Peter Skillman famously released a TED talk about The Marshmallow Challenge – a team of four is given 20 strands of uncooked spaghetti, one yard of tape, one piece of string, a marshmallow, and 18 minutes to build the tallest freestanding structure with the marshmallow perched at the very top. According to the data gathered from years of performing this experiment with different groups all over the world, recently-graduated business students averaged the lowest success rates. The groups with the highest success? Kindergartners.
I have a two-year-old daughter and we pulled out her building blocks recently to pass the time. I must have been in the right state of mind because I started seeing all of her playtime strategies not as a parent but as a forward-thinking creator. Here are some of the things I pulled away from that session that can be applied to any artist’s technique when they are consistently creating new works.
Think Of Others
With a two-year-old, there isn’t a lot of doing things just for herself. She is either playing with others, playing (or performing) for others, or imagining her toys as characters and friends. This takes the “responsibility” of creativity off of her and puts it all on supporting the other person. This way, she can just listen, respond, and add her creative voice.
Think of your ideal audience with your creations and cater to them, for them, with them.
Don’t Force It
This could also be called “If it’s not time to go potty, don’t make yourself sit on the potty.” Sometimes it’s just not time to create, so forcing it will only make you feel stressed.
There’s no schedule to when your brain will generate the next great idea so keep feeding it with things that inspire you and get ready for nature to call.
Be Proud Of What You End Up With
Rather than insisting on a perfect product the first time around, my daughter is constantly adapting her structures, gaining valuable feedback of what worked and what didn’t with each step. When she finds a version she likes, she claps her hands with a “Yay!” followed by “Let’s start over and do it again!”
There is no “final” version of any product in the creative marketplace. Reinventing yourself is a powerful tool (and necessity) as an artist and a business. So build, learn, finish, (enjoy), and start over.
Start With A System
If she doesn’t know where to begin, she’ll find all of the red blocks and start there. Or all of the blocks with similar shapes and sizes. Or with a goal in mind such as building a house for one of her friends (Remember the “Think of Others” thing?). Just that mental place to begin allows her brain to start with structure then infuse it with creativity as the process goes along.
Structure can the life …or death… of creativity. Use it as a tool, not as a crutch.
Think Outside The Box
With everything she does now, she doesn’t know there are instructions or blueprints for building certain pre-determined buildings. So she looks at the pieces she has to work with and puts them together… in a new way each time. (Arguably, it’s easy for her to think outside the box when she isn’t aware that the box even exists yet.)
Following others’ blueprints for success can be beneficial to kickstart an idea but then it must adapt into its own creation in order to achieve personal success.
“You have to be odd to be number 1.” — Dr. Seuss.