The Downside of a Great Idea

Conclusions, even great ones, tend to shut down the exploration.

Posted Feb 07, 2012

Ah, the creative life. Waking up everyday and doing what you love is nothing short of magical...

...except when what you love to do stops doing its part.

For many artists, the frustration that comes when creativity slows or ceases to flow can be devastating. The mind is so eager, the heart so invested, that failures- even those of imagination- can crush the spirit and destroy even the strongest sense of pride.

The whole thing would be masochism if it weren't for the great ideas that, when they do come, make it beyond worthwhile. There is simply nothing like the rush of inspiration... the revelation of the big ‘aha' that either forms the foundation of a piece or sends it home. It's what brings us to life. It's what keeps us going.

And it's our biggest downfall.

We're so excited to finally hold these gems in our hands that we forget that a closed fist is still a closed fist, whether or not something wonderful is inside. Grasping at what we've found, we stop wondering about and seeking for something better, and our terrific starting points become not-so-great conclusions.

This isn't exclusively a creative occupational hazard. We live in a world that values product over production, creations over creativity. In our professional and artistic endeavors, we latch onto what we think will bring the results we should have, rather than consider what else lies in wait, what more could be discovered. We jump to conclusions- literally- rather than keep our eyes and minds open to the myriad, and often unexpected, possibilities.

Those possibilities make themselves plain only when we release even our most treasured ideas and important conclusions. The freshness of perspective that release provides- coupled with the humility required to change our minds, to be surprised, and to be wrong- is what allows our best ideas to become better.

Whatever project you're working on, consider spending a day, or even an hour, just being with it. Brainstorm, dream, and imagine with no intention, no expectation. Jot down whatever thoughts and ideas come to you if you wish, but resist the urge to cling to one or hold fast to another. Go for a walk and let your mind wander. Begin to enjoy the imagination without practical consequence. Begin to appreciate creativity for its own experience, as well as the gift of being able to be a part of it.

What you'll notice is that the more willing you are to let your imagination play, the more imaginative you will become. And all of those ideas you once thought so fleeting and fickle will, with increasing frequency, come to gently rest in the palm of your open hand.