How to get better at making things, or HOW WE REALLY CREATE!
Have you ever read something or heard someone say something so wonderful and powerful that your heart starts beating almost right out of your chest? I love those moments. I live for those moments.
A few years ago I watched a series of lectures by Kirby Ferguson. The title of the series is called Everything Is A Remix. I've discussed these lectures before. They are paradigm shifting. I recommend them. Especially his TED talk called Embracing the Remix. In fact, if you want to stop listening to this just to go look them up on YouTube I think you would be glad you did.
Anyhow, in his lectures Kirby talks about the three key steps of creation. They are Copy, Transform, and Combine.
No one starts out original. We cannot create anything new until we have a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding in our line of work. Copying is how we learn.
Taking an idea and creating variations. Major advances are usually not original ideas, but the breaking point in a long history of progress by many different individuals.
The most dramatic results happen when various ideas are combined together. By connecting ideas together, creative leaps can be made.
As Kirby outlined the progression of a creative work, he led my attention from entertained to interested, from enthralled to moved and transformed.
I grew up in the post-industrial american school system. We are trained to obey, repeat, and memorize. There is nothing creative about the training I received as a child. In fact, creation — as outlined by Kirby to copy, transform, and combine — is looked down upon and smothered by threats and shameful labels. We have a strange obsession with being original, and often confuse that with being authentic.
Imagine the freedom and validation I felt when Kirby outlined my secret shame as a strength. I had, as a young and aspirational creative, been secretly copying the works of those I admired for years. I repurposed and recomposed their own ideas to meet my needs. I did it in the shadows. Hoping to never be discovered. Never wanting to be branded a plagiarist or unoriginal.
But now Kirby tells me its okay. Not only that, it's the correct path.
Insight / Tips
As I look back over my personal history I can see that these steps of creativity of (copy, transform, combine) are not just descriptive of a creations lifespan, but also that of the creator itself.
When I was a boy I would steal my Mom's tracing paper and trace my comic book pages for hours. I would get lost in the lines and curves. I didn't understand it at the time, but I was learning about scale and contrast, light and shadow, hierarchy and story telling. I was just trying to draw a cool superhero, but I was being trained by my generations masters.
Eventually I could draw the characters from memory, after a little while longer I could improvise their poses and create my own little silly stories. I would mix styles and place my favorite characters in scenes that I had seen in movies or read about in books.
Soon enough I was creating new characters made up of elements of my favorite heroes. Wings and claws, guns and katanas, glowing fists and belts with far too many pouches (it was the 90's after all.)
Only now I can look back and see own my personal progression through the stages of copying, transforming, and combining to make something new and personally valuable.
It might be fun to someday outline the various influences that combine to make the DevTips style of videos.
Recognize and celebrate the origin of your ideas. Be honest with yourself and your audience. Enable yourself to have a real conversation about your work, your passion, and your influences.
Being aware of how creation comes about will make you more open to the things that you can draw upon and use to create something new.
Or as Kirby puts it:
Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made, we are dependent on one another. Admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness — it’s a liberation from our misconceptions, and its an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves and to simply begin.