This weekend I spent a bit of time with Andrew Zuckerman's work and (courtesy of Maria Popova) listened to this talk he gave at this year's 99% conference which contains a series of fantastic insights into his view on the creative process, wonderfully illustrated by soundbites from his work, most notably the Wisdom and Music projects.
Zuckerman talks about how it is the mix of curiosity and rigor that in his view gets creative projects done (he starts with Chuck Close talking about the myth of inspiration: "I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and bolt of lightning to strike you…you're not gonna make an awful lot of work. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you, and something else will occur to you, and something else that you reject will put you in another direction."). And I really liked what he had to say about the importance of honesty and hard work in achieving success (which can sometimes seemingly be completely subsumed by a view of the mythical power of god-given talent IMHO).
He also talks about something which seems seldom explored at a personal level but I'd suggest is a major factor in the strangling of great ideas before they've even begun to breath: the anxiety that comes with the new. For Zuckerman, as it does for many of us I suspect, this manifests itself in the doubts that can arrive once a project has begun, the self-sabotaging voices, the anxiety about originality and finding ones true voice. I can certainly relate to that.
It's true enough that the way in which we often think about our work can be dangerous. The striving for perfection, the time we spend worrying about being the expert, and being the absolute best right from the start. When in reality prefection isn't what's required, and it is actually doing the work, and learning from it, that really matters. To quote Frank Gehry: "Your best work is your expression of yourself. You may not be the greatest at it, but when you do it, you're the only expert in it."
And then I listen to Milton Glaser (also courtesy of Maria) talking about how the only way to deal with the issue of success and failure is to discover what we're really capable of ourselves – to not only find out what we might be truly good at, but to confront the reality of what we're not so good at:
As Ian MacKaye of Fugazi says at the end of Zuckerman's talk: "Success is not a goal…success is in the doing, always. The question is, did you make what you were trying to make…did you try."