the importance of being shitty

I’ve recently shifted my focus on some commitments and freed up more energy for my own projects. Which essentially means I began staring down a lot of ideas with my best “Ok—let’s go!” attitude. And nothing happened. And I grew disappointed, because despite all my zen-like intentions, I am still wired for productivity at the end of the day. If I didn’t have a few new poems or a new business strategy or a new something at the end of the day, what was I doing?

Carl finally concluded: “You haven’t been shitty at anything in awhile.”

I was surprised to realize how true that is. I’m the last person to want to be an expert. The idea of an “expert,” for me, suggests a level of mastery and experience and assuredness that I just don’t think exists these days. Expert is a point-in-time achievement… as long as the world continues to change (and it does), you should change with it. Better to be a perpetual student. 

But I started to see how pervasive expertise can be. Much of our lives, especially as entrepreneurial types, is spent tuning our strengths and adapting ourselves (and our companies) to create or connect to opportunities. At a certain point, you’ve seen enough scenarios to work from a set of patterns… if x happens, then we can do y. If x-type customer crosses our path again, then we will offer y sooner. In some ways, this is as it should be. This is natural evolution and efficiency that comes from learning and being self-aware.

But in other ways, this process can create a comfort zone that throttles creative thinking. You grow more strategic but not necessarily more creative. Ideas and energy are filtered through the scenarios. Creative instinct gets doused in so-called “experience.” Or in my situation, the ideas and energy are expected to produce something, or produce outputs of a caliber similar to previous ones, within the same amount of energy and efficiency. And when they don’t? Creative paralysis.

In short, we forget how to be shitty. 

Shitty looks a lot more like flailing than it does, say, brainstorming. (Isn’t it funny that even brainstorming sounds so logical and productive these days?) Shitty is your brain’s Fight Club. It’s where your idealism beats up your realism and vice versa. It’s messy, and you feel like you haven’t trained well enough to land a punch, and you are ashamed that you have to fight so much at all… because shouldn’t you know more than this? At least enough to skip the awkward phase, where your ideas must learn how to walk?

And I guess that’s the point: No, you shouldn’t know enough. Because if you did, you would only envision what works, and you’d stop imagining what’s possible.

So I’ve been trying to be open to that. Giving myself permission is the most important part.

In terms of tangible practices, one thing I’ve started to do is write down my questions, not just my ideas. What we wonder about is a path to what we might imagine or create. These can be bizarre questions (e.g., does anything naturally occurring travel only in a straight line?), but when you’re someone like me who likes to make lots of things in lots of ways, there are many ways they might get answered — through a poem, through an app, through a new service, etc. 

What do you do to get comfy with the shitty phase of creativity?