If you wanna be great, you need to suck
I've been reading Unsafe Thinking by Jonah Sachs and it's got my brain buzzing. An excellent read, Sachs looks at how we can unlock our creativity and achieve more success. Though he gives lots of advice, all based off science and evidence, one of the things he points out really stuck with me. It's not the first time I've heard this advice, but it's the first time I really understand why it's necessary.
In order to be creative and thrive creatively, you must continue having new experiences.
That doesn't mean you need to sell your stuff and move to another country, although, that would be quite the experience, it can mean trying new food, learning a new skill, listening to a different genre of music. It means putting yourself in the position of experiencing something you've never experienced before. And the more you do it, the better.
There are two reasons that new experiences are essential for creativity.
The first is that it gives your brain fodder to create with. Scientists are still discovering how imagination works; what they have worked out is several areas of your brain come into play when you use your imagination and are creative. There are a few different networks within the brain that interact, depending on where you are in your creative process. Daydreaming ignites one network, while deep focus ignites another.
When you experience something, your brain attempts to categorize it. It tries to connect it to a known experience. It's this putting new experiences next to known experiences that creates new ideas. You can imagine it as a flash cards next to flash cards shuffling next to each other. Every experience you have is another card, and they are constantly flashing next to other cards. The more experiences you have, the more cards you have to play with.
The second reason having new experiences is important, is that it keeps you feeling like a beginner. We all want to feel like an expert in our field, but becoming an expert is actually a dangerous thing for innovation and maintaining creativity. I mentioned in another post how success can cause us to regress creatively, as we become more fearful of failure, and rather than innovating, we hold on to the thing that made us successful in the first place. Something similar happens when we become experts. In his book, Jonah Sachs points out that, "past a certain point of expertise, the more we learn, build confidence, and achieve authority, the less sensitive we risk becoming to the signals and possibilities in our environment," He points out that we do need to study our field and aim for expertise, but once we achieve it, we're in danger of heading toward, "a fixed, inflexible way of seeing the world." We begin to think we know it all, so we're less able to have our minds changed, see innovative new ideas, and be radically creative. Continuing to have new experiences outside our comfort zone keeps us feeling like explorers, and that mindset is essential to continuing to be flexible and creative, while gaining expertise.
In Creativity Inc. Ed Catmull encourages those who want to be great leaders to constantly remind themselves that there's more going on in their industry that they do not know, than that they do. If we come at our work asking questions, rather than jumping to conclusions, what sort of new ideas might we discover?
Be a beginner again; try something new just because you've never tried it before; aim to be an explorer rather than an expert; your work will thank you for it.