Sunday, October 4, 2009
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp - I must say that when I picked The Creative Habit off the Personal MBA reading list I thought it would be a serial entrepreneur’s guide to creating value. I definitely did not expect it to be an American dancer/choreographer who was more famous for her Emmy and Tony awards than for her business acumen. However, don’t let her background fool you. Twyla has put together an amazingly insightful guide to preparing yourself for creative success. Her mentality is that all great creative works do not have to be a lightning bolt of inspiration. She argues that creativity is a skill and all great skills can and must be honed through habit, exercise, repetition, and passion. Understandably she writes examples that she is familiar with and much of the examples in her book relate to dance, however she finds a way to make all her examples relevant to all readers from businessmen to athletes to writers. Honestly it is books like this one that make me value the Personal MBA experience. I can honestly say that a year ago before I started my PMBA reading quest that I just looked for cool looking business books off the shelf at Borders or the library. The self education program has led me off my beaten path so to speak and into a realm of quirky new books that still fill my desire to better my business intelligence yet expand my breadth of knowledge and interest. This book is a must read for anyone who thirsts to remain creative in a world that drives the status quo. Here are my notes from this great book:
I walked into a white room:
- The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more. And this routine is available to everyone.
- Perennial debate between the belief that all creative acts are born of a)some inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration or kiss from god b) hard work
- Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. That's it in a nutshell.
- There are no natural geniuses
- "People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times." Mozart
- More than anything this book is about preparation: in order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative
- We think of creativity as fresh and new while habit implies routine and repetition. This paradox is where creativity and skill rub up against each other
- Creativity takes skill and skill is developed through exercise, repetition, learning and reflection that's painstaking and rewarding. It takes time.
Rituals of Preparation:
- Its vital to establish some rituals - automatic but decisive patterns of behavior - at the beginning of the creative process when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up or going the wrong way.
- A ritual eliminates the question why am I still doing this? You're committed. Also a friendly reminder that you are doing the right thing.
- Every one's rituals are different. The only criterion: Make it easy on yourself.
- By making the start of the sequence automatic you replace the doubt and fear with comfort and routine
- Rituals give us confidence and self reliance
- No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear; the key is to learn how to keep free floating fears from paralyzing you before you've begun
Exercises: 1. What is your one tool that feeds your creativity and is so essential that without it you feel naked and unprepared 2. Build up your tolerance for solitude. Solitude is an unavoidable part of creativity. Self reliance is a happy byproduct 3. Face your fears 4. Give me one week without...
Your Creative DNA:
- Each of us are hardwired a certain way and that hardwiring insinuates itself into our work
- Most people never get a handle on their creative identity this way, they take their urges, biases, and work habits for granted. But a little self knowledge goes a long way.
- If you understand the strands of your creative DNA you see how they mutate into common threads in your work.
- Your creative autobiography:
1. What is the first creative moment you remember: making shapes out of the texture on the ceiling
2. Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it? No
3. What is the best idea you've ever had? A business idea
4. What made it great in your mind? It seemed original
5. What is the dumbest idea? Don't know
6. What made it stupid?
7. Can you connect the dots that led you to that idea?
8. What is your creative ambition? to create something I am passionate about and share it with those I care about
9. What are the obstacles to this ambition? Time, effort, partners, confidence, money
10. What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition? finding the right players and starting
11. How do you begin your day? Shower
12. What are your habits? What patterns do you repeat? working out guitar
13. Describe your first successful creative act. Mask of Sanity band
14. Describe your second. Checking For Charity Corporation
15. Compare them. One was results driven and had outsider expectations
16. What are your attitudes towards money power praise rivals work play?
17. Which artists do you admire most? Musicians and entrepreneurs
18. Why are they your role models? Truly creative and create things that better life
19. What do you and role models have in common? I try and do the same
20. Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you? Wife family and friends
21. Who is your muse? Heidi
22. Define muse. A focus in my life a source of inspiration
23. When confronted with superior intelligence or talent, how do you respond? Try to build a relationship, emulate, collaborate
24. When faced with stupidity hostility intransigence laziness or indifference in others how do you respond? Distance anger fight in that order
25. When faced with impending success or threat of failure how do you respond? Work hard and worry because both are often close to the same thing
26. When you work do you love the process or the result. Both
27. At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp? some aspirations
28. What is your ideal creative activity? creating a start up or a band
29. What is your greatest fear? Wasting my life
30. What is the likelihood that either answers to the previous two questions will happens? Good and not good respectively
31. Which of your answers would you most like to change? Would like to make the last two Certain and impossible
32. What is your idea of mastery? exceeding your goals and keep going
33. What is your greatest dream? live out a fulfilling life.
Exercises: 5. You can observe a lot by watching 6. Pick a new name
Harness you memory:
- having a good memory doesn't make you creative. Creativity is more about taking the facts, fictions, and feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them
- Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art. If all art is metaphor then all art begins with memory.
- Start copying. Travelling the paths of greatness even in someone elses footprints is a vital means to acquiring skill
Exercises: 7. Name that muse 8. Trust your muscle memory 9. Mining for memory in a photograph
Before you can think outside of the box you have to start with a box:
- The box is the raw index of your preparation
- "The quality of my creative output is a function of how diligent and clever I have been in filling up my boxes"
- The box gives the opportunity to reflect on your performance
- Most useful when getting going, when lost and after you've finished
- Box contents are best predictor of creative project success
Exercise: 10. Begin!
