Faced with a question, our natural instinct is to resolve it as quickly as possible. Our brains are wired to match patterns that solve the problem. In the tangible world, that’s a great approach. Red light means stop. Green light means go. Creative thinking is not required.
In the creative realm, it’s different. Patterns that drive decisions create ruts. You do the same thing over and over. You solve new problems with tested solutions. Your work lacks inspiration. Your work becomes predictable.
In my former life as a creative director, my goal was to constantly push my teams to unpredictable solutions. Never repeat a solution. Avoid predictability at all costs. There are many mental tools to keep your thinking fresh and your results unique. One of the easiest is to manage your environment. That can be as simple as changing your music feed daily or hourly. Change the lighting. Change your workspace by rearranging things. Work at different stations within your space. Work outside of your space. Work with others instead of alone day after day. All simple techniques to alter the result.
A few months ago, I felt I had hit a plateau. All of the above techniques weren’t helping. What I realized was I was producing for the sole purpose of producing. What was missing was that stretch for the next level. In my anxiousness to produce, I was complacent. This was an important realization. The solution set me free.
I now more critically assess each piece as it develops. If it isn’t becoming something significantly better than the previous pieced by some measure, I put it on the shelf where I can see it, consider options, explore additional sketches and simply play with possible alternatives. At first I assumed this would slow my production. It did. And it didn’t.
I soon had more unfinished pieces around the studio. I had more time to think about the possibilities of each. And I had more time to process each idea. My method is based on a few questions: What if? What else? Why not? These three simple questions open the door to a flood of alternatives. Most are impractical. Some impossible. A few are unbelievable. When one rises above the others, you know it’s the right path. That’s the space I want to be in. The results have been surprising.
The brain wants to solve the problem. At first, it offers the obvious solution. Be patient. Ask your brain, “OK, what else have you got?” It will respond with another pattern. The longer you let the question remain open, the further your brain has to stretch to present a solution. After many rounds of this creative inquisition, your brain resorts to the impractical, impossible, unbelievable. That’s the breakthrough.
The example I’ve used to illustrate this process started in October 2022. The concept went through the usual 20 or 30 sketches before I started building the sculpture. In the building process, I continued to look for opportunities, but the magic spark to make it really unique was missing. Instead of completing the piece, I put it on the shelf and looked at it for 8 months. In that time, I considered many options. I continued to ask, “What if? What else? Why not?” Last month, I walked into the studio, looked at it and saw the flames.
My point is simple. Be patient. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Why rush to finish just to finish if it doesn’t take you a step further? Let the process speak to you. Make your brain earn its oxygen. Let your creativity grow with each piece you produce.