Creatives Fail. They Don't Fear Failure.

“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” James Thurber

I've been thinking lately about the importance of curiosity as a habit of mind.

Over time many IdeaFestival presenters have spoken anecdotally about the psychology of creativity, and of risk and failure and fear, of the characteristics of successful creators and what "success" in that context means. I'm thinking specifically of the many artists that Creative Capital and Art Without Walls have brought to the festival, as well as "Little Bets" author Peter Sims. For artists and entrepreneurs a certain psychology must prevail in order to create. Successful artists and entrepreneurs think differently, and one of those habits of thought, I believe, is an ability to entertain doubt and fear without being immobilized by doubt and fear.

In a recent article, psychologist Douglas Eby, who often writes about the psychology of creativity, talked about recognizing fear for what it is.

[Robert] Maurer [a UCLA clinical psychologist] notes, 'If you find the right relationship, does fear go away? No. You publish your first novel, does that make fear go away? No. So your skill at being able to nourish yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them is your single greatest attribute as an artist and as a human being.'

Fear is good. We view fear as a disease. It’s not a disease.

Insofar as it tells us that something is amiss, fear is just information. The danger for creatives, or for anyone else for that matter, is when it becomes a pathology. Elsewhere, Eby quotes the late actor Jack Lemmon, who said that "Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure." What successful artists and entrepreneurs do so well is to become comfortable with failure, by which I mean they recognize that failure is a temporary state and that efforts to avoid that state not only don't work, they stifle the curiosity needed to create in the first place. Worse, if failure has become a feeling, those efforts may well shut the door on a different self-understanding.

Creatives manage perhaps to cultivate a skepticism about their own doubt. Recognizing their fear, one of the habits of mind of innovators is to avoid ruminative thought and to focus, when they're stuck, on the answers they can provide. They work on the ability to re-frame the situation or, simply, to ask a better question.

Related, comedian and writer Ruby Wax talks about practical steps toward "taming" the anxious mind beginning about the 8:30 mark in this RSA video. Give it a watch.

A psychology of creativity would also include, as Jonathan Fields so aptly put it, an ability "to live in the question" long enough to avoid the easy outs.

Thanks for reading along this year! I'll talk to you in 2014.

Stay curious.


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Thank You for Making 2013 the Best Year Ever

As the year draws to a close, we want to take a moment to wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season. We realize that your strong support and loyalty allows IdeaFestival to continue to grow, so please accept our most sincere thanks for making 2013 our best year ever!

If you’ve been missing the energy and excitement that is “IdeaFestival,” take a few moments out of your schedule and watch our “Best of IF 2013” video, embedded here. Enjoy!

We also encourage you to take a peek at our IF University upcoming calendar. The January line-up includes a new class, "Close Encounters of the Kentucky Space Kind," that includes an interactive demonstration from Kentucky's recently launched satellite at the time it passes over Kentucky. Be sure to sign up for our IF University mailing list so you don’t miss a single class moving forward.  

And don’t forget to listen to the latest programming on IF Radio. This online-based program features thirty-minute conversations with some of the world's leading innovators and thinkers across the full range of interconnected fields—including science, business, entrepreneurship, design, the arts, philosophy and education. 

Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our blog (by RSS or email) and our IF newsletter to get the latest news and updates about IdeaFestival 2014, being held in Louisville from Sep. 30th - Oct. 3rd. We look forward to seeing you there.

Until then – Stay Curious!

Kris Kimel

Nikky Finney on Poetry as Ballet: "The Knees Get Stronger"

Art is not about communication. It's about communion - Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, IdeaFestival 2013

A National Book Award winner for her book of poetry, "Head Off and Split," Nikky Finney talked about her life and poetry in an electric 2012 presentation, and subsequently sat down for the brief interview you can watch here.

Finney compares the practice of writing, which she traces to a very young age, to dance, specifically, ballet. But the comparison only goes so far: unlike the dancer, the writer's "knees grower stronger" over time.

Asked in an October Poetry Foundation interview whether poetry can be taught, she says it can:

It can be taught, yes! It can be learned. What you were born with: sensibilities, maybe, you’re born with spirits, maybe, but one of the things that drives me crazy are students of poetry thinking they can walk from their dorms into the classroom and write poems. There is a discipline of poetry, a study of things to pay attention to. There are also things that you have to come with that have nothing to do with the technical side of it. Recognizing who you are in the world and your empathy, your ability to not just look at your own life but at other people’s lives. Things can be taught and things can be practiced. You need to know that your poetry muscles can get bigger.

