Get Messy. Stay Messy.
I had two conversations with two mentors this week that shook me from a stupor I didn’t realize I’d started to slip into recently.
The first conversation was with a thought leader whom I’ll leave nameless. This person developed their main IP nearly a decade ago and has been sharing it on stages across the world ever since. This is one of the most creatively-minded people I’ve ever met – a true maverick – and they’ve undoubtedly been leaving a real impact on audiences everywhere they go.
But they’ve also been gradually growing disillusioned by the realization that the work of polishing and sharing (and sharing, and sharing) what they’ve learned has caused them to grow detached from the spirit of exploration that led them to a body of work worth imbuing other people’s lives with. Instead, for years this person has been sharing some vaguely tweaked flavor of the same idea week after week without building upon it all that much. Their presentation is pristine and their clients are happy, but this person is beginning to look back at the last several years of their career as a creative and thought leader and is realizing that the time they could’ve spent deepening that intensely personal act of searching that led them to the ideas they now share has instead been spent polishing and regurgitating, all because the short-term demands of the market they’re in seem to push them in that direction.
The second conversation was with creator and storyteller Jay Acunzo, who pointed out that in the era of solopreneurship and content marketing, lots of creators and creatives conflate the practice of amplifying their ideas – sharing them on LinkedIn, Twitter, or wherever else they go to drive traffic – with their actual, literal, creative practice: the hunt for and discovery of new ideas that results from spending time on their craft.
For these creators, instead of focusing on that practice, their craft becomes a sort of game: one in which the goal is to make snippets of work they’ve already created look “good enough” to merit being shared as widely as possible in the name of driving followership, rather than truly nurturing their creativity and value as a thought leader by consistently tending to the quiet but messy work that creative exploration by definition is.
Then, there’s me.
After developing the ideas I now share with audiences across the world over the course of a couple of years of definition (and another ten or so of creative, professional, and personal experience), I now find myself falling prey to a similar trap to the one the two creators above riffed on in our conversations: somewhere in my head, there’s a little voice that wants to create work so good that it’ll enable me to sit back and not worry about creating anymore.
Man, that’s embarrassing to say out loud.
I think in part, it’s because trying new things can be scary, and confusing, and messy; especially when you’ve already found something that you know works. The thought of having arrived at The Thing that’s so valuable that it justifies its creator sitting back and letting the idea do its thing while the creator serves as its mere ambassador – it’s a comforting thought. It offers a level of control and certainty.
But… circumscribing our role to some pre-existing idea’s ambassador would kind of be a betrayal to the audiences that we serve. I mean, it was the process of searching and thinking and creating that led us to the ideas that some small group of people out there give half a damn about. Right?
Well, for me at least, today is as good a day as any to begin to honor that practice – that craft – of searching again. I’ll be sharing what’s on my mind here every Friday.
I have no idea what scope it’ll cover yet, and some of it will probably read as gobbledygook. But that’s kind of the point.
I want to spend a smaller fraction of my time performing knowledge, and a greater fraction of time trying to find out. Sharing the fully-baked idea onstage is the 2% of my job that people see, but the messy searching is a way bigger portion of my job than the part audiences get to see at their company kickoff.
Consider this your invitation to embrace the messy in your own practice, too.