I built a laboratory in my garage last year.
I salvaged steel from Dad’s farm and welded together a Frankensteinian apparatus to test my prototypes. I borrowed a sewing machine from a mom at my son’s school and learned to sew wearable prototypes. I sourced electronic prototyping boards from China and watched YouTube videos to figure out how to solder the componentry together. I wrote programs to test cause and effect relationships.
It was a far cry from my day-to-day tradecraft which involves a lot of time in the Microsoft Office Suite.
I then invited my children, my wife and some close friends to be my lab rats. [The children are still living, I’m still married and my friends are still my friends.]
The experience was more than experimenting to test out a new technology. It was a way for me to purposely explore the creative process, including at a time when we have so many fantastic tools and advanced technologies that are accessible and affordable to Ordinary Joes like me.
I wanted to push it by reaching out to the furthest fringes of the idea-sphere I could imagine, and then see if I could bring it into the material world here and now to share with others.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:
The Creative Process Can Suck
I had this image in my head that going out to dream about bold ideas, new innovations, and better ways of living would be set in a Technicolor landscape involving lots of fairies flitting about tossing cosmic fairy dust into the breeze as seeds for my inspiration. Nope.
Rather, I found purposely invoking the creative process to be work. And quite frankly, that work can suck.
My emotions zig and zag between excitement and fear, self-confidence and self-criticism, hope and dread. My body can contort itself, yielding new aches and pains in my knees and lower back, and an optimistic worldview can turn pessimistic.
I don’t know how else to put it: The challenge to be creative — to push out into the idea-sphere as far as you can — can suck. But you do it. Doing weight training can suck. Running a marathon can suck. Eating healthy can suck. But you do it (or need to do it), because it is how you attain a higher expression of you.
I found the fastest way to creative inspiration was to map out rules, orders, systems, hierarchies, the way money flows in an ecosystem, the way someone says something is, and then try to break it. In the idea-sphere you can (legally) be very disrespectful to the status quo. In fact, it is wildly energizing.
Test Whether You Are Really Pushing It
I have three layers to the test of creativity.
The first is ensuring that the creative idea needs to evoke a fundamental emotion, such as fun, desire, love, empathy, anger or fear. If it doesn’t, rework it until it does.
The second is really one of personal values. If the emotion being evoked is positive (fun, desire, love, empathy), then dig deeper. If the emotion evoked by your creativity is negative (anger or fear), rework it. Evoking negative emotional reactions is, quite frankly, easy. Our human brain is designed to immediately respond to the negative, without much if any cognitive effort at all. Evoking negative emotions is shooting fish in the barrel of the human brain. [Reference: See Amygdala.] Evoking positive emotions is hard. So, set the bar higher. Evoke the positive emotional experience. Society thanks you.
The third test might sound similar to the second, but in reality, it is very different. The creative idea should trigger fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) in you as the creator. Your FUD should stem from concerns that the idea has already been done, someone else can do it before you, isn’t original enough, or isn’t bold enough. If you haven’t touched that nerve within your self, then your creative idea is probably not bold enough. Keep trying to scare yourself.
The Pain of Constriction
There is a rhythm to creation. Some days come more easily than others. But perhaps even more frequently than the flow being there, I find my greatest creativity comes right after the ‘pain of constriction.’
What happens is that my world constricts, tightly, as I struggle with the ideas and the FUD. I get negative and frustrated. I’m growly. It is not pleasant. Nor am I. (Or so she says. See paragraph 3 above. Still married.)
After years of studying this (and fighting it), I’ve learned that this is my queue to lean in a bit more. Put a shoulder into it. Mysterious things are at play. Sure, I’d rather drink a beer or have a conversation with a friend, but the rhythm is that there is a feeling of constriction before the creative release. When this release occurs, the Technicolor vision re-emerges, and something new is before me.
Flow & Pace
There is a flow and pace to creativity. I push in to it. I look for the constriction and discomfort. I test whether I have set the bar high enough. It is an athletic endeavor, physically and mentally.
And yet, I have had to learn that there is a larger flow and pace to it all, with layers to grounding that idea and shaping it to become something we can work with in the here and now. Ideas land in my consciousness only when I have purposely prepared for and cast out to them (first layer). Those ideas come forward only when they are willing to present themselves (second layer). Then, these magnificent, ethereal concepts in my mind may only become expressive in words and images that can be shared with others if I’ve worked with them carefully and purposefully (third layer). Sometimes it is a fight. Sometimes they come peacefully. Some are ready to be grounded, while others remain elusive. It is a negotiation.
If being creative sucks because it causes physical, cognitive and emotional pain, then why do it?
Because tapping into our creative consciousness is what makes us human. It is where the mysteries of the human experience lie.
We are quickly entering a new phase of human existence where the physical and intellectual capacities of humans are outsourced to increasingly sophisticated machines and technologies. As we free up capacity in our physical and intellectual experience, it should enable us to further dig into and explore our experiential, emotional and creative potential.
The promise is that we are on the cusp of revealing so much more in human potential than has been possible to this point… perhaps we are even on the cusp of a new epoch in the human experience.
Until then, I continue to work on my creation, and the IP lawyers are busy putting words, drawings and images to that creation. It has something to do with creating wickedly-exciting new experiential states for users — cognitively, emotionally and physiologically — by breaking through to new states of awareness and creativity.
It won’t suck.
Ironheart works with corporate clients to discover and realize their greatest potential. It often involves a fair measure of creativity. www.ironheart.co
Image Credits: 'all seeing, all knowing' by versionz (2007), Creative Commons License 2.0