Notes from Creativity, Inc.
Decisions are made, usually for good reasons, which in turn prompt other decisions. So when problems arise - and they always do - disentangling them is not as simple as correcting the original error. Often, finding a solution is a multi-step endeavor. There is a problem you know you are trying to solve - think of that as an oak tree - and then there are all the other problems - think of these as saplings - that sprouted from the acorns that fell around it. And these problems remain after you cut the oak tree down.
No one thinks about the assembly line as a place that engenders creativity. Until that point, I’d associated manufacturing more with efficiency than with inspiration. But I soon discovered that the Japanese had found a way of making production a creative endeavor that engaged its workers - a completely radical and counterintuitive idea at the time. Indeed, the Japanese would have much to teach me about building a creative environment.
This principle eludes most people, but it is critical: you are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged. To set up a healthy feedback system, you must remove power dynamics from the equation - you must enable youself, in other words, to foduc on the problem, not the person.
As Andrew Stanton says, “There’s a difference between criticism and constructive criticism. With the latter, you’re constructing at the same time you’re criticizing. You’re building as you’re breaking down, making new pieces to work with out of the stuff you’ve just ripped apart. That’s an art form in itself. I always lfeel like whatever notes you’re giving should inspire the recipient - like, ‘How do I get that kid to want to redo his homework?’ So, you’ve got to act like a teacher. Sometimes you talk about the problems in fifty different ways until you find that one sentence that you can see makre’s their eyes pop, as if they’re thinking, ‘Oh, I want to do it.’ Instead of saying, ‘The writing in this scene isn’t good enough,’ you wsay, ‘Don’t you want people to walk out of the theater and be quoting those lines?’ It’s more of a challenge. ‘Isn’t this what you want? I want that too!’”
While the process was difficult and time consuming, Pete and his crew never believed that a failed approach meant that they had failed. Instead, they saw that each idea led them a bit closer to finding the better option. And that allowed them to come to work each day engaged and excited, even while in the midst of confusion. This is key: When experimentation is seen as necessary and productive, not as a frustrating waste of time, people will enjoy their work, even when it is confounding to them.
The principle I’m describing here - iterative trial and error - has long-recognized value in science. When scientists have a question, they construct hypotheses, test them, analyze them, and draw conclusions - and then they do it all over again. The reasoning behind this is simple: experiments are fact-finding missions that, over time, inch scientists toward greater understand. That means any outcome is a good outcome, because it yields new information.
Another trick is to encourage people to play. “Some of the best ideas come out of joking around, which only comes when you (or the boss) give yourself permission to do it,”, Pete says. … “I’ve heard people describe creativity as ‘unexpected connections between unrelated concepts or ideas.’ If that’s at all true, you have to bein a certain mindset to make thos econnections. So when I sense we’re getting nowhere, I just shut things down. We all go off to something else. Later, once the mood has shifted, I’ll attack the problem again.”
Similarly, in Japanese Zen, that idea of not being constrained by what we already know is called “beginner’s mind.” …
PAying attention to the present moment without letting your thoughts and ideas about the past and the future get in the way is essential. Why? Because it makes room for the views of others. It allows us to begin to trust them - and, more important, to hear them. It makes us willing to experiment, and it makes it safe to try something that may fail. It encourages us to work on our awareness, trying to set up our own feedback loop in which paying attention improves our ability to pay attention. It requires us to understand that to advance creatively, we must let go of something. As the composer Philip Glass once said, “The real issue is not how do you find your voice but … getting rid of the damn thing.”