Creative lessons

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Since my early childhood, there has been a guy in my life that I can’t stand.

One day, he beat me up so bad I was crying before the whole Kindergarten. It happened again. And again. Meh.

When I left Kindergarten, I thought I was never going to see my enemy again.

But Lady Luck wanted to play another game with me.

Call it twisted destiny, but we ended up in the same high school. Worse, we even ended up in the same class. The war continued. Don’t get me wrong — he was sharp and creative, but his character and perspective were on the polar opposite of mine. Whenever we met, there was poison in the air, and world views clashed like gigantic Transformers.

But when the school age was over, he finally disappeared from my life.

Until one fine day…

Many years later, I met him on the street again.

Instead of ignoring him, I actually said hello, and we ended up in a coffee shop. Ever since that day, I still occasionally meet up with him. And I hate it every single time.

Huh?

Why would I be doing this? Am I some kind of pain-inflicting freak ?

Maybe, maybe not. The reason I force myself to meet him is because it pushes my boundaries.

In a strange, small way, it helps me write better content, make better products, and create better art.

I think that if you want to be more creative — and we all need to be — we should be willing to push our psychological comfort zones, or we’re going to end up as tomorrow’s online roadkill.

My “enemy” pushes me unlike any other person I know, and allows me to expand my creativity in untold ways.

Lessons I’ve learned from my enemy

1) Everyone’s right, everyone’s wrong.

I used to believe that there’s a right way to do it, and there’s always a wrong way.

A lot of peeps in the blogosphere still seem to think this way, judging from their content … “The only way to…” or,”Why you must…” (include apparent ‘need’ here).

Blah, blah. My “enemy” does a lot of things differently, and still boasts incredible results. He has a following, but he doesn’t use social media. He created a full indie movie and crowdsourced it, without the use of the Internet. The list goes on.

Just when you think you’ve found the “right way,” remember that somewhere on this planet, there’s someone who does the exact opposite and succeeds beyond your wildest dreams.

2) Focus on your competency

My “enemy” is a slow adopter, he doesn’t swoon for new technology.

I’m an ADD crow when it comes to new tools and trends; whenever I see something new and shiny, I want to spend lots of time on it.

But whenever I want to jump on the newest fad, he grabs my shoulder and asks “why?”

Reality check. I often end up using things that waste my time and take me away from my creative process.

Falling victim to trends can lead you far away from your core competency, which can result in ending up in a place you don’t want to be. A lost leaf in the wind.

When the world around you is sprinting in some new direction, it’s better to hold still for a moment and ask yourself: Why? Are you making progress or are you just mindlessly following the masses?

3) Ask for that slap in the face.

Not literally, unless you walk the S&M path. When I ask for feedback, my friends and family always paint honey around my face. It’s well-intended, but useless when it comes to improving my work. But my “enemy” never holds back.

When I show him my work, he engages all weapon systems. Whammo.

Of course, I filter out the useful feedback from the ranting, but it helps me. A lot.

For someone who doesn’t care about offending me, he sees and says things that I’ve never heard before. I get a whole new perspective and improve my upcoming work … by a lot.

Ask people for feedback that don’t care about you. The answer will be brutal, more honest, and most importantly, more helpful.

4) Back up your claims with data. Always.

When I argue with my “enemy,” I lose most of the time. The guy’s BS meter is effective, and whenever he sniffs out my claims that are not backed up with actual data, (ummm, all the time), he deconstructs me like I’m a Lego building.

Like many, I can be a lazy thinker and run on auto-pilot,  I may repeat information and opinion snippets from other blog posts and gossip, without EVER checking whether these facts had any validity to begin with. Meh.

Whenever you make an important statement, whether that’s in a speech or in your content, ask yourself whether you can back up it with true knowledge and facts. Somewhere in the audience, there’s an “enemy” with the BS meter running high, and s/he will call you out.

5) What’s good for you is not good for you.

We are comfort-seeking creatures. We want to surround ourselves with like-minded folks who ride the same wavelengths. Good? Bad. It results in a party of puppets — samey, samey thinking that stifles innovation. In order to escape the echo chamber, you must surround yourself with ideas and people you disagree with.

Inspired by my “enemy,” I met up with people from a Christian youth church. They even invited me to their weekly events. I don’t like religion, I never did. So, I had zilch interest in meeting up. But since I love to push my thinking, I accepted the invitation anyways.

The event was … quite an experience. In fact, I visited it multiple times.

I’m still not believing in God, but I do understand the believers much, much better, and I’m stronger for it.

What about you?

I don’t get invited to my enemy’s birthday parties or call him a friend. Never ever.

But I keep meeting up with him, because he pushes me, every single time.  Creativity doesn’t just come from things you like, it comes from experiences that push your (psychological) boundaries.

The medicine may taste bitter, but it’s just what the creative patient needs. Is it time to embrace your enemy?

mars dorianMars Dorian describes himself as a creative marketeer with a moon-melting passion for human potential and technology. You can follow his adventures at www.marsdorian.com/

Original illustrations by the author.

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