By: Chuck Frey
According to Susan Besemer, learning the Creativity Two-Step is almost as easy as country line dancing, but much more productive to your creative output.
The Texas two-step is one of the most popular of America’s Country and Western dances. It’s not hard to learn and lots of fun to do. The two-step dance dates from the early days of the “Ragtime” era, and was even sometimes called the “Ragtime.” Today, the dance is referred to simply as “Two Step” – very often with some sort of modifying adjective such as The Cowboy Two Step, The Cajun Two Step, and so forth. The real beauty of the two-step is that it can get you out onto the dance floor quickly, stepping around to the sound of some great music, and having a wonderful time.
Likewise, the Creativity Two-Step is as easy as pie to learn and just a little harder to do. But, it’s as natural as breathing in and out, and it keeps your innovation efforts charged with energy! Even if you’ve got two left feet, you can become more creative by doing the Creativity Two-Step.
Being creative comes naturally to human beings (and even some animals). It has to do with finding new and attractive solutions to problems. There’s a natural rhythm to the creativity cycle with basically two phases, just like breathing and the beating of your heart. This same cycle works for creative artists, as well as for scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurial innovators.
The essence of the Creativity Two-Step is to manage your creative energies by separating your efforts into two alternating types of activity. During the first phase, you consciously think broadly, looking for lots of ideas and options. In this phase you let your imagination flow, writing down notes or ideas, sketching out the broad picture, or playing around making a quick and dirty prototype to help you think and to communicate your ideas. All the time that you’re in this phase, you keep that picky critic or editor out of your hair. You just let the ideas flow as quickly and as possible, with no restraints. At this time it’s common to think of the ideas as a “brainstorm” or a flood of thoughts, some rational and sound, others more off the wall.
During the second phase, you invite your mental critic or editor back to your world. During this phase, you look over what you’ve done and select what you want to keep and what you want to toss out. Or, during this phase, you might invite another person to give you feedback, so that your own biases, either in favor or against your work, don’t blind you.
Allan Gurganus, the author of “The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” recently described his writing process on the Bob Edwards Show. He said of the process that “It’s all catch and release,” – he catches a lot of ideas, and then lets some of them go. He stated:
“One of the oddities of being a writer is you have to both be very childlike and trusting. At first you have to be very invitational. And then you have to be very, very smart and somewhat ruthless, but never at the same time… But it’s this business of flooding it out with faith then honing it down with coolness and an intellectual integrity.”
You can do the second phase of the process alone (the part where you “release” those ideas that don’t work so well), but it often helps to get feedback from others about what works and what doesn’t work for them. Recently, NPR’s All Things Considered aired a piece about how Los Angeles pop artist Chris Cooper and screen writer and author John August have each used social networking media like Flickr and Twitter to get quick feedback from others about their works. They have used that feedback to help with the second part of the Creativity Two-Step, making use of their followers’ comments to strengthen and develop their works.
It’s great to be able to get constructive feedback so quickly. Modern technology can really speed up the process, but it’s important to have your ideas firmly down on paper or in some tangible form before you invite that judgment. If you’re trying to “release” while you’re trying to “catch,” you may just let that big one get away!
It’s not only in the arts that the Creativity Two-Step is practiced. Bill Buxton, a principal researcher at Microsoft, expressed the same principle for the engineer, designer, or inventor at an Institute of Design Strategy Conference of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago:
“At least in the way I speak about it, ‘design’ has to do with a particular way of thinking and working. Fundamental is the notion of multiples. I have a simple way of describing it: design is choice, and there are two places where you can apply creativity. First, in the creativity that you bring to generating and enumerating the repertoire of potentially viable meaningfully distinct options from which you choose. Second, in the creativity that you bring in deciding upon the heuristics amd criteria according to which you choose from among those options.”
Keeping the metaphor of the Creativity Two-Step in mind can help you remember to separate the two activities of creative production. Practice the steps by yourself, and with a partner. You’ll soon be dancing! You may occasionally stumble and sometimes make mistakes, but you’ll often get it right. As Scott Adams said in The Dilbert Principle, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”