"When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college--that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forgot?'" (Howard Ikemoto,
How do we "forget" how to draw, or write, or dance? We were all so able when we were young. And then the critique, judge, and jury invade our being, and we stop ourselves from even trying. We don't want to look silly or incompetent.
I'm reminded of a workshop that I took many years ago in San Francisco called "The Painting Experience." In the living room of a Victorian house, easels with blank paper faced the walls. In the middle of the room containers of paints in a rainbow of colors sat in long lines. The idea was to paint in the moment and not worry about what we were going to paint, how to do it, or the outcome. We were instructed to go the middle of the room, pick up a paintbrush from a color that we were drawn to, go back to our easel and just paint whatever, then put the paintbrush back and choose another color, if and when we wished. It took time for most of us to let go, be free with the paints, and to be fully present in the process.
Ellen Langer, social psychology professor at Harvard University, says that the main roadblock to creativity is our "relentless self-evaluation." She suggests that we learn to be "confident in our uncertainty." Langer continues, "The fear of making mistakes keeps people sealed in unlived lives."
How do we let go of self-evaluation and allow ourselves to make mistakes? I recommend starting with small experiences. For example, what about driving to work using a new route and finding one thing you have not noticed before along the way. Or, do the same thing when taking your daily walk or bicycle ride. Prepare a new recipe or make an old recipe and add a new ingredient. Sleep on the opposite side of the bed. Select a different combination of clothes to wear from your closet. Then reflect on these experiences. What did you notice? How did it feel to do something a bit differently?
Sometimes changing up these small things can be motivation to try other new things in our lives. We realize that it is not that big a deal to make a mistake or live in uncertainty. We might just discover something new in ourselves or in our community. We might just remember what it was like to draw with the freedom of a five year old.
Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity
- TED talk about creativity in organizations