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Are You a Creative? Or a Critic?

It’s so much easier to critique what you can see than it is to conceptualize something that doesn’t exist yet.

Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He knew how to scrape away stone to find the perfection of form he could already see within it. Most of us know how to polish and fix up, but we’re often liable to ding a shoulder here or knock off a head there in the process. We tend to attack the part of the project or aspect of problem-solving that we don’t like with perhaps too much gusto, because it’s the way we know how to make our mark.

It’s Easier to Be Picky than Positive

We’re very skillful at identifying what’s wrong, what doesn’t belong, or what might lead to harm — like the archetypical rustle in the grass that could mean a snake or a tiger.

But when it comes to things that don’t yet exist, we’re often editing or critiquing an inaccurate idea of how things are going to be. We don’t accurately project our ideas into the future, so we blithely go lopping off bits of limestone that might have been necessary to support other crucial bits that were necessary for a beautiful, sound sculpture.

Look for the Silver Lining

Instead, try thinking: If it works, if it goes well, if it’s easy, what would I get, how would things feel, what would the outcomes be and what new possibilities would come from those? You don’t need to wear rose-colored glasses or be a Pollyanna. Logic, reality-testing, critical acuity, and analytical skill will all have their turn. But first you need to spot potential.

Once you’ve identified the best of what could be, examine the likelihood of those outcomes, and think about what your contingency plans should be if those outcomes don’t come to pass. You can test all your assumptions: What if the outcome turns out not to be the effect you want, the person you expect, or the resources you need? What then?

And don’t just seek out the negative outcomes — look for the positive in those scenarios as well: What could you do or cause or become then?

Reality-test your outcome with other folks who aren’t so committed to opening up the possibilities. They probably also have loads of experience being negative. Value them for that very reason, and let them do that job for you. You can chime in with a few of your own negatives at this point, just to round out the picture and make sure you have the confidence to go ahead with your beautiful new idea.

Give Credit Where Credit is Doable

Almost every good new idea involves someone else’s help and support, whether at its very inception or somewhere along the way to completion. Make sure your appreciation for that help and support is known, because we tend not to give other people enough credit.

We’re all subject to what’s called “fundamental attribution error.” We tend to give ourselves credit for effort, trying hard in the face of resistance and working at things till they’re the way we want them; meanwhile, we tend to assume that other people’s success came about because of luck or special circumstances.

Similarly, we let ourselves off the hook and give ourselves excuses and alibis when things don’t work out, because we know we meant well. As for why things didn’t work out for those other people? Well, they probably had bad intent, or didn’t try hard enough, or just couldn’t cut it.

Giving more credit where it’s due will help you recognize more goodness. It will also help you give thanks and praise more, which will encourage others to do even better.

Revel in the Upside

And if you’re inclined to be down on yourself or to see yourself as helpless or hopeless, give yourself more credit too. Look for all the upsides before you cut yourself down, and then try just a little more. This kind of practice helps you develop the resilience to be creative time and time again.

After all, Michelangelo also said, “If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.”

What new ideas are you working on? Revel in the upside and enjoy the process.

Onward and upward,


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