OVERVIEW: This article was inspired by research I conducted with Mastercraftsmen & Women in 2016. As part of that effort, I wrote a series #LookToCraftsmen posts that provide context for the book is set for publication in 2019. Some tips to help free the mind and connect with your innate creativity.
A few years ago, I spent time studying master craftsmen and women and how they get better at what they do. This work culminated in a book, Look To Craftsmen, pending publication. That effort kicked off a deep fascination I have human being's penchant for creativity and it offers some advice for living a more inspired life, of living and working with Craft. Far from the often romanticized amber sunbeams cast across wood shavings and worn leather aprons, the process is often messy and riddled with contradictions. For example, I describe master ceramicist Louise Pentz's method for evolving her work emphasizing constant editing--to the point where she actively deconstructs her work or proactively damages it. Some might think her "focus on destroying refinement extreme or merely artistic license. However, she knows giving up an attachment to perfection she will reach new thresholds in her knowledge." In this way, Craftsmanship is not a result; it is a process (of learning by doing). Craftsmanship is about standing apart from the mainstream, by standing out through unique, quality work. As Louise herself explains it, "You’re hoping for the mistakes, because...too much control and the outcome loses some of its essence. Our natural tendency is to be judgmental and controlling. This has two negative consequences: we are less happy and our work is mediocre."
Of course, few of us consider ourselves creative in the way that craftsmen and artists are creative. But creativity is so much more than natural talent. It is a state of mind. Craftsmen and women have an attitude that they bring to every task. There is a general air of spontaneity. They question everything about the world and the way things work, breaking things and reconstructing them again. As a result, they are continually seeing their medium through new eyes, the eyes of a genuine learner, even though they have so much experience. Not only are they solving problems, but they are also finding new ones all the time. It's a way of being.
Prescribed solutions do not work for the perplexing, complex problems we face today. In order to adapt, we need to build up our subjective intelligence systematically. Those of us who don’t have language for subjective qualities have to learn it. This often impacts us where it counts: following dreams or advancing professionally. If you are a person who consciously works at these capabilities, these tips might provide some insight on how to develop your creativity with deeper focus.Along with creativity, the concept of failure is starting to become popular again, which is heartening. But few people have experience true failure enough to know what it is in order to court the kind of risk it requires. We are told to "fail fast" as if it were a small thing. We know, inherently, that each one of us needs to have courage. We need to be willing to fail, learn from that, get up, and try again.What’s most surprising to me about creativity and transformative learning isn’t, as most research suggests, that people haven’t realized how powerful it can be. We know, in theory, that learning, asking tough questions, curiosity and creativity are powerful leadership behaviors.
What’s most surprising are the subtle ways we resist these qualities. I don’t believe we need to learn the benefits of creativity, per say--we already know them. I believe we need to focus on learning to tame our resistance to allow creativity (and the failure that comes with it) to happen--that, is what sets Craftsmen apart.
Here are ten hallmarks to help you unlock your inner Craftsman and tap into your innate creativity:
1. Inspiration and creativity cannot be forced or approached directly.
Sometimes a deadline can help spur your creativity. Other times a specific task or job requires some level of imagination to complete. But generally speaking, focusing on the result doesn't achieve the inspired performance we are seeking. You cannot achieve inspiration through sheer will. You don't wake up and say to yourself, "today I will be creative." And, the more you want it the less likely it is to appear. Creativity requires space. Craftsmen do not approach gaining expertise directly. There is no straight path, no “one thing” that will get them there—it’s everything they do, together.
2. Know when you are in the presence of bias.
From elementary school to the workplace, we have a bias against individual expression and unique choice. Craftsmen feel stifled by environments where they need to conform to a standard. They are in the business of elevating standards, requiring them to question the status quo. The standardization of education and work really kills creativity. How can students and 9-to-5ers overcome rigid structures? By tapping their intuition. When you find something that ignites your curiosity and interest, find an outlet to express it.
3. Balance IQ with EQ.
Achieving craft in our decision making means learning to use judgment, imagination and improvisational discernment in our own work. Turning simple problems into craftsman’s problems means relaxing our grip on what we perceive to be objective data (there is none). We need to value subjective knowledge and better integrate our multiple intelligences toward creative solutions.The stonemason sees a relationship between the way shadows play on one side of a rock and structures the rest of her vision around this emerging relationship; a CEO weighs market reactivity and customer pressure, then makes a far-reaching decision on shifting culture more aggressively toward more sustainable practices. As they work, neither the mason nor the CEO limits their judgment strictly to data or deductive reasoning.