The challenge for any self-identified sensitive soul who wants to achieve in the arts is to channel that hyper-empathy in ways that do not come off as simply maudlin or teary. She further identifies "discipline," the often hard won recognition of "who you are in the world" and an ability to empathize, or put oneself in another's shoes, as key to that success.

I suspect that those three elements important to the success in many other fields as well. And while there are no guarantees that recognition for any single insight will be forthcoming, without "paying attention" and a commitment to look for and hear out the "other lives" and the other perspectives that enter our orbit, the creative project is doomed at the beginning. "Who you are in the world" requires each of us to live long enough in the question to recognize the answers when they appear. That process can and will be uncomfortable, but in my view discoveries that do not cost us anything are rarely evidence of promise but of pathologies.

Finney recently returned to her home state of South Carolina to teach at USC, having spent the prior 20 years at the University of Kentucky. It's the commonwealth's loss.

New and improved IdeaFestival Conversations will be posted beginning in January, and will feature some of your favorite 2013 speakers such as Maria Konnikova, Chris Bliss, Oliver Burkeman and Ariel Waldman. Until then, please visit IFTV to experience the IdeaFestival all over again!

Do you use RSS? Take the blog's feed and have individual posts delivered to your feed reader as they are made available.

Stay Curious!


Curiosity is "a Better Question"

"The best answer is the next question.... The more curious you stay the better chance you have to be that person in the right place at the right time...." Comedian, Writer and Juggler Chris Bliss

Why stay curious? Featuring responses from 2013 speakers Chris Bliss, Ariel Waldman, Beth Comstock, Alex Stone, Lance Hosey, Maria Konnikova and the Innocence Project, let us share with you why curiosity matters.

Chris Bliss' full presentation of "comedy as translation" may be found here.

I hope to see you next year at the IdeaFestival, Sept. 30 - Oct. 3!


Building Playgrounds

Does your organization make time to play or is it content to build playgrounds?

On his blog Sunday, facilitator Johnnie Moore made an important point about innovation that bears repeating. Moore uses the quote below from some slides annotated by designer Ian Fitzpatrick, who, speaking before the planning program at Boston University’s College of Communications, talks about playgrounds as idealized places for creativity and play, and then connects that to the professional practice of the audience members.


Ben Durrell, who’s now with Artists for Humanity, but spent years heading up exhibit and experience design at the Boston Children’s Museum, gave a talk at this year’s Planning-ness summit in which he asked people to draw the place they played as children. He later related that almost no one draws pictures of playgrounds.

Playgrounds are adult constructs of idealized child play: safe, repeatable, easily constructed from component parts, requiring that the child bring little of their own to the experience — these are my words, not Ben’s. They serve a parental need, clearly — give the children a place to play outside, in clean air — but they’re not designed purely for children, who often prefer a made up game in an open field.

I bring this up because I think that we, as marketers and advertisers, build a lot of playgrounds. We bandy about references to ‘user-centrism’, but frequently we find ourselves in the business of creating safe, repeatable, componentized experiences designed largely to bathe people in brand juice. I think we can do better.

I was struck by the idea that the playgrounds one might encounter in parks are necessarily an adult project, and secondly, by Fitzpatrick's connection of that idealized result to the real world practice of marketing and communications. Like the building of playgrounds, marketing is much too often backward looking. Unlike play, which has no preferred outcome and may with enough time reveal something extraordinary, marketing too often prefers "safe, repeatable, componentized experiences" - as, sadly, do many of the clients creative agencies serve.

Elsewhere Fitzpatrick asks his audience to seek out experiences, which is another way of saying get out of your head, and about building practices of curiosity (I loved that idea!), one of which he labels "falling in love with people." He contrasts that "humanistic" idea with "systemic" thinking.

To practice curiosity is to, necessarily, seek out the messy (and occasionally amorphous) perspectives of others. To be great at planning, or I’d posit at any pursuit charged with shaping things for people, requires both that we embrace and develop a profound respect for people who are not like us....

As an aside: when you’re getting to know the people for whom you’re designing and making things, avoid the temptation to derive truth from the most charismatic among them.

Fitzpatrick has made his slides available on Slideshare.

Make the IdeaFestival part of your practice of curiosity. Plan to attend IdeaFestival 2014, Sept. 30 - Oct. 3. And take the feed so that you never miss a blog post again.

Stay curious!


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