Don’t change the subject

Many creatives know this phenomenon: They start a new project on a promising topic with excitement, but when they can’t come up with an original idea instantly — they lose interest. They come to the conclusion that they picked the wrong topic. So they restart with a new topic, only to find out that the grass isn’t any greener on that side of the fence either.

Where do these commitment issues come from?

1. Digging for ideas

Coming up with new ideas is all about persistence. Here is a geological profile of the creative process:

At first you have to dig through the embarrassing phase. You will most likely produce mediocre or outright bad stuff. And I don’t mean that you only experience it as bad subjectively, I am saying that you will actually produce crap. But hang in there! Going through this phase is important to get to the next level. (I am trying something like that with this article.)

Next up you will encounter similar projects by other people, which might be even better than your initial ideas. After all — there are over 7 billion people on this planet. Chances are not too high that your ideas will be absolutely brand new and unique. And yet, keep going, acknowledge the other projects, learn from them, and eventually you might create something original.

2. A dangerous mirage

But your mind will play tricks on you. Once things get tough, you imagine that if only you had tried your luck somewhere else — if only you had picked a different topic for instance — things would be much easier.

It’s a little bit like when you stand in a supermarket line. Your line always seems to move slowest. Everyone else is having a good time. It is tempting to give up and switch lines — only to discover that things aren’t any easier there. It is hard not to get mislead by this mirage.

3. Obsession with ideas and minimal effort

I suspect there is a deeper problem: We are obsessed with the magic power of ideas. We glorify the conception of “simple ideas” which will miraculously save time, money, and effort — little moments of salvation in a world of useless toil and moil.

We choose a topic for our project to come up with great ideas. The goal is to make great art, inspiring design or a promising business idea. In this model ideas are most important, the topic is only a means to an end. So we jump from one topic to the next hunting for those precious doses of dopamine.

Sometimes this strategy works, sometimes it doesn’t. In any case I would like to suggest an alternative.

4. Profound curiosity

What if you picked a topic that you are deeply passionate about?

The goal would be to explore that topic. There will be ideas as well — some of them even good — and of course you will pursue them. But at the heart of it all is your curiosity, your passion. The ideas are a mere byproduct. You are on a journey fuelled by genuine curiosity.

Success will still be fairly unpredictable but you won’t be worrying about whether you are riding a dead horse because this isn’t about riding horses. You are walking on foot, strolling, exploring. You get to know the territory. And maybe this journey is much more interesting for other people than a quick idea.

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