Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner. I have always got a million lists on the go, I am always thinking ‘what’s next?’ and daydreaming about things that are yet to happen. On a micro scale I have a tendency to fret over tiny details and have even been known to plan out my day to the nearest quarter of an hour. I love sitting down and planning my week, my month or even the next three months…
But, I am not a planner on a macro scale. I have never had ‘a plan’ about what I’m doing or where I’m going beyond the next year. I have always just followed my nose into interesting situations and my passions into new adventures. It’s been like this since I left school and I went to university knowing that I would change my degree course almost immediately (from geology to ancient history & archaeology). A chance opportunity to do a work placement in a museum one summer led me to do an MA and pursue museum education as a career, instead of becoming an archaeologist. But, I could have as easily followed my passion for literature into a career with books or my love of the theatre into a career in arts management. This approach led me to leave working in museums, when the lure of exploring my creativity and making skills further was too strong to resist, and go back to college. I haven’t regretted a single decision, even the ones that were obviously not the right choices at the time. For me, that is incredibly important – to feel that I have chosen my path through life, and not have life happen to me.
And, it turns out that the ‘no plan’ plan might even be the best way to achieve your goals…
How the ‘no plan’ plan works:
Step 1 Be open to experiences
In their book Wired to Create, researcher in creativity Scott Barry Kaufman and science journalist Carolyn Gregoire discover the ten things great artists, writers and innovators do differently. ‘Openness to Experience’ may come in at number 6 but it is ‘the single strongest and most consistent personality trait that predicts creative achievement’. It seems to be an essential rule of creativity, that we need new and unusual experiences to think differently.
Research into creativity across the arts and sciences has found that “openness to experience was more highly correlated with total creative achievement than other factors that had been traditionally associated with creativity, like IQ, divergent thinking and other personality traits. Together, these findings suggest that the drive for exploration in its many forms, may be the single most important personal factor predicting creative achievement.”
So, it seems that if you want to use your creativity to its full potential, and to achieve your wildest creative practice dreams, stay curious about the world around you, connect with your own inner world of ideas, emotions and sensations. Be open to learning new things and experiencing different situations. This exploration will offer you the raw material for your artistic development and potentially offer you unexpected possibilities.
Step 2 Take the round-about way
In his book Obliquity, economist John Kay sets out his ideas on why our goals are best achieved indirectly. He came up with this term – obliquity – to describe the indirect way that people achieve ‘complex objectives’ ie the big tasks in life (like climbing Mt Everest, building the Panama Canal, creating a multi-national corporation or running a country). This is what he says:
“In general, oblique approaches recognise that complex objectives tend to be imprecisely defined and contain many elements that are not necessarily or obviously compatible with each other, and that we learn about the nature of the objects and the means of achieving them during a process of experiment and discovery. Oblique approaches often step backwards to move forwards.”
He talks about problem solving as being ‘iterative and adaptive, rather than direct’ and that good problem solvers are not necessarily the people who evaluate all available options and go for the direct route to solving it. He feels that ‘the direct route to problem solving requires us to know the method of solution before we start. In obliquity we learn about the structure of a problem by the process of solving it.’ Essentially, since life is complicated and so many aspects of it are unpredictable and unknowable, the best way to tackle the problems we face, or to achieve the goals we set ourselves, is by accepting that a certain amount of flexibility is necessary. That a round-about way of getting there may be best.
Kay is not suggesting that we stop thinking about goals, or give up trying to examine the options or understand the complex nature of the systems we deal with. He is suggesting that these things are not as straightforward as we might believe, and that a direct approach is often impossible.
So, when you are tempted to sit down and write yourself a 5 year plan consider the possibility that some of the paths you follow in the beginning may lead you to unexpected places, and that it may not be possible to get there by the route you have mapped out. Be open to unplanned experiences that come your way, you never know where they will lead you. But chances are, they will enhance your creative journey immeasurably.
Books referenced: Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaugman & Caroly Gregoire (2015) published by Vermillion and Obliquity by John Kay (2010) published by Profile books