"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves." Brendan Behan
Mistakes. Lately, many people are asking about mistakes.
It’s funny how this happens. As the world becomes obsessed with data and certainty we all start to crave madness and surprises. Contradiction makes the world go round. The only thing we love more than patterns is breaking them. Critics understand patterns. Creatives understand how to break them. With apologies to Kierkegaard, critics see life backwards, creatives have to live life forwards.
Watch any endeavour and you will see this. Let's take sport. Take rugby. The ball goes down the back line. Someone throws a bad pass. The ball misses the player, hits the ground and goes to the next player. This mistake freezes the defence and disrupts their pattern. The player goes through to score. A critic will say it was a bad pass. A player will say it was an opportunity. The critic works with the pattern. A great player works with the new. He works with what is. The great ones understand that nothing makes you focus on the present like a mistake.
You will see this over and over in art, science, music and anywhere you have to get your hands dirty and take a risk. This is where you find the space for random events and combinations to create something new. From the many attempts to create a light bulb, Fijians playing rugby, Bobby Fischer playing chess or the work of Marcel Duchamp or Basquiat, you see the flow of working with what is there. Not what should be there but what is right in front of you.
The problem is that it is a messy business and sometimes it doesn’t work. Most people don’t want creativity, they want the result of creativity.
This is why a critic is so dangerous. They work with what they think should be there. They cut off the oxygen and kill potential. So, what you get is an acceptable answer, but not a new one.
Inside an agency this is very dangerous. I have seen people have entire careers built on being averagely right rather than imaginatively interesting. It is a strong defendable position that can kill the creative space because it creates fear. And fear and true creativity don’t mix.
To use the rugby analogy again, if you are terrified of what the other players will say or what the coach says if you make a mistake, you won’t throw that pass.
You will not do what is inside you. You will do what is outside of you. This is the end.
Right now, many believe the answers are out there, somewhere. They are not.
The great answers are still inside us. And they often begin with great mistakes. Go make one.
- Damon Stapleton is chief creative officer at DDB. Damon.Stapleton@nz.ddb.com.