Permission to Suck

By | September 14, 2005

Anguish, frustration, I’m so blocked. I’m not sure why writer’s block is so notorious. Is the profession filled with vociferous whiners? Do they get creative block more than others, more than musicians, artists, web designers, research scientists, strategic planners, or Fortune 500 Marketing Directors?

No one’s immune to losing their creative mojo. What about those titanic talents that we all admire but occasionally sneer at under our breath in a jealous tremor? Even they can sink; they’re just slightly more buoyant than the rest of us. Talent rises to the surface, but everyone can learn to swim. Although I have met some creative floaters who perform as asthmatics adorned with a 100 pound weight belt, but that’s rare enough to dismiss.


Imaginative creativity is an individual thing. Everyone’s method for reaching creative “flow” is proprietary. Without realizing it, companies that try to enforce creative processes can better succeed at fostering resentment than nurturing creativity. Being in a room with a dozen co-workers standing in circumference while holding hands, as they play “pass the story line” in an attempt to carve out a creative “space”, can feel more like corporate Hokey Pokey. I’ve never rushed to my office in a fit of imaginative ecstasy after compulsory creativity building sessions – have you?

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Interview one hundred creative professionals [those who get paid to innovate for example] and methods will begin to distill to some invariant form. This is where all those “creative techniques” are born. Blocked? Go to the gym. Want to be creative? Meditate. Running dry on the ol’ inspiration? Start a journal.

Techniques can be highly effective. I have a tool box full of pattern breaking activities that where collected over a 25 year career. Yet, following prescribed techniques is similar to knowing a phone number for great take-out and being pleased with the food you serve; needs are filled, but what if they don’t like Italian? Got another number I can call?

Let’s back up a step. Creativity is the act of bringing something new into being. That new thing has form. Before it had form it was imagined. If I build a chair from a pile of mahogany, am I being imaginative? It’s not a given is it? I’m creative by putting my stylish spin on the chair idea, but it doesn’t guarantee an imaginative solution. The pattern needs to be broken in the imagination. When we say, “be creative”, we generally mean – be imaginative.

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Being blocked is symptomatic of predictable patterns. The brain remembers everything as a pattern; random thoughts are imaginary, only patterns survive. In an odd twist, being blocked can hint at an ego that has been stroked by too much reverence. That’s why being touted as a world-class master or reputing great accomplishments with your special “style” can solidify a pattern cast in marble. You become a victim of your own brand, fearful of experimentation or disappointed with approval loss that often comes with new directions.

It takes courage to express imagination – as it takes courage to act out or walk naked onto a stage – and it takes skill to filter the imagination in a meaningful way. Imagination is so deeply personal it’s easily ignored except in dreams like so many vestigial insights pushed down making room for life’s challenges. It may not be a societal compliment to say, “he has an active imagination” but that is exactly from where true creativity stems. We all know how to imagine but the creatively skilled know how to harness imagination; they give it space, practice filtering and create new patterns.

So am I saying that this creative stuff takes work? You betcha. Maybe even a lifestyle change. Stress causes us to seek known patterns: bring your “A” game. Our “A” game is what we know works well; it’s proven and, therefore, doesn’t stretch our imagination. The trick is to combine your “A” game with your active imagination in just the right proportion to satisfy yourself and your challenge. Still, the more permission you have to suck, the easier it is to express your imagination. Here’s a rhetorical brain teaser: Is it possible for a talented musician to suck in an unimaginative way?

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Corporate “Hokey Pokey” creative exercises as support for profit driven deadlines and performance incentives aren’t the best creativity stimulants. What’s needed is a culture change or – sans change – outsourcing. I’m confident hat’s one reason Volkswagen hired Crispin Porter + Bogusky as their advertising agency of record. VW needs a company whose culture is steeped in imagination or at least one that is really great at leaching every last drop of creative blood from its stable of youngsters yet to hone their creative archetypes. While I’m not an insider, I’m certain the culture at CP+B is far less about reactive judgments and far more about proactive risks.

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What happens to those pre-marbleized young talents? Do they get burned out and routinely patterned? Some do, but the best learn how to stay curious and open while resisting reactive judgments even under the most unsympathetic pressure. Nothing kills creativity quite like quick judgment – we fear it. Our imagination shrinks like – well, you know – and “I was in the pool” is no excuse for this kind of shrinkage. Taking an invulnerable stance is equivalent to moving away from imaginative solutions.

If you learn to endure fear, the imagination still needs fuel. Creative curiosity is a passionate muse search without an agenda. Vertical experience is helpful but broad horizontal experiences are crucial. Vertical knowledge is quickly assimilated; horizontal knowledge takes a lifetime of dedication. Without the open mind of a landscape thinker, companies are doomed to repeat what’s been done with little variation; the silo gets taller until it falls.

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Want a technique? Try this: do. Find your passion for doing, and then climb on for the ride. Passion gives you courage to suck. Ever hear, “there’s no such thing as a bad question”? Of course you have. Yet, there are humiliating ones. A passionate question gets asked no matter how humiliating. It can’t, not be asked, just like creative talent can’t not do. Blocked? Plunge forth with ghastly ideas, dreadful songs, appalling paintings or unspeakable prose. Give yourself permission to suck. I’d be surprised if the great didn’t find its way out of that pitiful pile of poor.

