintaining corporate creativity. It’s worth reading and there are a couple of interesting points that I thought applied to individuals as well.

Provide Lots of Free Time to Think

BrightHouse’s 18 staff members get five Your Days, in which they are encouraged to visit a spot conducive to reflection and let their neurons rip. No mandate to solve a particular problem. Just blue-sky thinking — often under actual blue skies. Reiman believes this unstructured cogitation is just as important to a project’s success as time spent hunkered down in client meetings. Or as he puts it: “I think; terefore, I am valuable.”

Do you give yourself time to think? It’s one thing to blame your work or depend on your work for thinking time, but you aren’t going to get it at most jobs. If time to think doesn’t seem to occur naturally, you are going to have to schedule it.

Bring in Outsiders

Many top innovation firms tap the perspectives of outside experts — be they physicists, poets, actors, archaeologists, theologians, or astronauts. At BrightHouse, such distinguished professionals, otherwise known as “luminaries,” are constantly cycling through the office.

Is your creativity insular? Do you look for help when you need it? Do you guess at things instead of asking? Learn to use other people for your own creative purposes. It’s not at all selfish, most people can’t wait for a chance to share what they know and will eagerly supply with everything you need. Find someone with information relevant to your current project and use them!

Do it for Free

Creative folks enjoy applying their talents to noble causes — and, increasingly, their employers keep them happy by providing opportunities to do so. At BrightHouse, employees with great ideas for improving public life receive a $1,000 bonus on the spot.

So many people complain that they aren’t paid for their creativity. Have you looked for a way to benefit others for free? This is a great way to get exposure and increase your skills while improving the world. Don’t wait for a paycheck to do the things you love, find an outlet that appreciates what you have to offer. The money will come eventually.

Read the article here.

Link via Dose of Creativity

Argument for simplicity

Copyblogger posted a quote from John Caples, one of the great ad men in history. He wrote, in 1932:

Don’t make ads simple because you think people are low in intelligence. Some are smart and some are not smart. The point is that people are thinking about other things when they see your ad. Your ad does not get their full attention or intelligence. Your ad gets only a fraction of their intelligence . . . . People won’t study your ad carefully. They can’t be bothered. And so you have to make your ads simple.

While this quote is intended to aid commerce, I think it has uses for art as well. I’m not saying all art should be simple, but I think this quote makes a good case for at least an appearance or layer of simplicity that will allow someone to get something from it without their full attention.

If you are creating something that you want to be read or viewed by a large number of people, especially if it’s intended for the web, it needs to be graspable without someone’s full attention. The competition is fierce and you’re lucky if someone is paying even 25% attention when they look at something you’ve created. The complexity can be there, under the surface, to reward the people who decide to look deeper, but they must have a reason to look.

There are lots of places this doesn’t apply, but I thought it was an interesting idea. Don’t dumb it down, just simplify.

The simple reversal: creativity tip

I remember the first time I heard about reversing an idea as a conscious act. I was young, maybe 9 or 10, and my dad had kept me up late to watch Monty Python during a pledge drive on our local PBS station. The sketch that had just played was Hell’s Grannies, in which a grandma bicycle gang terrorizes the young people of a small town. They cut to the studio and some of Python was there, the announcer said that was his favorite Monty Python sketch. John Cleese dismissed it as “a simple reversal sketch” not worthy of praise. And I’ve found that in general comedians consider those types of jokes to be hacky and base.

However, since then, I’ve found reversing ideas to be a useful habit that can actually invigorate an old tired cliché. In fact, the way journalists describe interesting stories is a reversal. Dog bites man is not an interesting story, but man bites dog is an interesting story. It is also used as a humorous tool in Zen koans.

As an example of how this can work successfully, two of my favorite Coen brothers’ movies are based on brilliant using the opposite of the usual main character in a hackneyed plot and genre. The Big Lebowski is a film noir style detective film that stars, instead of the traditional tough guy war vet turned shamus, a war protesting hippie. Fargo is a police procedural that with a main character that isn’t a rule breaking tough guy, but a pregnant female cop that solves the crime by the book.

The next time your stuck or it feels like your just repeating an old idea, try reversing the idea or an element of it.  Many times this will take you down a new path and increase your interest in it.

Top yourself!

This is an extension of the last post, Don’t Save Your Best Ideas For Later.

Don’t be afraid to top yourself. Once you have successfully created something, your instinct will be to stay safe and only change the formula only slightly when you begin your next project.

Instead, why not top yourself every single time? Why not set your standard for each project so high that while you’re working on it you can’t possibly conceive of any way to improve upon it. Burn up the concept behind your work so totally that by the end it is curled up exhausted in the corner of your brain.

Of course, this way of working requires an act of faith on your part. It means every time you start work on something you are entering uncharted territory – traveling through the bits of ancient maps that said “here be dragons” or  “end of the world.” It requires you to trust that you don’t have a limited number of ideas and that you should parcel them out in tiny quantities in everything you do.

The phrase “Jumping the Shark” has made some people afraid to take chances this way. Inherent in its meaning is the idea that once a certain change is made, a concept or artist or actor or writer or series will never be good again. Truthfully, what kills most of these things is an extended lack of change that results in a gradual decline in quality and audience interest followed by a change forced from the outside onto an uninspired artist or team.

