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The art of letting go: Reconnecting with your creative potential 

When was the last time you truly went out to do something without a specific outcome, result or intention in mind? The chances are that you had to think about your answer for a moment. Chances are also that it is something that hasn’t occurred in a while. Perhaps even a long time.

Parameters of perfection

More often than not we have a tendency to commence a new task with a specific outcome in mind. We define this outcome based on what we believe the best possible result could be and who we may want to impress with the result at the end (clients, colleagues, peers).

Simply put, we create parameters of perfection. This is not only prevalent in the world of design (regardless if you are designing products, digital interactions, experiences or strategies) but we also tend to fall into this trap in our personal lives.

We create predefined ideals in our every day tasks too, such as cooking the perfect meal, aiming to beat your personal best at the gym, and calculating the fastest and most efficient route home. When is the last time you threw out the recipe book or took the long way home?

More and more, I have come to the realisation that this strive for perfection doesn’t fuel creativity. It actually stifles it. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that having goals help us grow, step out of our comfort zone and consider previously unexplored territories.

However, I believe that if the pendulum swings too far to the side of excellence, we disconnect from the art of simply being curious. I am a firm believer that curiosity is the greatest fuel for creativity, not perfection.

Creative cost

I know what you might be thinking at this very moment. “Isn’t it just the fear of failing that is holding us back from being creative?“ You make a fair point.

However, I do believe that the issue here isn’t a fear of failing. It is actually a fear of letting go and giving something a go. Why? Because it requires us to be vulnerable. It is asking us to disconnect ourselves from safety nets, such as metrics, KPIs and someone’s praise to help us judge how well we are performing against the norm.

Consider how this tends to play out in the context of your professional undertakings. We work towards set deadlines, budgets and scope, racing to follow the most efficient process to get us there. Quickly tensions arises between best practice and leading practice.

Best practice is fast, predictable and evidence-based, however often results in commoditised outcomes and design. In order to move towards leading practice that delivers truly inspiring and unique outcomes, we require a state of creativity to unfold. We are faced with the dilemma of creative cost; Project timelines vs exploration space or anticipated solutions vs unrestricted innovation. How does one maintain and cultivate creative integrity so that you can enjoy the process and create outcomes that are more meaningful and relevant?

Take a moment to observe where in your current work, task or project creative cost might be creeping in. Creative cost sneakily disguises itself as apparent winnings in time, effort or cost. Observe how you set up your next project kick off, the way you facilitate the next team meeting or how you onboard new team members to join an initiative.

Trade in the temptation to execute with the intention to deliver, instead approach it with the desire to explore. Park best practice approaches and consider how you’d tackle this task as if it was for the very first time. Use this to define deliberate moments to open up a space for creative exploration. It helps to remind yourself of the true intention of what you are setting out to do and how you can surprise and delight everyone in the room - including yourself.

Courageous actions

The first step is for us to acknowledge and accept our natural tendencies. What is holding you back from letting go and simply losing yourselves in the process? Ask yourself what psychological biases might be at play that are driving these behaviours for yourself and your team members.

Over time this awareness will help you quieten the voice of perfection and approach your daily work from a place of possibility. Be courageous in letting the experience guide your growth and use these experiences to (re)consider desired goals and outcomes. This mindset will allow you to embrace the unknown with a balanced perspective, ultimately leading you to untapped reserves of creativity. I have a good feeling that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you’ll discover.

Here is an experiment for you. Ask a colleague what they love the most about their work. Chances are it is not the moment of perfect execution. Instead you are likely to see someone’s eyes light up recalling the time they uncovered the unexpected. When they decided to deviate off the beaten path and set out on an unforeseen adventure.

Go ahead, give it a try. And ask yourself the question - when was the last time you did something just for the sake of it? „Einfach mal machen“ (just go for it) is one of the greatest life lesson I have ever been gifted.

Words by Angela Bode, visuals by Helen Berhanu Tekle

Angela Bode
Strategy and Innovation Manager
Angela is a design manager with a background in strategic design and service design. Angela’s work is grounded in both System Thinking and Behavioural Design, allowing her to create a rich picture of wider ecosystems and users within it in order to create meaningful opportunities for change.