Creative Grit!

This, by Annie Murphy Paul is a very interesting blogpost I came across today. This one is on “creative grit”.

There are two very interesting things that the blogpost talks about.

The first is that there are two ways to creativity – the “traditional way” (the way I’ve always seen it) is to think about the problem, internalise it and then somewhere “wait for inspiration to strike”.

The other method that the author talks about, referring to artist Franz Kline, is to “just keep trying”. Kline would make hundreds of paintings every night. And he would find that one (or few) of them would be good enough to work further on. So this form of creativity comes from repeated practice.

Then later in the blogpost, she also talks about some research on when creativity hits. Again, “traditionally” we are trained to think that if creativity has to “hit” us for a particular problem, that is much more likely to occur early on in our effort. Based on this, a lot of us creative people have come up with heuristics where if solution doesn’t occur within a few iterations of trying, we just give up and move on.

Annie Murphy Paul says that this is the incorrect approach. Quoting from her post:

Lucas and Nordgren call this the “creative cliff illusion”: we imagine that, after an initial upward leap, our creativity will then fall off a cliff—when in reality our creativity capacities are just getting ready to ascend.

We also misjudge the thoroughness of our search. In one study, people estimated that they had explored 75 percent of the solution space—when in fact they had covered only 20 to 30 percent of the relevant domain.

I sure should try the second method that she recommends – keep trying and occasionally you’ll be happy with the result. Or maybe I already do that with all my writing (this blog, my newsletters, etc.) – basically “spray and pray”. The reason I’ve managed to write so much is that I have a low bar for myself. So I write a lot of rubbish. And occasionally I end up writing something people like. On the other hand when I’m paid to write, I don’t “spray and pray”. And in trying to limit my downside I limit my upside as well.

And thinking about it, the reason this method works is that in creative pursuits only the wins matter. As long as you produce sufficient wins, no one cares about your duds!

While on the topic of creativity, here is an ancient lecture (maybe my first ever recorded “speech”) I gave on why “quality takes time”. This clearly shows that at least as of mid-2004 (coincidentally just before I started this blog) I used to strongly believe in the “wait for inspiration to strike” model of creativity.

Oh and btw, read the whole post. It’s worth it.

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