I was thinking about legos this week… More specifically I was thinking about building blocks.
Imagine this hierarchy.
Limestone, Ash and Water with an Oven (or kiln)
This is a gross over simplification. But in many ways that’s feeds my point. We all tend to stand on the shoulders of those that came before us. Not everyone can make bricks. But many people train on how to lay bricks. Not everybody designs buildings, but a few people may be experts at planning cities. We have to work at becoming professionals in the context in which we practice most, but it doesn’t mean we become experts in all levels from chemistry to city planning. There are levels where we let our expertise shine and levels where we trust to the skills and efficiency of those that make it their trade. It does not mean we can not do it. It means we should consider whether we should do it.
There are master craftsman who can do it all. But they have spend years crafting their skills and learning each aspect. At some point they were a beginner and knew nothing. All they had was aptitude and desire to learn. So when you take on something new, but look at the expert who knows it all, it can be very daunting to expect yourself to know it all as well. You have to take off chunks at a time and allow others knowledge to fill in the gaps. Even experts focus their energies within a core area of passion. The keys are focus and patience.
Let’s look at another example:
Here is an example where the person doing the heavy lifting is master of most of the components in the hierarchy. When you write a book it is built of chapters. Those chapters are built up from individual sentences forming paragraphs. These sentences are all based off of words that are formed from letters. Then you have the abstract concept outside of this heirarchy of ideas for the book and translating those ideas into words. With all this skill and knowledge it’s still being based on the standing on the shoulders of the english language and of course the alphabet, concepts and ideas created long before us.
So what’s my point?
Well, when you consider being creative, it’s easy to get blocked by one level or another of the creative process. You don’t even realize that this is the thing holding you back, because you’re trying to do something new. You are in uncharted territory and uncertain how to proceed. Often the reaction is to give up and assume you can’t do it. When you may in fact need to determine the size of the building block that you’re willing to work with. Sometimes this means breaking the problem down and chewing off small chunks, this is often called reinventing the wheel. If someone else has solved the problem previously, you can benefit from their knowledge and utilize their existing ‘wheel’. Sometimes this means switching out your problem with someone else’s solution, eg: using their wheel.
Let’s say you’re trying to build a house and you start mixing dirt and water together and stacking slabs of mud to build your walls. For some reason instead of getting tall straight walls you end up getting low arched puddles. Your walls are really just mounds of wet dirt. What’s the next solution? You could re-evaluate your approach to using mud, research how dirt can be made into bricks, refine your knowledge on baking bricks, and start a kiln up to produce bricks for your walls. Then just produce enough bricks to build your house. Or, you could go the store and buy a load of bricks. Maybe brick building from scratch isn’t your forte, but stacking bricks is your thing. If you remove the hurdle in your path of having to build your own bricks you could find you build houses really well. You just kinda stink at making bricks.
So when you try to take on something new, be gracious and try to focus on the fun. Determine if you’re goal is to make your own wheel, or if what you really want is a better cart, but you can leverage someone else’s wheels. The problems you face can be less daunting when you learn to lean on others where needed. This doesn’t make you less creative, it makes you part of a community.