Sunday, December 20, 2009

Planning vs. Creativity

For years I was a planner; planning is my natural tendency, but my work also required orderly thinking and the ability to manage and design processes. It was important for me to know that I was going to end at point X and to know all of the steps along the way. Then I began to read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. As I read this book and others I began to broaden my definition of creativity and to understand how the need to plan every detail got in the way of my creativity on two levels.

A breakthrough came when I had the notion for the Creative Leadership Workshop. I had this cool idea for a 12 week workshop for students modeled on The Artist’s Way, but with a different purpose. I wanted to find a way to combine what I was learning about creativity with leadership. It was early August and classes started in just a couple of weeks, so I could work on it during the fall semester and offer the sessions in the spring.

And that’s when I had the truly radical idea that instead of waiting I could do it now! Of course, the planner part of me kicked in with all the reasons that it wouldn’t work to do it this semester, but for once I ignored them. I sketched out the basic ideas and went back to the office ready to try it. So I invited a group of students to participate and 20 of them were brave or crazy enough to give it try. When we started, I had an outline of what we would do though I had no idea which things would work and which were too crazy. The workshop turned out to be an incredible experience and the list of things we all learned is much too long to share here, but part of the reason it worked so well was because there was room for new ideas as we went along. It’s also true that my idea of success was much too limited for what really happened.

So that was the first level of learning – it’s possible for things to work without a plan. Having the outline but not the plan allowed for more learning than I could have imagined.

The second level came when I offered the workshop again. I’ve offered the full workshop three other times, once for staff and twice more for students. The staff group was a great event, but the second and third sessions of the student version were never as amazing as the first. I think it was because I now had a lesson plan; I was reaching for a specific result now. I had told the first group that we were making it up together and that they were part of the creative process so they approached it in that way. It was a truly participative experience. Not having a complete plan allowed others the freedom to be creative too.

Creativity – it takes an odd mix of planning, freedom, openness to other’s ideas and to the possibilities of the moment. So what event might you chose not to plan?

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