I was recently sitting down with a young colleague who was seeking some mentoring. He is also a singer, and, like myself, was very curious to know what advice I could share about all topics as large as career arcs and as small as specific vocal technique. Because of the nature of our work, we talked about roles, scores, music, opera houses…. But the particulars aren’t as important as the truth around repeatedly making great art without becoming boringly predictable or faking excitement. And as we discussed, I realized that what we were talking about did not only pertain to the performing arts, but also to our work.
Sometimes at work, there seem to be two warring factions: process and creativity. The process team thinks that you can eliminate risk and establish expectations simply by following the same tools and path that have been followed before. The creative team thinks that working outside of the box, beyond the rules, in ways that aren’t expected, is where the most fruitful work can be found.
I’m sure you’ve worked in organizations both large and small with this type of tension between individuals and/or teams. This tension doesn’t need to be at odds with a team, but instead, its friction can propel all parties forward in the right direction. It’s about allowing processes to create a reliable, sustainable space for the creative unknown to become revealed.
How often do we take the time to stop what we are doing, whether it is following a path we’ve walked before or meandering about in the open spaces of our mind? How many times do we set up space for creativity to happen? One cannot exist without the other. Just as in performance, our work needs to be reliable yet contain enough space to be unique. You must make sure that you can rely on your experience and your abilities to bring you to the same authentic place every time: a place of confidence, expertise, and success. An artist must carefully choose his brushes, paints, and canvas before a masterpiece is created! But if we plan through and expect to control every aspect of our work from beginning to end, you will never know what is just beyond that you might have missed.
Variables and unknowns will always be present and instinctively we often believe them to be counter to our designs and frustrating to our expectations. Instead, embrace them as opportunities to create and experiment. They are unique chances to try something different and practice your abilities in the space. There lie excitement and opportunity in the aspects of our work that cannot be planned, that cannot be scheduled, nor expected. But there is failure at the end of creative endeavors if we start our execution (regardless of size!) without our best tools, hard-won experience, and unique temperaments.
How can you create space? Start small and repeat often. Creating this type of room is very scalable. Next time you are working on a task that is familiar or practical, plan to take a step in that process to change what you’ve done before and allow something different or spontaneous to happen. Maybe try a different technique, one you’ve read about or observed in someone else. See what comes out of this experience. You might find a joy that you have not found for many months. You might find ideas that were once not practical but now may be realized. You might also find that what you’ve done before is the best path forward. But without space, there will never be room for your effort to grow into the solution needed at the time in the place for your client.
For further ideas on this topic, I highly recommend Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit.
Now, it’s time to get to that space.