Instead of shark jumping, think about “Jump and a net will appear.” Take a chance that you might fail because you are unsure about where you’re heading next. The universe takes care of artists who jump off of creative cliffs without looking. Besides, if it doesn’t, you’ll land right next to another steep cliff you can jump off of and keep jumping until that net does appear.

Take the artistic champ of topping yourself every single time.

Jump and a net will appear.

Don’t save your best ideas for later: creativity tip

There’s a concept floating around that each person gets only a limited number of ideas in their lifetime.

Maybe no one ever says it out loud, but they treat their own ideas that way.

Instead of using their great ideas as they have them, people squirrel them away and store them on an idea shelf in their heads where they gather dust. And there are only so many ideas you can fit on that shelf, so instead of constantly coming up with new ideas, they just wander over to the dusty mind shelf and look at the great ideas they’ve never used. Afraid that if they use them, there will be a terrible empty spot on the shelf that will never be filled.

But, we know that’s wrong. The truth is that as soon as you use your best idea, you come up with a better idea. Burning through them quickly lets you cycle through ideas at top speed.

Even writing an idea down in a notebook will let you come up with a new idea. It’s amazing what clearing your mind of a little clutter will do.

Do a little mind cleaning and act on all the “great ideas” that are sitting on your dusty idea shelf. I promise you, you’ll have more great ideas than you can use in your lifetime.

And no one lives forever.

That’s probably the best reason for using your best ideas right now!

(you know, death)

Meaning, Metaphor and Magic

I posted before about making a magic object to help you with your creativity and work, but today I was thinking about all the magic in the objects already around us. Not every object has the same amount of magic, but you know the ones that are meaningful to you. Maybe it’s something an old friend gave you to remember them by or a trophy of a great success in your life or a picture of you with a famous person. You know the kinds of things I’m talking about. Generally they have a low dollar value, but you’d miss them the most if they were gone.

What if these things had real Harry-Potter-Lord -of-the-Rings magic powers? That handkerchief you took from your grandmother’s house the day she died. Would it have healing powers? Would it protect you from demons? Would it make cookies appear whenever you wanted one?

The connection between the magic of these items and their powers is the root of the energy of metaphor that powers everything you create. Their meaning is part of you and examining them is like being able to look at yourself from the outside.

So, find that cigar box of mementos you keep or dust off your nick knack shelf and go through them one by one. Hold them in your hand and ask yourself what spell it would cast if it could? What power does it contain?

This is the raw force of creativity at work, the discovery of connections between seemingly disconnected objects and yourself. You’ll get a better understanding of your needs and wants and emotional underpinnings.

What do you keep? What does it mean?

In fact, why limit it to what you own? Look at other objects in the world and ask what magic powers they would have. A pair of Houdini’s handcuffs or a handwritten page from one of Shakespeare’s plays or a piece of the Berlin wall?  It all has power inside and recognizing it will allow you to control it.

Plus it’s fun. So, even if you get nothing from it, you’ll have a good time. Oh, and they don’t really have magic powers, so don’t get any bright ideas that your grandfather’s walking cane can really make you invisible. It’s just that your grandfather made you feel invisible when you were around him because he was such a powerful man. You can’t walk around naked in public just because you’re holding a cane.

Automatic writing: creativity tip

Automatic writing has an interesting history. The name contains what it is, just sitting down and writing without trying to influence what comes out with ideas about meaning or story or spelling or even being interesting. It seems to have started with spiritualism, as a means of contacting the dead in the afterlife, in the 1800s. The spiritualist movement was really about women trying to have positions of power in a society that limited them.

So, automatic writing served two purposes. One, the person doing the automatic writing could pretend that the writing was coming from somewhere outside themselves. Two, other people would take it more seriously because they thought the women were just a means for the message to be communicated. By removing the idea of authorship from the writing, both the writer and reader were free to judge the writing for what it was rather than prejudging its source.

The next group to use it were the surrealists who also did automatic drawing. They believe it was a channel to the “genius of creativity” in all of us. Also, they were attracted to the strange images and rhythms it produces.

I don’t think automatic writing is a message from another world or the key to your subconscious mind, but it is a useful tool for producing raw material.

Here’s a short guide on how to do it.

Find a comfortable place to sit with a flat surface in front of you. Get a pen or pencil and some blank paper.  Clear your head, go neutral, then begin writing as fast you can.  If you find yourself stopping, just use the last letter of the last sentence you wrote as the first letter of the next sentence and keep going. Don’t stop to correct, alter or  insert a better idea, this is simply a big dumping ground for you to produce raw material that you can use for whatever you want later.

Write as long as you want, you’ll know when it’s over.

I recommend putting it aside for a day before reading it. It can be a revelation or a complete disappointment, it doesn’t matter because you didn’t put any effort into it.

Try it. I promise you’ll be entertained. If you feel better pretending that you are channeling a voice from somewhere else, go ahead. That way you don’t have to take the blame for what happens. If you decide to do that, you can pretend you are channeling the voices of aliens, fairies, half-dog half-men that live in the swamps of West Virginia, David Lee Roth or President Taft. Maybe it will make it better!

After all, like all good games this has no rules.


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