Pulling Open the Flower

On week three of our Shattering the Meme novena, we explore the concept of creativity.  Creativity cannot be forced, nor can it emerge fully formed from the depths of our minds.  Unlearning the idea that hours spent equals quality of output to force an outcome is the lesson of this week.

As creatives, it’s ingrained in us from our earliest years that we are somehow supposed to be masters of everything.  The image of the superstar sole proprietor who conquers the word is dangled before us and we’re made to feel as if we are doing something wrong if we can’t achieve it.  From those first weeks in studio classes, the all-nighter is introduced. The idea behind it is that we need to work hard, really hard, at being creative.  We are not taught techniques for collaboration, or pulling in ideas from other industries or arts.  We are not taught how to understand the needs of the people we design for.  No, Instead the message is that it all must come from within.  And if the great idea won’t just open up out of our mind and bloom, we need to start picking at the bud, much like an ant on a peony.

Sounds strangely logical, except that creativity doesn’t work that way.  The worst thing you can do is to put performance pressure on it, instead of letting it flow, to close down its sources instead of expanding its horizons.  This meme has never served anything but our collective egos as it takes our self-esteem on a perpetual roller coaster ride.

Stop the suffering
Because we have been taught the behavior pattern of hard work, it feels wrong when an idea comes too easily.  We analyze it, reconstruct it, over-embellish it, reject it.  All in an attempt to make the act of creation something that requires tremendous effort.  We need to recognize that what we have been conditioned to feel “right” about in the design process is actually only what feels familiar to ourselves and our profession.  It gets propagated as “the way.”  In fact, what really ends up being propagated is stress inducing behavior. So, we think that if we are not under stress, we must not be very creative.  This is somewhat like planting a shade-loving plant in full sun, assuming that your shadow as you constantly tend it will be enough.

Live in the now
Creativity is about being present, not trying to predict the future based on the past.  When you are in the zone and are in a state of pure consciousness, nothing except the present moment matters.  You stop imposing past limiting beliefs and letting fears about what might happen restrict you, and you just go with it.  No over-thinking, no judgement.  Just think what would happen if you gave yourself more opportunities to disconnect the outcome from possibility. You might even realize that what you or your client thought the outcome should be wasn’t the best way to solve the problem. Stop ignoring all of the other ideas flowering in the garden in your focus on the one plant that hasn’t yet bloomed.

Allow the unfolding
In our “I am enough” mentality, we believe that we can go directly from intention to outcome.  We think that we control the outcome solely through our efforts, and if we didn’t get the result we wanted, we must have either not worked hard enough or made some mistake.  Not only does this corrode self esteem, it sets us up to shut down opportunities that might lead us to an even better result. You can plant the seeds, and tend the garden, but the plant will grow at its own rate, take its own form.  Building the framework for your intent and ideas to grow and then letting them take shape organically will lead you to the best possible outcome.  Relinquish control of what the outcome needs to look like and trust that you have set the right things in motion.

Shatter the Meme:
Allow yourself to detach from the outcome and instead focus on the intent behind the work you are doing.  What opportunity for growth can you find in the problem?  What is really motivating your client to take action?  What kind of environments do people really need? By asking these questions of yourself, your team and your client, you are able to ensure you are solving the right problems and building the right framework.  Resist the need to be a control freak and remember that when you pull open the flower, you usually spoil it.  Step back and let things unfold instead of trying, in your impatience, to force the outcome.