How to Move Beyond Inspiration
Why is it that more often than not an artist’s freshman effort outshines his sophomore effort?
And why is “beginner’s luck” so prevalent in just about every field of creativity?
These are questions I’ve been thinking about lately. And just so we’re tracking, let me share an example with you.
Back in 1995, Jars of Clay released their first album. It did phenomenally well. To this day, there are many folks who own that first album, but none of the follow-ups.
Since 1995, Jars has made great music, but (in my opinion) it took them a few years and three albums to come close to topping the beauty and cohesiveness of that first album. And it took them a few albums more (and a total of 14 years) before they released an album that I would consider better than that first album.
So — why did it it take so long to best that initial achievement?
Well, I have a theory about that.
When we’re starting something new — something that requires creative effort — we are moved by inspiration. There is some inciting moment or force that propels us to create.
This inspiration is where “beginner’s luck” comes from. You might think of inspired creativity as the romance of the honeymoon. It feels good, exciting, effortless.
Then, after inspiration has given birth, reality sets in. The moment has passed. Now it’s time to dig in and work.
And it’s during this second phase where so many people fall down. They get so used to the inspiration, they aren’t prepared for exerting themselves without the training wheels of inspiration.
This can lead to a string of mediocre creativity, a feeling of burn-out, and the nagging thought that “Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.”
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way, especially if you’re prepared. Here are three ways you can move beyond inspiration and continue to tap into the wells of creativity inside you.
1. Create — even when you don’t feel like creating.
Dan Kennedy gets up early every day and has a dedicated writing time. By having this routine built into his schedule, his brain looks forward to that time. There is an expectancy that creativity will happen.
In my reading, I discovered that Dan credits this one habit with much of his success in the copywriting field. He gets up every day and writes, no matter if he feels like it or not. In a very real way, he schedules his creativity.
2. Be inspired by others in your field.
For many people starting out, it’s a dream that inspires you. The idea of achieving wealth and fame as a rock star, a novelist, a painter, a direct mail copywriter.
But this is not the only way to be inspired.
You can also be inspired by other people in your field. More specifically, you can be inspired by their work. Have you ever read the liner notes of music albums? Often the band credits various groups and musicians for how they’ve influenced (inspired) the band’s own direction.
So here’s a suggestion: Study the work of peers you admire. Be inspired by it. Model them when you’re lacking direction or drive. I think you’ll find it easier than you thought to “refill” your creative tank.
3. Master the art of synthesis.
Synthesis is the process of forming new ideas out of old ones. Roger von Oech shares a great example in his book A Whack on the Side of the Head.
What Gutenberg did was to combine two previously unconnected ideas: the wine press and the coin punch. The purpose of the coin punch was to leave an image on a small area such as a gold coin. The function of the wine press was to apply force over a large area to squeeze the juice out of grapes. One day, Gutenberg, perhaps after he’d drunk a goblet or two of wine, asked himself, “What if I took a bunch of these coin punches and put them under the force of the wine press so that they left their image on paper?” The resulting combination was the printing press and movable type. (pp. 5-6)
So arguably the single greatest invention in the last 600 years came from synthesizing two ideas into a new idea. That’s the power of synthesis.
One easy way to become better at synthesizing ideas is to get outside of your field.
If you’re a retailer, for instance, don’t just study other retailers. Go study manufacturing businesses, or service businesses, or advertising businesses. Take the ideas you find there and see how you might be able to apply them in your own business.
This is how innovation happens.
Unfortunately, it’s too easy to get “land locked” in your own industry. And when that happens, you wind up with “idea incest” — everybody recycling the same ideas over and over again.
Don’t let that happen to you. Get out of your bubble and see what other people are doing. You never know when you’ll be re-inspired by some random observation — and be able to easily best your freshman efforts.
-Ryan M. Healy