Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Creativity and a Map

Creativity and organization can coexist. We talk about creative processes for a reason – for an artist to get anything done, our creative talents must be channeled into some type of organization that enables us to actually use that creativity.  Basically, we need a map on how to do things.
For the sake of this post, we’re going to focus on the process part and leave the creativity part for another day and look at organization – the word most artists dread. It can be tough. It can be frustrating. But we have to take an honest look at it because a lack of process can cause us to not ship our art. We get bogged down between having a great idea for a piece and then executing on that idea.
When the topic comes up, the two biggest reasons for not having an execution process goes something like this: “Yeah, I need more organization but it’s too complicated and time consuming.”
#1 – Organization is time consuming.
I work recently with the GED in California organization and learn that not only artists have the excuses:-). People tend to always complain about the lack of time to do things. Look back on your past week and and see if you did any of the following:
  • Watch TV
  • Check Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or other social sites
  • Hangout with friends
  • See a movie
  • Go to a restaurant
  • Etc, etc, etc…
If you checked yes to any of those, then you have time to spare; it’s just prioritized to other things. My addiction to this problem stemmed from never looking at how I broke down the time available each week. Each of us have a set amount of time each week – 168 hours. For a fair estimate, let’s say you work/commute 10 hours/day (5 days a week), sleep 8 hours/day, and eat a generous 2 hours/day. That leaves 48 hours (a full 2 days) for our discretionary time. Organization takes a few moments each day but those moments need to be prioritized.


When your system for organization is complicated, it’s the wrong one for you. For those of us with creative and sometimes scattered minds, we need a system that’s natural to use and as simple as possible. Thankfully, such a system exists from Behance, a group focused on making ideas happen. Enter the Action Method.
The Action Method (AM) holds to a single, simple premise: everything is a project. For two quick examples, let’s say you and a few fellow artists had these ideas that you wanted to make happen.
  • DIY Catering Class – You have a really talented chef in your group that basically plans (caters) the parties you host. After several parties, you want to learn some of the aspects of small party catering and who better than them to learn from? Turns out, there’s several people in the same boat that want to learn as well.
  • Design Showcase – There are several artists in your group that don’t have an outlet to showcase their work. What better idea than to host a design showcase with local artists that will give them an outlet as well as to help make new connections within the artistic community.
The beauty of AM lies in how we reduce those projects to three simple components: 1)Action Steps, 2)References, and 3)Backburner.
Action Steps – the specific, actionable tasks that move the project forward.
Project: DIY Catering Class // Action: Write out a class syllabus.
Project: Design Showcase // Action: Draft poster for the showcase.
References – Any items that are project related that you want to refer back to.
Project: DIY Catering Class // Reference: Notes from a previous catering seminar.
Project: Design Showcase // Reference: Copy of the important information needing to be displayed in the poster.
Backburner Items – non-actionable items that will be one day.
Project: DIY Catering Class // Backburner: Plans for an advanced class.
Project: Design Showcase // Backburner: Email between local artist interested in participating at the next showcase.
With the AM, every actionable step jumps off the page and helps you spend more time moving forward that just organizing. Some projects may lend themselves to rapid completion while others move slower with the reference and backburner lists growing more than the action steps. Whatever the project, the AM takes care of it with a truly simple system that helps us creative types make sense of it all.


At the end of the day, there is no one size fits all for an artist’s creative process. No one here can tell you do X, Y, and Z in that order and you’ll be successful. What works for me may not work for you. You need to set aside time and have a plan but art doesn’t layout a step-by-step map for you to follow.
“Here’s the truth that you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.” – Seth Godin
For my art, this process works well. I need things broken down into actions that I can accomplish without having to think big picture all the time. When I have a great idea, it immediately start laying it out through the Action Method so I can start executing on it and ship it rather than just dreaming about it. The only purpose to starting my next creative project is to finish.
For all you artists out there, how do you organize your creative process?

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