When I host poetry workshops, one of my favorite exercises is to prompt participants to write the worst poetry they can. People come into those rooms with all level of comfort in their ability, and being in an environment they’ve stepped into with the expectation that they’re there to create can create a nastily perfectionist pressure that ultimately hinders their ability to write at all. So I pose them this prompt and get all manner of wonderfully awful lines, like:
If love is a crime, then call me a criminal. I can’t imprison my feelings for you.
Her hair is like thousands of fibrous strands protruding from her mostly round scalp.
Cats are tiny lions meowing up a watermelon.
This exercise invariably leads to fascinating and ultimately valuable outcomes for a number of reasons:
When we start at the “bottom,” it’s easier to acknowledge and celebrate the work that comes after it instead of getting down on ourselves for how it doesn’t stack up to the work of our artistic heroes.
When we give ourselves permission to write bad poetry, we allow ourselves to step towards subject matter that we might genuinely be drawn to writing about without putting pressure on ourselves to do so in an inspiring way.
[This one is probably the most interesting consequence of this exercise] When we set out to create poorly, we are indirectly identifying the things we find to be aesthetically repelling and unpleasant. When we do that, we simultaneously build ourselves a roadmap for how to make the poem better.
That last point is particularly fascinating to me, and one that business innovators can learn a lot from. When we set out with the high-level goal of changing our systems, products, and organizations for the better, it can be difficult to know quite where to start because we are often essentially reaching into the dark for something that holds. But we do often know what things we don’t want; things that would make our problems worse, or move us farther from our intended vision for change.
Here’s how to put this into practice: the next time you identify a problem that you decide you want to make traction on, before you do anything else, make a list of all the things you could do to make that problem worse. What you’ll notice is that in doing this, you identify variables you didn’t previously realize you cared about, and subsequently develop a new clarity of pieces of the puzzle you may be able to focus on to move yourself in the direction you’re dreaming of.
So in short, before you make your problems better, make them worse.
In addition to being valuable, it might even feel the slightest bit cathartic.
(And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. Because we’d never ACTUALLY going to put any of these damaging ideas into practice.
But that’s for another post).