go out of your way to be uncertain
I’ve been thinking about innovation more intensely lately. For a few reasons: I’m co-creating a new program, “Your Big Beautiful Book Plan”, launching in November, and intend to innovate in this well-trodden niche. And my friend, Jonathan Fields just released his book: Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance.
Jonathan’s thesis on innovation can be boiled down to this:
a) Uncertainty is not just useful in creation and innovation, it’s mandatory.
b) Certainty is a dream-killer because it stops us from exploring the possibility that we don’t know everything, and that we might be able to create something better.
So of course I, and dozens of journalists are asking him this: If ambiguity and uncertainty get us to our creative crux, then how can we lean into those states? His answer:
Optimize your workflow. Most of us work in ways that are actually fairly destructive to our ability to not only do great work, but feel great doing it. Simple changes to workflow, like pulsing and refueling, single-tasking and selective ritualizing can change not only how well you create, but how you feel along the way.
I knew a guy who worked from home and wore a tie. With his t-shirt and flip flops. Same necktie everyday. “My best ideas have come from this tie,” he told me. I asked if he also had magic underpants.
Twyla Tharp says her ritual of exercise and choreography begins when she gets in the taxi at 5am and tells the driver to take her to the gym.
I sit down to write. I close my day-timer. I light a candle. Every time. Sacred space. Ready to commence.
Your intention to innovate becomes more powerful when you declare it. And you can be certain of that.
What you can never, ever be fully certain of is how you’re going to get there. Or how you’re going to breakthrough. Or when your muse might decide to bless you with an awesome idea. Or what you’re actually going to produce in the end. This is unnerving and sometimes terrifying when you’ve got expectations, a budget, a deadline, and a big dream. And, this is the place where great things come from.
Back to Jonathan Fields…
Build daily “uncertainty-harnessing” personal practices. Beyond changes in workflow, there are daily personal practices you can add your uncertainty “scaffolding” that work on a deeper mindset-tuning level time, can have a profound effect not only on how you experience the creative process, but on how you experience life in a world where there is no new normal. Some of these include mindfulness, reframing, and high-intensity movement.
“Uncertainty harnessing” typically requires that we step away from what we’re so focused on. Can you relate to this?: you’re so engrossed in your project that it’s 2pm before you realize you haven’t eaten lunch. But you’re in the thick of it, on a roll. Get lunch or plow forward? Tomorrow is your deadline and your friend’s band is making their debut performance tonight. Front row seat or bail out? You’ve been working on your project for months and you’re aching to launch it. Work when you’re burnt, or take the weekend off, like, really take it off.
My vote: when you choose life, your work reaps the rewards. Lose focus. Intentionally. Just for a minute.
In my experience, when I’m thinking that I ‘have no choice but to crank on’, then it’s time to stop cranking. (And we ALWAYS have a choice.) And lo’ what happens, predictably even, is that in those break periods — chopping carrots for lunch, driving home from the concert, unplugging… my mind cools down and a new really, really good idea will come forward. It was just waiting for me to take a break so I could see it.
Uncertainty might push you to work harder. Lighten up.
Uncertainty might have you looking for answers. Ask more questions.
Uncertainty might have you demanding assurances.
Instead, welcome Mystery….and her sidekick will tag along.
He goes by the name of Innovation.
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