I’ll be candid with you. Part of the attraction in doing what I do with Mud Hut Lab is that I would rather deal with plants and gadgets than people. Interacting with people drains me whereas time alone charges me up. But the crazy thing is there is another side of me that enjoys educating, helping, and influencing people. It’s been quite a dilemma learning how to juggle both the desire to mind my own business and work with my hands and the desire to impact the world through relationships. In addition, when an out-of-the-box thinker / explorer like me continually finds himself head to head and toe to toe with a traditional, narrowly focused general population, the situation can seem even more aggravating. The temptation for me is to throw my hands up in frustration and say, “Fine, have it your way and enjoy that little box that you live in.” But how can I influence the world like that? How does that help anybody? Sure I can build some glorious contraption that stands as a monument to my own grandiose creativity (and maybe even try to sell it for lots of money) but in the end nobody cares about it or understands it and it has contributed nothing of real value to the world. Truth is, I can’t influence the world without interacting with people. Without the often painful experience of presenting ideas and accepting criticism; of tweaking and exchanging ideas. So, I’m learning slowly but surely, to make peace with the dilemma. Here a some lessons I’ve learned (still learning) that might be of use to other creative, influencer-type people:
1. I need criticism from traditional, practically minded, and narrowly focused people.
For two reasons. First, their resistance helps me to sharpen my ideas. As painful as it might be, criticism is good because it leads to a better idea, system, or product. And the criticism is often valid. I have to face that fact and work out the kinks in my ideas. In the end a well-worked creative idea becomes truly useful and helpful to people. On that note, we creative types also need to remember that questions don’t always mean criticism. Sometimes it’s just a question from someone who is trying to understand your new concept or idea. Second, pride often comes with creativity. And criticism helps foster humility. Often in the design world, designers with inflated egos pursue new ideas more to make a name for themselves than for offering something that’s truly beneficial to the world. Sometimes we creative thinkers equate being different with being better. Well, sometimes different is just different, not necessarily better. Your great solution could actually be a bad idea. Criticism keeps that in check.
2. I need to be reminded to extend the same freedom of thought that I cherish for myself.
I really can’t stand being labeled, grouped, categorized, and pigeon-holed. I relish the idea that I’m unique. I am my own person. I don’t belong to any group. A little of that independence can be healthy (when it comes to your mom’s famous question – “If so-and-so jumped off a bridge would you jump too?” And your snooty teenage response – “Well, no, duh.”) But oftentimes creative people can be tyrannical. As much as I don’t want society / others ramrodding over my blue sky creativity, I have to extend the same courtesy to them.
3. I need to beware of clinging too tightly.
One of my best friends once told me to think of my dreams as bubbles. He said you can blow on them but you can’t grab onto them or they’ll just burst in your hand. Mostly you can just keep an eye on them and see where they go and where they land. It was surprisingly profound coming from my brother! Well, I really do think that can apply to good ideas. We creatives can’t latch onto our ideas so possessively like Gollum and his ring. Let the precious go. Let the ideas float. Maybe they need to just float away.
4. Finally, I need to remember that influence requires relational investment.
As I mentioned earlier, hiding away like a hermit in some studio or laboratory probably won’t produce the result you’re looking for. Ideas that really help the world require interaction with lots of people. It requires the exhausting task of teaching and explaining and demonstrating and listening and responding to questions and explaining again. In the end, if your idea is worthwhile, it will catch on.
Courage fellow creative, influencer-type people! Most of the world operates according to a system (cheap energy and fiat currency just to name a couple) that cannot be sustained over the long haul. We desperately need your creative thought and new ideas.