Hugo Lindgren, editor of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, just published a wonderful article* about what it really takes to be creative. It’s titled “Be Wrong As Fast As You Can,” but that’s just part of it. The title is a quotation from a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar. (I often use Pixar as a case study when I’m teaching executives how to manage innovation.) Lasseter says
Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another. People don’t believe that, but it’s true.
I believe it. Take the Pixar movie WALL-E, and listen to how horrible this pitch sounds: “After humans destroy the planet and all life on it, by smothering it with their huge piles of trash, we watch a silent robot for 30 minutes as he cleans up piles of waste.”
As Lindgren puts it, this is “an acknowledgement of just how deep into the muck of mediocrity a creative project can sink as it takes those first vulnerable steps from luxurious abstraction to unforgiving reality.” He continues:
I know that the next brilliant brainstorm is never going to be the one that will just write itself, any more than the last one did. Ideas, in a sense, are overrated….It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution.
A lot of people have a huge misconception about creativity: They think it’s about having a brilliant idea. They don’t realize that it’s not about the idea; it’s about the unpredictable, winding path that you stumble down as you work to realize the idea. That’s why I’m calling my next book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity (coming in March 2013, preorder it now!).
I love this quotation from writer Thomas Mann (from page 323 of my 2012 book Explaining Creativity):
A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
If you smile in recognition (or even in pain) when you read this, then you, my friend, are a writer.
*Lindgren, Hugo. 2013. “Be wrong as fast as you can.” New York Times Sunday Magazine, January 6, pages 44-45.