4. Remain unfazed by failure and fame.
Failure and fame are two sides of the same coin and one that craftsman find of little value. No matter how devastating the failures might be, and no matter how awe-inspiring their successes, the measure of performance is not what matters to most craftsmen. Failure and fame are traps that true craftsmen work hard to avoid. Craftsmen rely mainly on their own evaluations. They compare what they produce to the ideals they pursue. They evaluate their effectiveness based on how closely they create what they intend. They judge what they produce by assessing the subjective quality of those qualities displayed.
5. Manage Feelings and Feel.
True craftsmen know the difference between emotional feelings and feel in their medium. They know that the feelings they have for their work—whether upsetting reactions or motivating passions—can distract their attention from the critical connection they have to their medium…their perception and recognition of certain qualities. To keep their perception and recognition abilities in the presence of failure, success, drama, difficulty, exhaustion, discouragement, challenge, derivation, hurt, fear, anxiety, grief, uncertainty, excitement, and the like, craftsmen cultivate the ability to discern feelings from feel. When feelings threaten to flood perception, the craftsman remains open, curious, empathetic, interested, fascinated, determined, brave, sensitive, intrigued, surprised, attentive and focused.
6. Go after process and outcomes, simultaneously.
Craftsmen develop their outcomes as they engage the process, at the same time. Sometimes this happens on a grand scale, as when Zingerman’s embarked on a 15-year vision. Sometimes this happens on a smaller scale, as when Sanna determines and adjusts felt for a particular piece she is working on, or Eric learns from a particular piece of joinery that isn’t working. What is common to all is what Donald Schön called, the ‘conversation with the situation.’ This conversation generates and then reshapes both ends and means as the situation changes in response to the craftsman, and the craftsman learns.
7. Be compelled by your subject.
Craftsmen are fascinated by their medium, so much so, it's a compulsion. They think about the idiosyncrasies of their medium all the time. This comes from total involvement in the work and full immersion in all the qualities and aspects of the medium. It’s a kind of love and affection. Despite adjectives of “total” and “full” this relationship or connection to the medium is a never-ending learning process. There is no point at which the craftsman feels he or she knows all there is to know. Experiences change from day to day—whether using clay or managing a business—and there are always qualities yet to be practiced. These may remain overlooked until subtle shifts of awareness bring them into focus. Once experienced, qualities can be interpreted and used to guide action. Achieving this unity, craftsmen acquire feel in their medium.
8. Embrace paradox.
Craftsmen welcome the tension of paradox. They enjoy melding two seemingly contradictory ideas that lead to some new understanding of their medium. We accept a lot of false dichotomies in our lives, such as the imaginary line between work and play. Craftsmen are good at trusting their intuition but also being highly rational in their analysis of whether their work is complete, or good, or in need of development. Craftsmen are highly sensitive but are capable of staying true to their values even under significant pressure.
9. Remain Open. Hold knowledge lightly.
To push the boundaries of what they know, craftsmen demonstrate expertise in response to the qualities they recognize and, at the same time, generate original responses when the situation inspires. Craftsmen are committed to building skill, working effectively, and achieving control in their medium; and, they also maintain and openness, seek novelty, generate variation, and invite surprise. Balancing these competing forces is a temporary achievement that craftsmen know they must leave behind. In transient moments of balance or flow, craftsmen combine expertise and ingenuity to create ideas, products, performances, and outcomes that are both excellent and original.
10. Express beliefs, understanding, and awareness in action.
Using our imagination is one way we adapt. Being deliberate about how we approach problem-solving, and doing it in a way that helps us adapt and improve is a beautiful human quality. Subjective intelligence involves the crafting understanding of experience, as reflected in the grace of storytelling and elegance of using imaginative models to simplify the complexity of the problems we deal with.
All of these qualities suggest that Craftsmen think differently because they do something very distinct from everyone else: they create contemplative practices in their lives, or habits, that force them to think about their priorities, goals, and work with more depth than people using their job as a means to an end. That depth pays huge dividends when it comes to quality of work and gratification in one’s work. Christine Haskell, PhD is a researcher, writer, and leadership consultant specializing in personal and professional mastery. She emphasizes deep self-awareness and reflection with practices that stick, so people can take responsibility for their own development. By taking charge of their own learning busy leaders become more intentional about developing their own path for the future.