The Joy of Creative Ignorance: Embracing Uncertainty

This one hit us where it hurts. I think cuz we’re so ignorant. (Beatya to it, right?!)


Embracing Uncertainty in Your Day-to-Day
by Mark McGuinness

I was struck recently by a comment on my site:

 “There is really no prescription for creative work, I heard a writer say the other day that he sits down at the keyboard and the first thing he says to himself is ‘I don’t know.’” — Geoff Talbot

That writer sounds like a wise man to me. All too often, when we start work, we bring too much knowledge, too many preconceptions about how we expect the work to turn out. So many, in fact, that we end up cramping our imagination to fit our expectations, instead of allowing it to surprise us with something unexpected.

And as we know, that unexpected “something” is the source of creative magic. Too much knowledge, not enough ignorance, and creativity will be conspicuous by its absence.

That’s not to say there’s no place for knowledge, skills, and experience. As a creative pro, we couldn’t operate without these. But when we start a new piece of work, we need to look at it with fresh eyes, set aside our assumptions and open our minds to fresh sources of inspiration. We sometimes need to embrace a bit of uncertainty and creative ignorance.

This isn’t a new idea. Keats famously wrote of “Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Jonathan Fields wrote an entire book on the fact that uncertainty is integral to creativity, and the need for creators to tolerate and even “exalt” uncertainty.

But it’s not always easy to feel the power of negative capability, or the joy of creative ignorance, when you’re faced with an empty screen, canvas, or stage, and the voice of doubt starts nagging from the back of your mind. At that moment, it’s only human to reach for any kind of certainty, to relieve the pressure.

And the pressure is more intense if you’re a creative professional. When clients pay for a professional, they expect to hire someone who knows what they are doing. How many of us would feel comfortable explaining to a prospective client that “It’s really important that I don’t completely know what I’m doing on this project”?

It’s a catch-22: the obligation to deliver “results” makes it harder to stay in that creative headspace of “not knowing” long enough for truly creative results to emerge.

Read it all

And while you’re at it, check out this article for another view of the same concept (and the source of the cool pic at the top of this post).