How to approach creativity like a scientist:
It can be frustrating, especially as an adult, to learn a new skill or change behaviour patterns that have become second nature.
I’m teaching myself tapestry weaving right now, and as soon as things take a wrong turn, which they invariably do, I hear the negative self-talk starting:
“Why am I trying this?”
“I’m too old to learn something new.”
“I can’t do this technique I want to, so I suck at this.”
You get the picture.
Learning something new is even more difficult when you are accountable to no one but yourself.
When we create, this is often the case. No one is looking over my shoulder when I weave. I’m not in a class. And, my family has zero interest. They could care less.
It’s up to me to push myself into new territory, despite the mean-girl tape running in my head. So, how do we do this?
When we were kids, if we were lucky, we had a parent, teacher, or coach cheer us on, talk us through disappointment and failure, and encourage us to keep going even on the days when it was hard or we didn’t want to.
If you’re a parent, you likely do the same with your kids. You know it’s okay for them to make mistakes and try things out. But, how forgiving are we when it comes to ourselves? It’s often much harder to let ourselves make mistakes and try new things.
Act like a scientist
To counteract this tendency, act like a scientist and stay curious. Practicing this cultivates curiosity instead of frustration. Approach creativity like a scientist and everything becomes an experiment where there are no failures, only discoveries. And, that’s pretty freakin’ awesome.
It took Thomas Edison 1000 tries before he was successful in inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Approach creativity like a scientist by doing the following:
Something didn’t work out? Make a note of why. What could you have done differently? Did you forget something critical to making it work? Jotting down these observations will make it easier to see where you went wrong and what you can change next time.
Also, be sure to take notes on the things that did work. Did a new technique turn out especially well? Did you find a surprising colour combination you weren’t expecting? Make a note of it so you can come back to it again in future projects.
Diagram and photograph
It’s valuable not just having notes but having a visual diary of your experiments. Consider sketching out your project and placing it next to the finished piece. Take a picture and put it side-by-side to compare your vision with the execution. Note any hiccups or pleasant surprises between the two.
Try taking close-up photos of various details of your piece. Is there something you especially love? Something that irritates you and you want to avoid in the future? The visual diary you create will be a useful tool as you move forward and an amazing creative record of your progress.
Instead of going all-in right from the start, do some mini-experiments and try things out. Sketch or paint out some of the details of a bigger piece. Practice doing a tricky technique a few times on its own. Sample different design ideas or colour combinations and see what appeals to you. Depending on the kind of samples you create, they could be added to your notebook.
Let everything be an experiment
So, embrace thinking like a scientist and see where it takes you. You might be amazed. Scientists allow everything to become an experiment. And, your life and your art will all the richer when you do. In life and art, commit to try new things, see what happens.
Remember to be gentle with yourself and make it easy. Let mistakes happen and learn from them. Learning something new is a journey, and it takes time before it becomes second nature.
Is there anything you’ve wanted to try, but you’re scared to be a beginner? Approach creativity like a scientist, experiment, and give it a go!
Originally published in Medium | Curiously Creative.
For more on learning new creative habits check out The Importance of Beginner’s Mind in Life and Art.