Oxymoronic Creative Hodgepodge

Thu, Dec 31, 2009

Articles, Creativity

Oxymoronic Creative Hodgepodge

Once hearing “creative process”, my thoughts adhere to all those linearly challenged creative geniuses who can barely stay on-task 30 minutes unless gripped by that enigmatic zone frequently termed flow.  Followed by an internal chuckle, this thought streams with ease to my bullet-pointed corporate process experiences so often responsible for stifling originality.  From there, I quickly drift to George Carlin’s famous oxymoron comedy bit, or Seinfeld’s original observation about the words “head” and “cheese”.  Similarly, it’s not apparent that the words “creative” and “process” should ever be next to each other for any reason.

Charmed by patterns in human innovative discovery and a voracious drive to transform imagination into cash, creative process models pervade the high-priced consulting circuit: “now people, throw the pillows on the floor and let’s start our proprietary free association game.”  Furthermore, creativity on demand is achieved every day by both the gainfully and questionably employed, so naturally, what engaging entrepreneur wouldn’t mortgage the corporate farm for an appropriately hyped creativity assembly conveyor?

When we announce the ownership of a dog – despite delightful diversity – the vast majority of us spawn a dog vision; an invariant form of a four legged animal with a sloppy tongue.  Likewise, each artist has a vague framework within which a new design is formed – despite delightful diversity – there ought to be some invariant creative succession.

Talent is a black box.  From the original moment where innovative and artistic talent becomes a personal obsession, admirers remind creative savants of their bewilderment: “how do you do that?”  Moreover, talent can be perplexed by comparable talent. Notoriously, fear and loathing (blended with admiration and occasional awe) will engulf an artist while experiencing competing talent. Analyze all you want, some got it, some don’t, but the big truth is: we all got something.

Simplistically speaking, creative process models are analytic attempts to demystify the black box.  For those who missed their original moment of creative obsession, but still expect to solve their bewilderment, process models offer a structure to that whole imaginative hodgepodge.  Not meant to overcome unfortunate genetics, models can provide the big picture of flow, organize projects, and aide team building; as if to say, “here’s how, follow me” to those short of intrinsic enlightenment.

One key: don’t be fooled by “proprietary creative processes” boasted by propagandists in pursuit of groundless differentiation.  There isn’t any magical creative formula available only through private concealing for the paranoid entrepreneur; diversity offers flavor varieties but no definitive account for breakout innovation; it’s still a dog.  Alternatively, look for measurable results, not an impressive process model; differentiation is in the skill of their groundwork, imagination, craft, analysis, and ultimately, the result.

Watch a Caulder Mobile in a gentle breeze to the instant of hypnosis and you’re observing how a model of creative process should act: non linear yet oddly disciplined – unafraid to repeat, but unable to duplicate – never fully accomplished.  Squint. Watch long enough. See a pattern?  Well, at least we know where the strings are attached, what objects are in play, and from which direction the wind blows.

Not typically a breeze, creativity’s challenger is the conflict between imagination and reality.  Resolution arrives from the clever combination of past analogies to form future directed realities.  Neuroscience may help detail the synaptic sequences, but practice dictates individual approach.

Never disregard luck, but without immersion, analogies run dry.  Is it possible to solve a puzzle without domain fluency?  Simple ones perhaps, but don’t count on a valuable outcome.  You don’t always need to know where you’ve been to get where you’re going, but it does help avoid retraced steps.  True creativity rejects the beaten path without veering so far astray that direction evaporates.

Whether considered in split seconds, or tortured mulling over countless intervals, talent is, in good measure, a judgment.  Look at creativity models of the last century and my guess is you won’t find many that present judgment as a point on the star, segment of the wheel, or point of a bullet.  Yet, judgment is what normally delineates talent; beautiful, poetic, analytically sound, audibly emotional, rationally successful judgment.

Judge too early, too loosely, too often, or just plain badly, and the result is predictable, self indulgent, mundane, pointless, or undecipherable.  Superior motor control, lofty IQ, or other enigmatic genetic gifts aside, creative genius is a judgment that can take a lifetime of honing to maturity.

Ten years ago I wanted to learn single note improv blues guitar; still do.  First things first, learn the language.  My Blues 101 involved learning – note for note – all the B.B. King licks I could manage – as if I was following a Julia Childs recipe. Trust me; they are relatively “approachable”.  The great B.B. King is neither the fastest nor the most complex of our blues masters.  Nonetheless, I quickly learned that the secret of his greatness was judgment: note sustain, tone, vibrato, phrasing, attack, and all the nuances that make us feel the notes through our emotional core.  Combined, the effect is distinctively B.B. and definitely not B.D. While I learned the sequences, he possessed the unexplainable: exquisite judgment.

Judgments are no more apparent in any creative discipline as they are in photography; my native profession.  I’ll leave it for others to determine if my development was arrested at 13 when I discovered my inherent ability, but virtually all progress hence hinged on refining aesthetic judgment.  In retrospect, as a teen, I was a crude neophyte whose ambition was ignited by the praise of the bewildered (see above), and fanned by more mature and charitable artists.  A more curious facet is the source of prodigy, but mostly, I prefer to lock that in the black box.  I adore the mystery of talent’s seed.

Grab a hand full of coins, cup them in your two hands and shake.  Do you like the way they line up in neat columns?  The vertical order rises from a unique horizontal coin position.  Judgments while horizontal dictate vertical results.

Horizontal is creative – vertical is not.   Going prematurely vertical governs imaginative insights, guarantees truncated discovery and eradicates creative lactation.  Being horizontal is a murky state convenient for picking oddly related analogies off the floor of the mind and securing them to a revolutionary mosaic.  Arranged vertically, important pieces can remain hidden.  Wrongly commit to a group of pieces at the expense of others and the beauty of the mosaic is compromised; imagination deficient.

Sleep on it, mull it over, give it a rest; Allow the horizontal pieces to reshuffle so they appear fresh.  Wait for a breeze to move the mobile.  Ask a question.  Research a lead.  Immersion guides critical illumination.  Reframe it – fight fear – use imagination, rinse and repeat.  Stepping away allows myopic concentration to widen.  Concentrating on a single puzzle piece may come at the expense of the whole if we don’t hit the refresh button occasionally.  Warning: this will appear as lethargy to others and may feel like exhaustion.

Seek balance.  All creatives (creatives: those who make being creative a profession) own different measures of need-to-complete. Call it creative patience.  How long and when to dwell horizontal is the question.  Since going vertical is akin to burning creative bridges, incorrectly abandoning experimentation at critical stages stifles originality.

Going vertical implies refinement.  The mosaic is roughed in but needs grout and polish. Go ahead, replace those one or two pieces that initially seemed to fit but now get in the way of the overall affect.  It’s a beta version, time for development then verification and back again.

Static (aka – noise) demands refinement.  Static is that which impedes quality results.  Whether attempting to reach the emotions of a listener or spectator, exceeding the expectations of a user, aiding the efficiency of a process, or whatever the creative challenge, exquisite balance of horizontal and vertical reduces static.

Please avoid putting these in bullets, but Confrontation, Immersion, Imagination, Development, and Validation are what I get when I strain at the term “creative process”.  I’m not the first by any calculation, the last hundred years produced a thousand variations, but these are what I attach to my strings while waiting for a breeze; it’s my creative mobile.   Does anyone know what head cheese tastes like?   - Bruce DeBoer

updated from an article published in 2006
corporate, creative, Creative Process, Process

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