Try Again...Fail Better: On Creativity

Try Again…Fail Better: How to Be More Creative

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

–Samuel Beckett

In the past few days I’ve come upon two excellent posts offering practical advice to creatives seeking better to generate creative flow. This first piece is from Oprah’s website, and is written by psychiatrist Phil Stutz and psychotherapist Barry Michel. The points they make are taken from their book, The Tools: Transform Your Problems Into Courage, Confidence and Creativity.

This second piece is a summary of a lecture given by comedian John Cleese (Monty Python, Fawlty Towers) at the 2012 Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

My favorite point from Stutz and Michel:

New ideas don’t come to those who wait and think; they come to those who act. Let’s say you want to write a screenplay. To find an idea that you like, you must be already writing. Pick a story that feels “wrong” —those are always easier to find than ones that feel “right.” Write a brief summary of the story and make sure you finish it. Then pick another story and do the same thing….

For most people, it’s so painful to be wrong they can’t act. They need to accept, in fact to desire, the pain of being wrong. But when you’re willing to be wrong, you take your ego out of the creative process, and that’s when the unconscious will reward you with an idea that turns you on.

Cleese told the story of Brian Bates, a psychology professor at Sussex University. As Cleese’s point is summarized on

Intrigued by how the creative mind works, Bates chose to study the work practices of architects, because the profession required the combination of two brains in the creation of beautifully groundbreaking yet structurally sound buildings.

“He did a very simple test. He asked various architects to name who, in their opinion, were the most creative architects in the field. He then asked those creative architects to tell him what they do from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed. He then went to the uncreative architects–without perhaps explaining that’s why he was talking to them–and asked them the same thing. Then he compared the two. He discovered two differences, and neither was to do with intelligence.”

The first thing he discovered is that the creative architects knew how to play. They could get immersed in a problem. It was almost childlike, like when a child gets utterly absorbed in a problem. The second thing was that they deferred making decisions as long as they could. This is surprising.”

“If you have a decision to make, what is the single most important question to ask yourself? I believe it’s ‘when does this decision have to be made’? When most of us have a problem that’s a little bit unresolved, we’re a little bit uncomfortable. We want to resolve it. The creative architects had this tolerance for this discomfort we all feel when we leave things unresolved.”

“Why would those two things be importance? The playfulness is because in that moment of childlike play, you’re much more in touch with your unconscious. The second is that when you defer decisions as long as possible, it’s giving your unconscious the maximum amount of time to come up with something.”

Not being afraid–even wanting–to fail (as long as one continues to not just sit there but to actively generate ideas).

Becoming playfully immersed in a creative problem, like a boy playing Legos.

A tolerance for the discomfort of having a creative problem unresolved.

These are just three of the takeaways from these insightful and practical meditations on creativity.

How do they resonate with your own experience of being creative?


2 thoughts on “Try Again…Fail Better: How to Be More Creative

  1. Thanks for your comment, Jan! And please–you go ahead and enjoy your Legos! When I wrote that I was simply thinking of the way my son gets immersed in the world of his Legos.

    I see from your website that you’re a fellow middle grade writer. Best wishes as you finish your book!

  2. I definitely could use more personal permission to fail.This is just what I needed to read. Could it be a boy or girl or child playing with Lego? I used to play with Lego and feel defensive when it is attributed just to boys.:) Good advice. Thanks!

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