‘We cannot do the fantastic things based on the real, unless we first know the real.’ Walt Disney
Seth Godin has just posted on the subject of Real Creativity, where he argues that ‘Real [tag]business creativity[/tag] comes from boundaries,’ and ‘Inventing something cool that can’t be implemented isn’t creative’.
Of course this is literally true, since creativity doesn’t become ‘real’ unless you make something out of it. But it’s clear that he also believes there is something inherently superior in the kind of creativity that sees the brilliant idea as the starting point, not the end product.
[tag]Walt Disney[/tag] would have agreed with him. In his analysis of Disney’s approach to creativity and management, Robert Dilts draws attention to this description of Disney by one of his animators:
‘…there were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist and the spoiler: you never knew which one was coming into your meeting.’ (Quoted in Strategies of Genius, Vol.1, Robert Dilts)
Dilts points out that this ability to play three very different but complementary roles was crucial to Disney’s creative and commercial success. Dreams are nothing without a realist around to make something happen. And the ‘spoiler’ was Disney’s critical mindset, the side of him that took a long hard look at the work in progress, and decided whether the reality measured up to the dream – yet.
This is one of the models I use most often with clients, since so-called ‘creative blocks’ in the mind or ‘difficult people’ in the office are usually a sign that we are stuck in one role at the expense of the others.
Godin is clearly describing the kind of people who get stuck in the dreamer role, forever coming up with ‘brilliant’ ideas and assuming that’s all there is to creatvity.
I just as often come across people with the opposite problem – they have developed their spoiler (a.k.a. ‘inner critic’) to such a degree that they can’t get past the first sentence of their novel or the first draft of a design, because they immediately tell themselves what’s ‘wrong’ with it, or how it’s been done a million times before.
And we’ve all met people who are so fond of being the realist that they can’t entertain a new idea or good opportunity when it’s put in front of them.
So what are the implications for creative thinkers and doers?
1. Entertain your wildest dreams
One of my best friends at college was forever coming up with haredbrained schemes to ride across Russia with ten of us in a minibus, or buy a castle in India/Thailand/Cambodia and turn it into a luxury hotel. To my shame, I was usually first in the queue with all the ‘yes buts’ that meant it could never happen. He’s now the founder and MD of a successful IT firm with clients across the globe. Something that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been prepared to entertain yet another off-the-wall idea.
2. Commit to action
Several years ago, I started writing a poem about the time I moved to London (a big step for a country boy). But I could never get it quite right, and it ended up gathering digital dust on my hard drive. Because I had all the time in the world to finish it, it was taking all the time in the world. A classic case of ‘no boundaries = no creativity’. Last month I noticed that one of my favourite poetry magazines was inviting submissions on the theme of ‘London’ – and the deadline was the end of the month. Guess when I finished it?
3. Be prepared to rip it up and start again
Describing his composition process, Tchaikovsky wrote ‘What has been set down in a moment of ardour must now be critically examined, improved, extended, or condensed, as the form requires. Sometimes one must do oneself violence, must sternly and pitilessly take part against oneself, before one can mercilessly erase things thought out with love and imagination.’ The really great artists and creators are the ones who can do this for themselves. The rest of us often need someone else to point it out. The moment someone else sets eyes on our work is arguably where the real creativity begins.