One of the truest markers of adulthood is that you can come up with a plan and stick to it. It’s a sign that you’re thinking ahead, that you have a good sense of what you need to do to get where you want to go.
The problem for many of us is we become so obsessed with the plan that we fear any derailments and distractions that might happen along the way. It’s a problem because those unknowns are where we, as creatives, tend to gain the most value.
My business partner and I learned this firsthand in 2013 when we set out to travel the country on a two-month speaking tour of the U.S. At the time, we had just completed graduate school and we had mutually decided that GFDA, then our midnight-oil-consuming passion project, deserved to be more than just a fling. With butterflies in our stomachs, we upgraded our commitment level to promise ring.
To cement our vows, we bought a van on eBay and began figuring out what the trip would consist of (in that order). As with most unframed problems, we had a tight deadline, no budget, and the misguided desire for a high ROI in the form of pop, pizzazz, and whiz-bang. At times, we were our own worst clients.
Once we committed to the idea of the trip, we found ourselves staring down the inexhaustible list of barriers between us and the alluring road-warrior lifestyle. Where were we going? Who would have us speak? What about the condition of our 1972 Dodge van: would it make the entire journey? Where would we get the money? How would we continue to run the business? Who would ship orders? What about our client work? The list went on and on.
We got to work trying to answer as many of these questions as we could. But we also knew that anything could change in a moment.
And that’s what ultimately made our trip a success.
The most important part of the experience was embracing the unexpected. As we drove state to state, we often found ourselves chatting over drinks into the wee hours with creatives of all types, from students to design legends in their own times. Most of them were just like us, soldiering on without having a clear view of the finish line.
In the face of ever mounting obstacles, it’s common for people to sit down and not-so-patiently wait for the muse to reveal herself. This is a catastrophic error.
The 9-5 of the muse is to inspire creativity, and nothing inspires creativity more than obstacles. Obstacles frame the problem and define the path. Her job is done, you’ve been given everything you need to show the world how brilliantly you can thrive in limitation. She’s gone home for the day to catch up on Game of Thrones.
This is the spirit of being a creative, and ultimately it was the spirit of our tour. Good creative work is nearly impossible if the journey starts with insecurely clinging to what the final product must be. Risk and uncertainty are the key ingredients of the design process, and without them, the best one can hope for are stale approaches, rehashed concepts, and meager improvements to someone else’s ideas. Innovative, long-lived, and thought-provoking never starts as easy, safe, and expected.
To truly be creative pioneers, we have to go and entertain all of the possibilities that are to come—especially those that are unpredictable. The obstacles will help to define the path and new and refreshing rewards will unfold along the way, seemingly of their own accord. You can’t force the answers at the outset; go out and explore the unknown and the answers will reveal themselves.