“Name one thing you would do if you knew you wouldn’t fail.”
I think that was a question on the Rare Bird job application. Or perhaps it was a bumper sticker, standing out from a crowded field of “Namaste,” “Visualize Whirled Peas,” “My Karma Just Ran Over Your Dogma” and my personal favorite, “Jesus Would Slap the Shit Out of You.”
Whichever it was — job application query or bumper sticker — it’s an interesting question. Take failure out of the equation, and think about what you would go for if you knew you would succeed.
But what is success? What is failure? And who gets to define those terms, anyway? When you separate the wheat from the chaff, the real culprit that is revealed is fear.
Picture this: you’ve always dreamed of writing a song. A love song. A love song about a dog and his deep affection for a squirrel. It’s a country song, so you’re planning to entitle it “I Cain’t Get Rover You.” When you think about writing it, you get excited. You come up with some great lines (“I could tell by the way you hissed and then ran up a tree/What you really meant was this love’s meant to be/And when you chattered and chirped and threw nuts on my head/I know it’s your tiny brain’s way of playing cu-pid”). It feels good to let your pent-up, inner creative out to play.
But then fear starts giving the “What If?” lecture: What if no one likes it? What if people laugh, scoff, make fun of it — and you? What if the idea’s no good? What if you can’t really write a song? What if these pants make my butt look big? Fear seeks approval, and it will do so all day long if allowed.
We were talking in the office the other day about young children, their love of play and their lack of inhibition. They’ll draw any picture you ask and expect to see it proudly displayed on your refrigerator. They make up stories and sing-song all day. They dance like no one’s watching, except everyone is.
When did we lose what is so obviously innate in human nature? The desire to be creative, to express ourselves without fear of judgment?
The bigger question is: how do we get that back?
Creativity is something we need to give over to every day. And it’s not just for the artsy-fartsy types anymore. Our developers and programmers absolutely have to tap into their brand of creativity in order to solve problems. They can’t just keep plugging the same numbers and codes into a a computer and expect different results. They need to think creatively in order to achieve the desired results. To try and fail and try and fail again and try until it works.
Albert Einstein said, ““I’ve never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.” Henri Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.” Scooby Doo said, “Ruh roh, Raggy.”
Telling fear to take a hike doesn’t mean smooth sailing. There are still plenty of “ruh roh” moments to be had. Even when you understand that risk is involved, taking the leap to listen to your creative instincts and being willing to have the experience is worth getting comfortable with risk. The untold secret of creative people is that the process of letting go becomes addictive, spurring a creativity endorphin rush that you’ll want to experience again and again.
“We have to be continually jumping off cliffs, and developing our wings on the way down.” (Kurt Vonnegut, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young). Even at Rare Bird, a place that’s stuffed with creative types like nuts crammed in a squirrel hole (apt on so many levels), we need that reminder to not be complacent, to trust our instincts, to listen to our inner creative that wants to come out and play.
So write that song. Or that banner ad. Or that sales sheet. Or that blog post. Write or design or code, or play, sing or dance like a dog in love with a squirrel. Not literally. Just, you know, in the spirit of the thing.
And if someone decides to throw nuts at your head? Well, nutters gonna nut. Just wag your tail and get back to lovin’ what you do.