Do you execute or discover your ideas?
Speaking English was a limitation for me.
My mother tongue is Spanish, and, in comparison, speaking in English feels uncomfortable, imprecise and slow.
The worst moment was when I was clear about what I wanted to communicate in Spanish, but I was unable to «execute those words» in English. At that point, I would enter a tunnel vision where the chances of going blank, unable to continue the conversation, were very high.
This situation—or rather, the possibility of this situation occurring—caused me insecurity when I spoke in English. And this insecurity increased my chances of going blank: a vicious circle.
What solution did I find to this situation?
Improve my English so that I could communicate exactly what I wanted to communicate?
My solution was to accept this limitation. Instead of trying to communicate exactly my ideas in Spanish, I started to «discover what ideas» I could communicate in English.
This second option, discovering what I can say, has many advantages:
- I am always able to continue a conversation.
- The risk of going blank is zero for all practical purposes.
- Thanks to this confidence, I have gained naturalness and improved my English.
However, the price to pay is not being 100% in control of what I will say in a conversation. When I cannot say something in English, I have to….
- change the way I say it (to another way I can say it)
- or, directly, change what I want to say to something else.
Why did I tell you this anecdote?
I think it’s the same with creativity.
Two types of creative processes
In the last Work Diary, I briefly explained that I can differentiate, in my work, two types of creative processes:
Create to execute an idea.
When I follow this creative process, I consider what idea I want to use in a project. My job is to clearly define the initial idea and then execute it faithfully in reality. Deviating from my defined idea is a problem: I will no longer be working on that project.
An example of this process is my short-book on the reading habit. If I deviate halfway through the project and end up doing a short-book on another topic, the project will fail.
It is the equivalent of saying what I want to say in English.
Create to find out what happens.
When I follow this creative process, I have a provisional idea that inspires me to start a project. My intentionality to execute that provisional idea is not as strong as in the previous case. The goal is to discover, along the way, a new idea. When that happens, I change the project’s goal to executing that new—and usually better—idea. Deviating from the initial idea is not a problem; it’s just what I’m looking for.
My posts for the Gestalt’s Garden are an example of such a project. I start with a tentative idea for the post. I write about it and, halfway through the process, I discover that I can better explain a different idea than the initial one. Then I change the post to use that new idea as the main idea.
It is the equivalent of saying in English what I can say at that moment.
Which method should you use?
Choose the creative process that is most convenient in each situation.
In my case, I feel that «create to find out what happens» allows me to be more natural and, in general, makes the creative process more enjoyable. But this is not entirely true. «Create to execute an idea» is also enjoyable and allows me to achieve ways of expressing my ideas that I could not have achieved with mere improvisation.
Moreover, this is not a dichotomy: all projects have a part of execution and a part of discovery.
So my advice is to try adjusting this balance in your projects to discover what works best for you because a wrong balance—too much planning or too much improvisation—is detrimental to the creative process.
Conclusion: An invisible sleight of hand
For the reader, this creative sleight of hand is invisible.
How can you know if the words you are reading now are what I wanted to say from the beginning or if they are an unintentional discovery?
It is really difficult to know this. But does it matter to us? In my opinion what matters is the quality of a work, not the method used to create it.
It is the same when I speak in English. The other person experiences a conversation; it is very difficult for them to know if I am not saying what I would really like to say in Spanish. Many times, I don’t even know it myself!
However, there comes a time in life when you are with your boss and you have to communicate in English what you really need to communicate. And, at that moment, it is not enough to simply say what you can say at that moment.
And you, what proportion of execution and discovery do you use in your projects?
You can answer me in the comments or directly to this mail. In both cases, I’ll get back to you :-)