Have you felt that feeling where you’ve done the work but it’s not right, it’s not the answer – but it’s all you have and there’s no time to fix it. Your tummy squirms and your face squashes into a pout as you look at your work and think, ‘Oh no’.
This feeling of inadequacy, inexperience and fear of how people will react when they see our work stops us from making good art. The way to stop that feeling is not to do the work in the first place, right?
What if there’s another way?
The Marshmellow Challenge
Tom Wujec talks about the Marshmellow Challenge in his TED Talk. Here’s how it works: in teams of four, the subjects are asked to make the tallest tower they can in 18 minutes with 20 strands of spaghetti, 1 meter of tape, 1 meter of string and 1 marshmellow which must sit at the top of the tower.
The researchers performed this experiment with all sorts of subjects like CEOs, engineers, business MBA students and kindergarden students. Overtime, a pattern emerged. Many of the adults, they noticed, would spend lots of time planning their experiment. Then they would try to execute this ‘perfect’ idea, to nail it the first time, finally at the 17minute mark, they would place the marshmellow triumphantly on top (often ending in a fallen structure).
On the other hand, the kindergardeners would keep the marshmellow on top from the beginning and then make a series of towers, learning each time from the mistakes of the ones before. The preschoolers wouldn’t get attached to ‘how’ they would make the tower perfect they would just try a bunch of different ways really quickly, giving up what didn’t work and carrying on with what did. The researchers called this ‘rapid prototyping’ and the results were some of the highest and most creative towers.
What does this mean for us?
In the past, I put huge pressure on myself to get it right the first time. This pressure resulted in Zero Work.
Over the last 2 months, I’ve been learning to embrace the draft, celebrate the process, brainstorm imperfect ideas and use pencil first. I’ve filled a 60 page notebook. The result is a lot of imperfect work and some pretty good work.
The pretty good work is a million times better than the perfect work I never produced or the mediocre work that resulted from a deadline and total commitment to the first idea.
Today I’d like to share some of the pages in my sketch book that have hit the cutting room floor in honour of the draft. I’d like to give you permission to get it right on the second try.
Try to spend a little more time channelling your inner pre-schooler and experimenting to find the solution. I’d love to hear how you get on. Please share in the comments about your experience.