Author: Bruce DeBoer
Visit: http://brucedeboer.typepad.com for more articles and information

Go ahead and admit it. You have said things before that you wish you hadn’t—and wanted to take back. Right? Sure, we all have.

It’s part of human nature. Sometimes we get so emotional about something that we forget to think before we speak. It’s like something paralyzes our rational and logical brain, and in the process, our emotional brain lets words come out of our mouths that never should have.

However, some people do it more regularly than others. And if you want to learn how to think before you speak, you have come to the right place.

But first, let’s talk about the 11 reasons why you should think before you speak.

Some people may have been taught by their parents to think before words come out of their mouths. But many others have not. If you are in the latter category, then you will want to seriously think about these very important reasons why you should think before you say something you shouldn’t.

1. Your Words Reflect Who You Are

When I was growing up, my mother taught me and my sisters not to use swear words. I thought she just wanted us to be lady-like, but there was an even deeper reason.

Sure, being lady-like is a nice thing. But beyond that, she was teaching us that the words you use determine your character. They affect not only yourself but also how people perceive you and what kind of person they think you are.

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2. Words Have Power

I’m sure that you are aware of the politically correct language movement. Basically, it’s changing words to nicer ones.

For example, back in the 1970s, people used to use the word “retarded” to describe a person who was mentally slower than average. But since then, people have started using it as an insult. So, over the years, we have adopted different words and phrases like “special needs.”

The point is that if you make the words nicer, then they will not hold as much negativity.

3. Words Can Hurt (or Help) People

As I mentioned, words have power, and part of this power can be good or “evil.” What you say to a person can hurt them—emotionally and mentally.

And even though the saying goes “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” it is not true—words DO hurt. But they can also help. So, it’s important to make sure that the words you use help people instead of hurting them.

4. Your Emotions Can Make You Say Things You Don’t Mean

I’m sure you’ve been angry at someone and said something that hurt them. And after you calmed down, you might have thought, “gee, I didn’t mean it like that.”

You see, when you are angry, it shuts down the logical part of your brain and then your emotions rule yourself. And then when the emotional part of your brain doesn’t act as a filter for your words, you might say things you don’t mean.

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5. You Might Have Assumed intention on the Other Person’s Part

You might be upset at someone because you thought they had intentions to hurt you. Then, as a result, you might lash out at them because of it.

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But not everyone has the intention of hurting you. Sometimes, people say things that are interpreted as the opposite of what they intended. So, make sure you talk with them to see what they actually mean before you assume anything.

6. You Might Be Overreacting

When we think someone said or did something hurtful to us, our emotions tend to go through the roof. Our automatic instinct is to explode.

But that could very well be an overreaction. As I stated above, you should instead make sure that what they said warrants your emotional outburst because many times it doesn’t.

7. Your Relationship With Other People (or Situation) Doesn’t Warrant Your Words

It’s one thing to explode in anger to your sibling, best friend, or spouse, but it’s another thing to do it to your boss or another superior. You need to assess whether you are about to say is appropriate for the kind of relationship you have with a certain person.

By the same token, you also need to think about the situation. If it’s a time, say, when you are at work or a company party, then it’s best to keep your mouth shut and talk later.

8. You Might Be Judging Too Harshly

Too many people judge others before they’ve heard the whole story. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, get angry, and say things that may or may not be true.

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If you automatically start criticizing and judging another person, they are going to get defensive. And when that happens, more negativity ensues, and the conversation (and relationship) can get ugly.

9. Words Can Destroy Relationships

Speaking of relationships, the more negative words that are spoken to another person over time, the more it damages them—and also the relationship between the two of you.

Think about it—would you want to stay with someone who was constantly calling you names and saying mean things? Of course not! Your words could absolutely destroy your relationship.

10. Words Can Affect Other People’s Actions

Let’s say you are angry at your 10-year-old daughter and you call her “fat” without thinking about it. Well, this is something that she may carry with her for the rest of her life, especially if you say it often.

She could easily become anorexic or develop some other problem. She may turn to self-loathing and start cutting herself. Words are long-lasting and affect other people’s actions.

11. You Can Never Take It Back

Once you say something, it is out there forever! You can never take it back. Sure, you can try, but it won’t work.

Taking back what you say is like trying to put air back in a balloon—it doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter how much you try, it won’t change the fact that those words are out there—forever.

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What Should You Do Now?

Now that you know the reasons why you should think before you speak, how can you do that? It’s easier for some people, while others find it nearly impossible.

First, you should wait at least 5 or 10 seconds before you say anything, especially when you feel upset or angry. If you can’t keep your mouth shut, then an alternative is to just leave the room or situation. This way, you will prevent yourself from saying anything that you will regret.

When you pause for those few seconds or leave the room, you need to think about whether you have a good point to make.

Are your comments relevant, appropriate, or helpful? If not, perhaps you shouldn’t say anything.

Before you speak, consider the other person’s feelings. How will it affect them? Believe it or not, it will. And if you do find that said something that you didn’t want to, then you need to apologize and take personal responsibility for your actions and words.

Finally, don’t forget to learn from your mistakes! We’ve all said things that we regret. It happens. But the difference between people who do it all the time and the people who don’t is that the ones who don’t have learned not to do it and now know how to do it better.

Final Thoughts

If you find it difficult to think before you speak, don’t beat yourself up over it. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive for positive change.

Empathy is key—think about how your words affect others. You want to be a positive influence on other people, not a negative one. So, make sure you choose your words wisely—you won’t regret it!

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