I’ve been on a biiiiig writing kick recently. I publish a poem every week, but have been stuff I’m excited about just about every day for the last few weeks.
But this spike in output hasn’t had anything to do with what I do when I write. Instead, I’m pretty sure it’s resulted from what I do when I’m not writing.
Let me explain: I love hills, parks, trees, and lookouts. And though I generally try to get out to one of the above at least once a week, nearly every day of the last couple of months I’ve been getting a ton of joy from venturing out into the city in search of a hill to climb. I’ll sit at one of my favorite vistas, flanked by panoramic views and wind-drunk wildflowers, and find my hand dumping scrap after scrap of new ideas onto the journal in my lap.
Enough about me though; here’s why I think this is experience is important to consider.
People are starting to appreciate the reality that everyone has the capacity to be creative. But unfortunately, this belief in the democratization of creativity seems to also have led many to believe that creativity doesn’t require nurturing or nourishment; that a person can fulfill their creative potential by creating alone.
I vehemently disagree. Throughout my recent writing kick, themes related to nature, San Francisco, and home have absolutely dominated my journal. And of course they would, right? Those are the things I’ve been exposing myself to. What would my writing look like if I were to stay locked in my room 24/7, only ever staring at my journal and never reaching for new stimuli?
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron theorizes that all humans have a “well of creativity,” and that the act of creating draws water from that well that eventually needs to be replenished. She also theorized that what replenishes our well of creativity is, in essence, experiences. She summarizes her argument like this: to write about the world, you must live in the world.
I agree with about half of Julia’s framing: experience and anything that provokes an emotional response in us can fuel our creativity, and there can be a ton of value in seeking those things out to keep our creative spirits in motion. Where I disagree with her, though, is in her framing of human creativity as “well-water.” I think a better metaphor might be an oak sapling: it only grows – it doesn’t shrink – but we do have to water it with rich experience to help it grow, even if the effects of that nourishment don’t appear obvious to us until we see where it’s come in the 5 years since contact.
(I’m no arborist, by the way, so I might be totally wrong about having to water an oak tree for it to keep growing… but hopefully you get the spirit I’m going for with that).
When we consider the core inputs into what we create as creatives and innovators, we tend to think of things like our expertise and mastery of mechanics, but the experiences that inspire us are easy to dismiss as irrelevant. But if we spent all of our time focusing on just making the deliverable, we would miss out on some real opportunities let inspiration drive our approach to the work we do – and end up at outputs that we couldn’t possibly have without it.
Of the many definitions for creativity and innovation (which, yes, are broadly the same thing in my book), one of my favorites boils down to something like “the synthesis of existing resources to lead to a new and useful outcome.” The reason I like that definition so much is that it does away with the notion that creativity happens in a vacuum and acknowledges that innovation is catalyzed by our ability to notice problems that frustrate us, opportunities that cause us to wonder, and (most relevant to this post), joys that we want to bring more of into the world.
As an HR leader, are you spending time with (or observing) people – family members, statespeople, even fricken cartoon characters – whose ethos you admire and that drive you to reconsider what it means to be empathetic and compassionate?
As a marketer, are you consuming and revisiting the stories from your childhood that make your heart swell and aiming to bring that feeling into the campaigns you build?
As a CTO, do you spend time exploring the world you inhabit to collect the sort of observations and experience that help you clarify what sort of future you want your product to play a role in building?
Our work is serious, but so are our joy and inspiration. Spending enough time in the world to understand what makes us feel deeply can provide us with the charge that enables us to continuously grow the perspectives that are the most important ingredient to whatever work we each intend to contribute to the world.