Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Take Steps, Not Leaps


I'm reading this incredible book, How To Fly A Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention and Discovery, and although there are many interesting insights for us creative people trying to improve, one really stood out for me so far.

We often think of being creative or innovative as taking a giant leap forward from the status quo - be that our own or others. We write a best-selling book, or create a product that wows everyone, or discover a cure for a deadly disease. One moment there was the old, and the next there is this new, improved, radically different 'thing' that we have created. So the myth goes that we need to become capable of these huge leaps -and we think, how can I write a best-selling book, or design an incredible product? The pressure mounts,  and we reject plenty of good ideas right off the bat, because none of them sound like the next big thing. Not yet anyway.

What I'm learning, from this book, and serendipitously, because I'm thinking about it, from myriad other sources as well, that big changes happen in small steps. You take one step forward in a direction that seems promising, then you re-evaluate, learn something new, make some changes and take another step forward. This may not seem glamorous, may not make for good story-telling, but its closer to the truth than the proverbial light-bulb moment.

Well you may be saying, most of us have had a light-bulb moment or two. So what about that then? Those don't count do they? Well, actually they do - but they usually don't encompass the entire work - maybe you get a spark of an idea for something, but the rest has to be worked out by you, painstakingly, one page or note or prototype at a time. And that idea - it probably wasn't a giant leap. Most of my ideas, are just one step up from a book I read, or an amalgamation of several books and articles and things bouncing around in my head. Nothing just comes completely out of the blue that is 30 steps away from what I'm doing. And here's the thing - when it does - I'm just not ready for it.

I had an idea for a book on philosophy in college, while I was supposed to be studying legal theory for an exam. The idea was so big, to me at least, it scared me. I didn't think I knew enough, or had enough ability, to write this book. This book stayed with me over the years, I was really excited about it and I kept telling myself that I should start working on it, but really I never did. It was still too big for me. Now I don't really feel its too big anymore, but most of the excitement about the book has gone. I didn't write down my idea in too much detail, so I'm not sure at this point what exactly I was trying to do. Plus the ideas no longer feel like such a leap - there are similar ideas out there now, even if in different forms.

Maybe I should have pursued that idea more. But maybe there is also a lesson here - that when things are genuinely a leap, we may be intimidated into not following up. Or there is a lot of pressure - I'm going to be the next Stephen King, not I'm going to write a fun, kooky story and see where it goes. Or you don't yet have the tools to take the leap - like I felt handicapped by my lack of background in philosophy - but you might have the courage to take a small step - maybe I could have written the introduction, or the easiest chapter. Or even turned it into a blog post. Maybe books that I have lately loved started out as blog posts that resonated enough with readers that they were turned into a book.

So go on, take a step in the direction you want to go, and don't worry that your shoes are itty-bitty and delicate and your step is only small and tentative. Its moving forward, and if you keep stepping, maybe you'll get there faster than any leap.
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