Don’t fall in love

Today I’m doing some idea generation work; divergence as we in the biz like to call it. I actually began this work yesterday but I didn’t get very far. Why? I forgot one of the most important rules of creativity: don’t fall in love.

Creativity requires a certain… love the one you’re wth attitude. You can’t get attached to an idea because one of three things will happen.

  1. You’ll end up sticking to that idea so rigidly you fail to see something better
  2. You’ll realise that as the idea grows you can’t control it, can’t keep it pure, and you’ll find this heartbreaking
  3. Or… well, read the next bit to find out

The following is a piece I wrote many moons ago. Today I think it stands as a reminder that I may know the rules but I don’t always remember to follow them.

For a while it was perfect. For just a little while it was just so perfect. It was the summer. The evenings were long and warm and I was in love. I knew I‘d found something very special. Something I would want to tell my grandchildren about.

But it wasn’t to be. What had begun with a rush of adventure and discovery, what looked so promising, ended, not with a bang, but with a slowly dawning realisation that, due to a change in senior personnel, the project had lost its major sponsor and would never get off the ground.

Yes, gentle reader, this was the one that got away. And not a day goes by when I don’t think about it.

I try not to regret. I try to think of how great it was while it lasted. But like all heartbreaks there will always be a little bitterness to accent the sweet. Even as I move on to new things, exciting things, I will always wonder what might have been.

I won’t use names, but what I can say is that it was a project I was working on where the client was a major, prestige retailer. We had been asked to bring to life for them the future of retailing, to create something that would point the way to the customer experience of tomorrow. What we came up with was, and I won’t let my deep personal love for this idea be any kind of a factor here, utterly beautiful.

We proposed a live, interactive retail laboratory. We would gather together the smartest people in retail tech and have them take part in a collaborative hack-a-thon to co-create a range of unique ideas which we would then go ahead and test, live in a major retail location. We wouldn’t just propose the future of retail; we’d bloody well prove it too! Real people, real money, real goods, a real store and real feedback about how customers wanted to engage with their retail experience.

I told you it was beautiful.

Here is the truth of it; the creative process is a lot like falling in love, with all the attendant emotional turmoil, irrational fear and, of course, heartbreak, that goes along with it. It begins with a dawning realisation that you have in your hands something really great, butterflies start dancing in your stomach. Maybe you try to ignore it, you’ve been hurt before, but it keeps tugging at you. The obsession grows. You think about it all the time. You daydream about it. You tell people about it until they actually leave the room to stop you blathering on!

And then there’s jealousy. You guard your idea, like the precious thing that it is. Finally you know you have to open up, let the idea grow and take the risk that it might change, that it might not stay the way you dreamed it would be. Your perfect vision, your dream, might have a life of its own.

Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but in the end it’s always something different from that which you imagined. Such is the beauty of both love and creativity – you can’t control either. You can’t own the creative process; in order for it to flourish it has to be free.

So be kind to people doing creative work and forgive them when they get angry, when they natter on or when they seem crestfallen for reasons that you can’t fathom. There’s a reason they’re acting so crazy; you remember what it’s like to be in love, right?

Idea generation works best if you can avoid attachment. This is damn hard. But it helps if you try to nurture a sense of trust in yourself. No matter how great one idea is you have to believe that you have an even better one in you. You almost always do.


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