- Scratching is changing your environment, looks like borrowing or appropriating, ideas are all around you
- That's why I scratch for little ideas, without little ideas there are no big ideas
- Scratching is what you do when you cant wait for the thunderbolt to hit you
- Musicians know this. Don't create a full song right away. Build with riffs etc.
- Scratch among the best and you will automatically raise the quality of your ideas you uncover
- If you scratch the same way all the time you'll end up in the same place with the same old ideas
- Scratching is not about control and repose its about unleashing furious mindless energy and watching it bounce off everything in your path
- Scratching is where creativity begins. Its the moment where you ideas first take flight and begin to defy gravity. If you reign it in you'll never know how high you can go
Exercises: 11. chaos and coins 12. Reading archaeologically. "The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." Mark Twain. Read backwards in time. 13. A dozen eggs. Start as an egg and expand to different positions 14. Give yourself a little challenge 15. Take a field trip
Accidents will happen:
- There is a fine line between planning and over planning. You never want planning to inhibit the natural evolution of your work
- Transforming your ideas rarely goes according to plan
- In order to be habitually creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative but good planning alone wont make your efforts successful. Its only after you let of your plans that you can breathe life into your efforts
- Habitually creative people are prepare to be lucky
- Mark McCormack " Yes I admit that I was lucky. But I saw it and I was ready for it, whereas most people wouldn't know a stroke of luck if it bit them on the nose."
- In creative endeavors luck is a skill
- Planning lets you impose order on the chaotic process of making something new, but when its taken too far you get locked into the status quo and creative thinking is about breaking free from the status quo even from you you made yourself.
- Another trap is the belief that everything has to be perfect before you can take the next step
- Perfectionism is more like procrastination
- No matter how limited your resources they're enough to get you started
- Necessity will continue to be the mother of invention
Exercises: 16. Pick a fight with the system the rules your rituals your routines 17. Our perfect world 18. How to be lucky - be generous 19. Work with the best
- Spine begins with your first strong idea. You intend to tell this story, explore this theme, employ this structure
- The spine keeps you on message but is not the message itself
Exercises: 20. Make a picture that's worth a thousand words 21. Spinal tap 22. What is you MQ?
- Must master the underlying skills of your creative domain and build creativity on the solid foundation of those skills
- Skill gives you the wherewithal to execute whatever occurs to you without it you are just a font of unfulfilled ideas
- Skill is how you close the gap between what you can see in your minds eye and what you can produce: the more skill you have the more sophisticated and accomplished your ideas can be
- Art is a vast democracy of habit
- All (insert profession) lead the same life. Habits don't disappear when you become recognized honored rich famous and otherwise validated
- The great ones never take the fundamentals for granted
- You may wonder which came first; the skill or the hard work. But that's a moot point. The zen master cleans his own studio. So should you
- Practice is like a clock. Work a skill until you master it. move onto the next and the next. Eventually you will come full circle to the task you began with because of all the time you've spent on other things
- In its purest form inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is not possible
- Hemingway "The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing."
- Never have a favorite weapon
Exercises: 23. Take inventory of your skills 24. Play 20 questions 25. Package your time 26. Take away a skill
Ruts and Grooves:
- When you have hit a rut you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it
1. You have to see the rut 2. Admit that you are in a rut 3. Getting out of the rut
- A groove is the best place in the world. When you're in it you have freedom to explore everything you question leads you to new avenues and routes, everything you touch miraculously touches something else and transforms it for the better
- You only appreciate a groove in hindsight. Its hard to even notice it when you are in the middle of it. You don't congratulate yourself and say I am in a groove
Exercises: 27. Do a verb pick a verb and act it physically 28. Build a bridge to the next day stop when there is still some energy left and when you know where to go next. 29. Know when to stop tinkering 30. Brew ruts into grooves
An A in Failure:
- Every creative person has to learn to deal with failure because like death and taxes it is inescapable
- If you aren't failing you aren't taking enough risks
- When I tape a 3 hour improv dancing session with a dancer and find only 3 secs useful I am earning straight A's in failure. Do the math. I have rejected 99.7% of my work. Painful, yes but for me absolutely necessary
- The more you fail in private the less you will fail in public
- "I never learned anything from a match I won." Bobby Jones
- Failure creates an interesting tug of war between forgetting and remembering. Its vital to be able to forget the pain of failure while retaining the lessons from it
- First there is the failure of skill. Only solution is to get to work. Develop the skills you need
- Then failure of concept. Get out while the getting is good
- And failure of judgement. Takes a steeliness of character and intense dislike of failure to avoid
- The worst is failure of nerve. Just know the certainty of experience that looking foolish is good for you. It nourishes the spirit.
- Failure through repetition. Its a problem if it forces us to cling to our past successes.
- Failure from denial. Denial becomes a liability when you see something that is not working and refuse to deal with it.
- Failing and learning from it is necessary. Until you've done it you re missing an important piece of your creative arsenal
Exercises: 31. Give yourself a second chance 32. Build your own validation squad. a)pick people who have talents. b) happen to be friends c) don't feel like they're competing with you d) have hammered my work in the past
The long run:
- There is no long run without devotion commitment and persistence
- It is the ideal state where nothing is wasted where every detail feeds your art because it has nowhere else to go - The bubble
- When creativity has become your habit; when you learned to manage time, resources, expectations, continuity, and purity of purpose - Then you're on the way to an artists ultimate goal; the achievement of mastery.