How Finding the Right Community Can Help Your Creativity
Van Gogh may now be widely recognized as one of the most influential and creative artists of all time, but he died alone and penniless. Why? Because 100 years ago, his canvas was perceived as the original hallucinatory work of a hermit sociopath. It was only years later, when other artists and critics defined new aesthetic criteria for art, that his work was accepted as creative masterpieces.
This post originally appeared on the Crew blog .
We may think of ‘creativity’ as an individual trait – something we do ourselves – but true creativity depends on a community of like-minded people. Peers who say, “This is new.” This is impressive. It’s better than what we have. ” Real creativity is innovative. It is destructive. This challenges and changes the way we think about established ideas.
But to get to this point, you need feedback. You need criticism.
In the early days of any project, it may seem like you are guarding a nursing baby – guarding your big idea from the world that wants to poke, nudge, and condemn it to pieces. Too much early feedback raises questions, paralyzing self-doubt, and that terrible panic that your big idea – the one you thought would change the world – might not be that big after all .
So when is the time to share?
When will we be able to get our work across to the masses and find out if we are really creative, or are we just smearing our thoughts on the canvas?
Creativity requires community
Mihai Csikszentmihalyi, who is probably best known for popularizing the idea of ”flow”, explains in his article in which he sets out his Systems Theory of Creativity :
“Psychologists tend to view creativity solely as a mental process, [but] creativity is as much a cultural and social event as it is a psychological one. Therefore, what we call creativity is not the product of individuals, but of social systems that make judgments about the products of individuals. “
The best creative ideas can come when you are alone at heart, but creativity itself requires a community of like-minded people who share a way of thinking and acting – who learn from each other and imitate each other’s actions.
Csikszentmihalyi’s systems theory explains that creativity consists of the individual and the environment, which itself has two aspects: the cultural aspect, which he calls the domain ; and the social aspect called the field .
In his theory, creativity is defined as “a process that can only be observed at the intersection where individuals, regions and fields interact.”
Think of it this way: your idea, whatever it is, may be unique and original in the domain , but without field validation – your peers and the community as a whole – it’s not entirely creative.
If, like Steve Jobs, we look at the creative process as connecting the dots, then Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of creativity is that the community chooses your idea as one of the connecting points.
Think of the powerful power chords and guttural screams of early punk. Sure, it might seem like a completely new way of playing music, but it happened in the music realm and was approved by the music listening community (well, at least most of them!).
Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you have something like chemistry where, prior to the adoption of the periodic table, there was no way for chemists to really show that they were innovating or coming up with creative ideas. Of course, there were original ideas, but there was no knowledge in the subject area, according to which new ideas could be added or evaluated.
As Csikszentmihalyi continues in his theory: “Without some form of social evaluation, it would be impossible to distinguish ideas that are simply out of the ordinary from ideas that are truly creative.”
It doesn’t matter where you work, it matters who you work with
So where do you find this group to support your idea?
Musician Brian Eno calls this community a “stage” – a group of creative individuals who make up an “ecology of talent.” Your script might be the people you work with. Or a community like Product Hunt or Medium . Or even a group of friends or peers.
Be that as it may, the only thing to always decide is not really who you are sharing your ideas with. But when .
Given the current trend of sharing your work and fast repetition, we rely too much on margins and not enough on our own knowledge. We release our ideas into the world before they are fully formed, at the risk of contamination. In fact, most “domains” that encourage sharing – like Medium for writing, YouTube for videos, Dribbble for design, and more – include some way to get massive feedback from your peers, whether through thumb up, heart or whatever.
And yes, we need feedback and validation, but being too active in a community or group early on can lead to things like groupthink or self-censorship where your ideas – often early on – are forced to align with current beliefs.
We need to find the right time in the creative process to bring ideas to the world. When they have outgrown their vicious stage and have received enough carapace to withstand some kind of external criticism.
When to ask for feedback (and how to accept it)
Confirmation and feedback from your community, colleagues, or even just someone close to you is an integral part of the creative process. But finding the right time to seek such confirmation can be a delicate balance. It’s too early and you risk missing out on connections that only you can make. It’s too late and you may be too far away to take the right direction.
Here are some different ways to engage your community and use them to test and improve your own ideas:
1. Using feedback as a collaboration tool
If you work with a tight-knit group of people or have a good relationship with your script, more often than not, you get feedback and confirmation of your idea earlier. Despite the fragility of your thoughts, the whole group is pursuing the same goal.
In creating A List Apart , designer and illustrator Cassie McDaniel uses design criticism as an example of feedback as a collaboration tool – a chance to get outside input and adjust your course along the way. She quotes Stephen Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From , as explaining how: “Often what turns a guess into a real breakthrough is another guess lurking in someone’s head.”
When the community you’re looking for validation is aligned with its goals, it’s safe to submit your ideas for validation earlier.
2. Design a feedback process
There is a difference between feedback and approval. In fact, you might view this idea of community “validation” more as approval than feedback. But in almost all cases, you will encounter criticism and feedback about your work.
Whether you feel the need to validate your idea, or are stuck and want to get outside help, it’s important to solicit feedback correctly.
First, understand why you are asking.
Is it because you are stuck and need help? Do you feel that something is wrong and want to invite an expert or colleague? Do you feel like you’re done and just want an objective opinion?
Then find the right people in your community — trusted creative colleagues, mentors, or teachers — who care about your interests.
If you’re a writer, hire an editor. Accountability on both sides will help improve the “that’s good!” to something that you can actually use.
Finally, know exactly what you need. As creative trainer Cynthia Morris explains:
“[Asks] ‘What do you think?’ it’s like giving someone a loaded and lit cannon and aiming it at your heart. “
Instead, try asking yourself these three questions before asking for feedback:
- What is your desired outcome?
- What kind of feedback would be best for you? Do you want micro criticism? Or is general feedback enough?
- How do you want news? Is it written? Orally?
The more structured a feedback session is, the easier it is to assimilate, assimilate and implement.
3. Seek confirmation
There are many articles out there that explain how to solicit feedback , but when it comes to criticism, there is only one golden rule: be prepared to defend yourself (not defend yourself).
Earlier in this post, I called your creative idea a child in need of protection. This is a common image because most of us think so. And no matter how much we want to arrive at criticism or feedback from a completely open and objective position, it is almost impossible to remain emotionally detached. But being too attached to an idea can blind you to the feedback that will lead it to the place where you will be truly innovative.
Leadership consultant John Baldoni, in an article for the Harvard Business Review, explains how defense opens you up to additional, unnecessary criticism :
“Very often [engaging in] defense provokes negative behaviors such as running or closing. You are trapped in the moment, and the intricacies of polite conversation disappear. It’s okay to be passionate, but you shouldn’t become overly passionate, that is, unwilling and unable to listen to others. “
Instead, according to Baldoni, we need to be prepared, patient and generous.
Be prepared to respond to comments and concerns that arise by understanding well what you are doing and why.
Be patient with the community you are looking for validation from (recognizing a good job can take as long as creating it – just look at Van Gogh!)
And be generous with those who criticize you. If you are in your environment or in a community that you want to make a change, know that deep down they all want the change to happen.
Creativity is the engine of cultural evolution.
But real creativity depends not only on having an awesome idea (and whether or not you are actually implementing it!), But also on changing the world. It’s not enough just to create. You need to be convinced.
We may all be geniuses in the bedroom, but those who leave home change the world.