The Mindset Of Mess And The Art Of Deconstruction

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“One way to better accept yourself as a human being is to move from a merely intellectual understanding that messes are part of the creative process to a visceral understanding of that truth.” -Eric Maisel ‘Creativity for Life’

For children, there is nothing in the least bit difficult in the statement above.  As adults, it can often be one of the hardest things in the world to come to terms with and learn to accept.  We’ve been programmed throughout our whole life to clean up our messes and to tidy up the spaces in our life, both personally and professionally.  And the older we get, the greater our affinity for a more orderly and organized life and world.  We go to great lengths and spend an inordinate amount of time bringing that order into our life.

And those habits and attitudes get ingrained…deeply.

Which is why, what sometimes has been learned, must also be unlearned.  Especially, when it inhibits progress and new learning.  We have to be able to unlearn, to intentionally deconstruct learning, habits, and mindsets that serve as inhibitors to future growth and progress, both individually and organizationally.  Especially, in an age when change and new learning are pushing us beyond the threshold of what we are physically and mentally able to handle.  Most of us spend each day teetering on information and data overload.

This constant need for neatness and order, as well as information overload has created a mindset for most adults that they are neither creative nor innovative.  Whether it’s the messiness of the matter, the weariness or lack of time to consider tapping in to those abilities, or a lifetime of having it pushed under the surface.  For whatever the reason, too many adults have created a ‘fixed’ mindset around creative and innovative thinking, doing and being.

Pushing past this acquired mindset will require our leaders and organizations to be more intentional in reviving these abilities in our people and our teams.  Just understand, it will not be easy.  There will be push-back and resistance all along the way.  Not because people don’t want to be creative and innovative, but because it will be difficult and uncomfortable.  But isn’t all change, at some level.  Changing mindsets, habits, attitudes and behaviors are always difficult to overcome.

For most of us, we have spent our entire life creating a neat and orderly package of our life, and now we are trying to undo and unwrap that package.  Creativity and innovative thinking is asking us to allow a bit more mess into our life, a bit more risk, a bit more uncertainty, and a bit more unknown.

Discovery and experimental learning require pushing a bit of that mess and chaos back into the process.  For, there are no directions, no map to show the way forward, and no predetermined destination.  And most often it does not happen in neat and orderly rows.  It requires deconstructing a mindset that we’ve spent our whole life constructing.

As Eric Maisel shares in Creativity for Life, “Do you understand in your heart of hearts that messes and mistakes are not only okay but part of the creative process and crucial to the process?  They are not the goal – the goal is excellent work.  But our mistakes are as integral to the process as falling down is integral to learning how to walk.”

And it doesn’t end there.  When you find that you’ve effectively pushed yourself and your organization into this creative and innovative shift, this uncomfortable state of messiness, it requires you to dig even deeper.  It also requires us to dismantle our attitudes towards perfectionism.  To allow ourselves to be more vulnerable, both as a learners and leaders.  It requires us to deconstruct our affinity for the ‘expert’ mindset in favor of a ‘learner’ mindset.

Creative and innovative thinking, doing and being is really asking us to undo years and years of training.  It is asking us to replace this perfectionist way of thinking and performing in our life and work and replace it with an action-orientation.

Or as they have a tendency to say when facing uncertainty and unknowns, sometimes you have to learn to build the plane while you are flying it.  Or as Eric Ries shares in The Lean Startup, it is the difference between launching a rocket and driving a car. (The Difference Between Launching A Rocket And Driving A Car)

Sometimes you have to forego the strategy, the planning, and the illusion of the perfected plan and get to driving and allow the steering wheel to provide the course adjustments along the way.

As Eric Maisel shares in Creativity for Life, sometimes you have to approach creativity and innovation like a baby learning to walk.  The baby does not plan, strategize, or prepare for any length of time in order to try and take that first step.  Rather, the baby has an action-orientation.  It does not waste precious time worrying about falling or not perfecting its first step out of the gate.  Those thoughts are never even entertained.  Rather, the focus is on giving it a go.  Let’s get started and see what happens.  And even if a baby falls, getting right back up to try again is the attitude of the day.  There is tremendous resilience and stick-to-it-ness.  A baby is not worried about failing or falling, but has focused a mindset entirely on the outcome, on reaching the destination.

So not only is being more creative and innovative require us to infuse a bit more mess into our life, it requires unlearning of old thinking, old habits and ingrained mindsets that only serve as obstacles.  It requires us to deconstruct those obstacles in order to make room for the new.  To forego our current comfort and our need for perfectionism, if we are to discover new and better ways of thinking, doing and being.

“An infant would never think, “I will not walk until I can walk perfectly.” Only adults think such inhuman, antiprocess, paralyzing thoughts.  If an infant wants to get the toy across the room she will crawl, walk, tumble, or fly.  She will do whatever it takes – because she actually wants that toy.  Make yourself that beautiful vehicle of vitality and desire, and fail as many times as necessary as you strive to get from here to there.” -Eric Maisel ‘Creativity for Life’


5 thoughts on “The Mindset Of Mess And The Art Of Deconstruction

  1. Pingback: Day 134 (of 188) interactivity? Thanks to @ChrisWejr @DCulberhouse @craigcantlie @freshgrade | technolandy: site of Ian Landy

  2. This really strikes a chord, as I am a perpetual planner who sometimes struggles to be okay with my messes. And yet when I was teaching, some of the best learning I saw happened during the messiest moments (either metaphorically messy or actual, digging-in-dirt messy).

    One other thing I’ve found has helped is rediscovering play. I think for a lot of adults this is a lost skill that ties right to creativity and feeling the freedom to make a mess.

  3. We are taught that spilt milk is a mess to clean up but one day in a school cafeteria a third grader caused me to pause as milk rivulets ran across the table “wait, don’t touch it – it’s like little rivers running. Is that how rivers get started?” We watched and waited until it ran off the edge and dripped down to the floor. Gravity made real. It was a mess. It eventually got cleaned up. It was a learning opportunity – not just for him but for me. Messes need wait time.

  4. Thanks David. Another thoughtful post. Reminds me of a favourite Toffler quote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” Also brings to mind Wheatley’s notion of a “willingness to be disturbed”. Thanks for pushing the thinking once again!

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