I spent the past several days (and a few snowstorm-induced extra ones!) leading a training on Accidental Creative methods in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had a bit of time in the evenings to explore the city, and while on one of my strolls I snapped a photo of a curious sign (above).
Though it was really just pointing to an info station, I was immediately struck – in mid-stride – by the unintended profundity of the sign. We spend so much of our day desperately seeking the best answers to problems we’re facing. We toil, tweak and iterate until our iterator is worn. We refine and crank. Because we’re pros, we’re great at all of these things.
But how much time do we spend getting the question right? Making sure that we’ve defined the problem effectively? Chasing our curiosity?
The more I live and the more work I do, the more convinced I’ve become that the biggest battle we face as creatives isn’t getting the right answers, it’s arriving at the right questions. If we can effectively define the true essence of the problem we’re trying to solve, we will gain traction much more quickly on our work.
Instead, we sometimes find that we’re spinning out like bald tires on an ice slick. No friction, no traction. Where there is no definition of the problem, there is no focus. Welcome to creative purgatory.
Have you effectively defined your work? More importantly, have you identified the questions that must be answered in order to accomplish your objectives? It’s best not to rely on the organization to do this for you. As a creative you must own this part of it. In the words of a wise (fictional) man, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Also, are you paying attention to your curiosity? Many of us shut down our hunches because we’re afraid of where they might lead. They often don’t seem practical or immediately applicable to the problem at hand. We treat our curiosity like our slacker college friend who offers to take us on a road trip through upstate New York the weekend before finals. “No thanks,” we say. “I can’t make a trip to see the leaves. I have to study them in my textbook.” Don’t ignore your hunches. Your mind is brilliant at making connections, but if it’s shut down enough times it seems to stop trying. Your loss.
Define. Refine. Follow your hunches. Pursue your deeper curiosity. Don’t get so lost doing the work that you’re not really doing the work. Execution is only valuable if you’re really creating something of value.