I was sitting alone on a camping chair, in the middle of a dark damp grass field. I could feel the moist grass touching my legs. I was camping in the countryside of France, and my sense of time was completely gone. My neck started to hurt and this time it wasn’t because I was looking down at my phone too much. It was because of the opposite. My gaze was focused directly above me, on one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. Thousands of stars were scattered across the dark sky, more than I had ever seen in my life.
For some reason, a weird experiment came to my mind. What if I would try to illuminate the stars even more by turning on my headlamp? Sitting in my camping chair, with my headlamp turned to the sky, I suddenly felt very stupid. The light of the headlamp obviously didn’t brighten the stars. Nevertheless, this stupid experiment resulted in interesting observations. I started to see some shooting stars. These were not shooting stars as I was used to. They seemed quite big and were not moving in straight lines. After a minute I realized that they weren’t shooting stars, they were bugs that were attracted to this beacon of light in the middle of the dark!
Why do I tell this story? It might not be obvious, but this little anecdote very much resembles how I see creativity. First of all, creativity often comes with experimenting. Even if these experiments are very silly. By taking action and trying, results may come that you would never have expected. Secondly, creative ideas are dynamic like the bugs in this anecdote, and not as straightforward as the “normal” shooting stars. It’s a good thing when ideas change. Don’t be arrogant. Lastly, if you put on a light long enough in the middle of the dark, bugs will inevitably come. Likewise, if you’re very consistent with showing up every day, ideas will come inevitably.
When I was sitting there, alone in the dark, I had a notebook with me. I wrote down my thoughts about this beacon of light attracting bugs that looked like shooting stars. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this note, and it reminded me of something I had read in the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In this book he uses the following analogy:
I found this a very interesting way of putting it, but I was convinced that I could make a better analogy:
2. The Plane of Possibilities
The Generalist vs Specialist debate is something I find very intriguing. There are a lot of good books written about this topic like Range by David Epstein, and Essentialism by Greg McKeown which are on the opposite sides of the playing field. But what does this debate have to do with creativity?
Look at the drawing above. You can see the Plane of Possibilities. This plane is extremely big and contains all creative possibilities. This makes it very difficult to choose where to begin. However, this can be solved by only using a small patch of the Plane of Possibilities. See this patch as your territory or your specialism. Now you know where to begin, that’s the first important step. The problem now is that the boundaries of our territories restrict our freedom. This can be solved by grabbing some things from outside our territory and putting them inside. This is often called thinking outside the box. Now we have a lot of different topics, ideas, and concepts in our territory. Now you can get creative by combining these in a new way.
3. Creativity = Curiosity?
In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield also had another interesting analogy. He writes something like, “Let the Muse lead you away from the warm comfortable glow of the campfire”. Sorry that I am messing with your analogies again, Mr. Pressfield, but this sounds too spiritual to me. I would like to use the word curiosity instead of Muse.
Curiosity is one of my three key values and is strongly linked with creativity. I even dare to say that it is a prerequisite for creativity. So get curious. Ask questions. Look at things from a different perspective. Read books, the ideas inside them are fertilizers for the ideas inside your head. Get out of your comfort zone. Think outside the box.
Perform your own silly experiment. Chances are you’ll get new interesting insights. If you don’t have any inspiration, try this. You may have noticed that while ascending a staircase, you can take 2 steps at a time. However, try to take 2 steps at a time while you’re descending a stair, and observe how you feel. Be careful, I’m not responsible for any injuries.
Your Turn, Again
Buy a notebook and pencil and have them with you at all times. Ideas might come when you would not expect them, and you would probably use them in ways you would not expect.