“I am writing a poem. Very strange. I don’t yet understand it altogether.” ~ W.B. Yeats
In making something creative, here’s the thing: you feel compelled to work on something without knowing how it’s going to turn out.
When I used to make work as a choreographer and theatre maker I was constantly leaping into action, on fire to submit some spark of inspiration to whatever techniques I had at my disposal. I got used to the fact that my brain would serve me up the vision of a piece of performance or writing that would make me want to get busy, but then this thing would turn out nothing like I envisioned. The more I worked on it, the more I would find out how inadequate the first idea was. But in working on it I would open up better and more interesting possibilities for myself. I learnt that the imagination is a trickster god, a powerful force that beguiles you into taking action. My light bulb moments were nothing more than my imagination making me get my ass off the couch and into the studio. It was a good trick, albeit a strange one. I didn’t understand it altogether, but I learnt to trust it.
“There are few filmmakers who really understand even their own process of filmmaking. So, when trying to tell other people ‘this is how you should do it,’ they end up expending a huge amount of energy. In all honesty, I think a lot of people on-set don’t really understand what they’re doing either. It’s only when looking at the finished product that they can really see, ‘oh, so that’s how it worked!’” ~ Tsui Hark
It’s one thing to follow your impulses if you’re working by yourself. It’s quite another to take a team with you on the adventure. Working as part of a creative team takes enormous trust. As the notable director and producer Tsui Hark says above, the leader of such a team will expend an enormous amount of energy in communicating with them. But in the absence of good communication, how can you build trust? Or get a group of people inspired by an outcome they can’t see clearly even while they’re working towards it?
There are many aspects to successfully leading a team of people who are working creatively. Assembling the right (and diverse) mix of skill sets and temperaments is one challenge, getting them to gel as a team is the next step. Being prepared to invest the emotional labour into helping your team live with risk and uncertainty is another. Deploying effective communication strategies is yet another challenge. And, regardless of the success of the outcome, being able to guide your team to a moment of realisation – “Oh, so that’s how it worked” – is an essential learning process that will empower the team to carry onto the next innovative project.
Humans are an innately creative species. We are also a herd animal. Leading people to co-create is a fascinating challenge. With the right approach, it needn’t be an impossible one.
I will be modelling a technique that I use to help people reflect on the creative learning process at the Creative Melbourne conference, 18-22 February. More information can be found here.