Our parents, coaches and piano teachers told us, “Practice makes perfect!” Except, apparently, for Vince Lombardi, who told his team, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Others have weighed in on the subject, too:
“There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory.” –anonymous
“The bridge between knowledge and skill is practice. The bridge between skill and mastery is time.” –Jim Bouchard
“An amateur practices something until he gets it right. A professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.” –Barry Green
I recently read an excellent article by creativity researcher Scott Barry Kaufman. In “Creativity is Much More Than 10,000 Hours of Deliberate Practice,” (Scientific American, April 17), he explains how “instead of deliberately practicing down an already existing path, they [creators] often create their own path for others to follow.”
As creators, the goal is not perfection. We are not seeking to master what has already been done before. Instead, we are seeking originality. We are determined to push beyond what has already been done, to change it in some way, or even to do something entirely new.
This doesn’t mean that mastery and practice are not important in creative fields (though Kaufman states that there are instances when it could be detrimental). To push beyond, for instance, we must get there first. And I am reminded of the advice I have heard so often: “One should know the rules before breaking them.”
And yet, it is often those who don’t know the rules and haven't been practicing—those who look at things with a fresh eye—who often come up with the most innovative and useful solutions to challenges. It’s why, when brainstorming, it is helpful to have one or more individuals participating in the process who are not familiar with the situation or knowledgeable about the subject matter. Naïve questions and observations can be good for the creative process.
Practice is good for some things. Maybe even most things. But not everything.
When practicing, the goal is generally to get it right. Some of the best ideas come about, however, when we don’t—when we are open to play, trial and error, and making mistakes. So perhaps those in creative fields just practice in a different way. In photography, I find that practicing my craft is vital. Yet I also make a point to "mess around" on a fairly regular basis—to intentionally do things differently. This helps keep my mind and work fresh. Writers certainly must practice their craft, but mastery of craft alone is never enough; they must have an active imagination as well. The role of practice and the importance of creative thinking vary from one field to another.
Can we practice being more creative? I believe so. There are definitely things we can do to become more creative and to develop a creative mindset: specific exercises, ways of thinking, learning to be more open to ideas and novelty, asking more questions and so much more. I write about these regularly in this newsletter and on my blog.
Can we master creativity? Or is that, in itself, a contradictory concept? I'm going to leave that question to the researchers or at least for another day.
What do you want to be really good at or creative in? Is practice part of your regimen for getting there? If so, what constitutes practice for you?