Use chaos to fuel creativity

When I worked at the supercomputer manufacturer Cray Research we had our share of challenges. During one particularly stressful time, one of my colleagues declared sarcastically: “I eat chaos for breakfast!”

I sure hoped he was hungry, because we had plenty to serve up.

Perhaps you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the things going on in your life. Chaos for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe even a late night snack. Chaos might even describe your dream right now. It may be that you feel like you’re not making the progress you’d like and that chaos has bested you.

Year’s ago Denise Shekerjian interviewed a hundred winners of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation awards. These awards are given to those who “have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction” (website). The winner receives $500,000 and a lot of notoriety. Those who have won come from all disciplines: medicine, law, fine arts, etc. Even a juggler has won the award.

In her study of these winners, she set out to see if she could discover the secret to creative success. Her book, Uncommon Geniusis an interesting read about creative discovery.

One of her discoveries, in particular, might encourage you.

Often, we think of creative insight coming from focused, hard-hitting and sustained determination. After many attempts, “Eureka!” The light bulb, is invented, for instance. In fact, its inventor, Thomas Edison, famously said that he didn’t fail a thousand times; he learned a thousand different ways a filament wouldn’t light. So, when it comes to our dreams, we often think that it takes the same kind of laser-like focus and determination to make them come to life.

Shekerjian’s findings were quite different, however. After hundreds of interviews of these creative geniuses, she found that there was no logical sequence to creative insight; for any of them. Instead, successful creatives are collectors. They take a bit here, then a bit there; not knowing perhaps even where they are headed. They stumbled about, but did so intentionally, not apologetically, taking on the attitude of an explorer.

Shekerjian’s conclusion is important for us to remember: “Cheat on the chaotic stumbling-about, and you’ve robbed yourself of the raw stuff that feeds imagination.”

No matter where you are in your journey, never forget that God is shaping you toward something. Don’t try to short-circuit the process. Instead, feed your imagination by accepting the chaotic stumbling about. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not any clearer about where you’re going today than when you started. Soon, it will make sense. Just keep pressing on!

How have you seen chaotic situations foster creativity in your life?

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