All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
— Pablo Picasso
I am amazed at my daughter’s productivity. She makes things at an astonishing rate – pictures, ideas, animals, pretend situations, etc. All day, everyday. Really all night too – she wakes up and tells me about dreams that she has had that blow me away. Then she sits down and draws a handful of pictures while telling me a story about her pet elephant as she makes up words with her cereal. And then I go to work and can’t think of a single idea.
What can I learn from her? And after thinking about it for 27 seconds I’ve realized: she just avoids 3 common obstacles to creation that all adults face.
#1 Thinking you need more skill before you start.
Kids don’t sit down to fingerpaint and think ‘I’ve never taken a class on this, I don’t know how to do this’.
#2 Being afraid of bad ideas, ‘wasting time’, of being mocked.
Praise decreases as we get older. Part of why kids create is that they are encouraged in most things they do. Adults rarely feel their work praised but often see it ignored, mocked, or dismissed as being a waste of time. (Skeptical of this? Write a blog, make a hat, or draw a picture and put in on your cubicle wall and then ask people what they think of it)
Something inside you has to value the act of creating in order to just ignore this type of feedback. You have to value the act not the result before you can focus on doing the act more.
In terms of fear of bad ideas I think the thought chain looks like this:
Hmmm -> I can’t think of any ideas for this t-shirt -> Cause I’m not creative
What if we put a bunny on it? -> That sounds stupid -> I’ll be made fun of since bunnies are girly -> Forget it
You think children think like that?
#3 Evaluating ideas as they are generated.
If you combine the first two and make the process more efficient you end up with what I think is the most common problem with people being able to imagine as they grow up – they have gotten very good at very quickly dismissing what their imagination leads them towards. This ‘clogs the pipe’ so badly that they simply stop generating ideas – its more efficient to just have only safe ones.
The trick is to separate the act of creating from evaluating it for dismissal. As you are making something you are constantly evaluating it and improving it, but this should be done by your taste and not your experience. And this difference is the difference between children and adults.
Have you ever sat in a brainstorming meeting with people that don’t believe that they are creative? (i.e. have you ever pulled your own eyelashes out with pliers?) They normally start with silence until somebody starts throwing out really bad ideas and then people don’t immediately criticize them. Smart organization focus on *not* evaluating ideas while they are being made.
Generating ideas good or bad will always be a good thing to practice and bad ideas when mutated, combined, or twisted sometimes become really good ideas. But only if you don’t listen to the little voice telling you that you don’t know how, you will be mocked, or that the idea won’t be good.