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Another misunderstood aspect of creativity is that it needs to be unhinged and open to anything. Discoveries happened “by accident”, like the ones regarding penicillin and the mirror neurons, are often celebrated as representative. Yet, while serendipity can surely happen, these are exceptions: the creative process has a clear goal.
The clarity of the end goal for any creative process is of the utmost importance. Can you imagine what would have happened if Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t have a clear idea when he was painting the Mona Lisa and started pursuing any kind of subject that came to his mind during the four years it took to paint it?
It’s important to specify what “clear” means for a goal. We are talking about non-prescriptive clarity: a form of clarity that doesn’t try to be precise and prescriptive in all its parts. Imagine you’re painting someone’s portrait: the goal is sharp and clear, the person painted can’t be another person. Yet, the clarity regarding the subject doesn’t tell you anything in terms of color, material, style, posture, expression, and so on.
This kind of non-prescriptive clarity in our goals is hard to achieve:
- It’s hard for ourselves, because we might have an idea in mind full of details, and we restrict our exploration too early, reducing the creative potential.
- It’s hard towards other people, as finding that level of non-prescriptive clarity and communicating it to others is challenging.
Setting the right goal is thus something that can be learned, and improved. Sometimes it’s a matter of letting ourselves follow serendipitous events and asking if what we ended up with still matches the goal we had at the beginning. In groups, it can be done even better by reviewing with the others what the goal is and if it’s clear for everyone, before the work even starts.
Goals are intertwined with focus. Being clear of where we are heading doesn’t mean we will be doing it for the entire duration of the work. Keeping the focus clear on the goal is thus a related aspect of being able to reach the goal that was set.
The need to focus however might not always seem true, as it might feel like reducing the space of possibilities that should be open in a good creative process: again, weren’t penicillin and mirror neurons discovered serendipitously?
A good creative process is open to opportunities while heading in a specific direction. If a different idea arises or a potentially great solution to another adjacent problem appears, it’s good to have space and be flexible enough not to ignore these explorations. Being able to notice when such situations occur is also a skill that can be trained.
It’s like following a specific road headed in the direction we want, while keeping enough freedom to explore the surroundings, to go outside the marked path, and maybe to discover that there’s a better way to go through the mountains.