Saturday, March 08, 2014

Are You Creating Medium Agnostic?

In the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a heartbroken songwriter has this idea for a rock opera. The theme of his musical is vampires and eternal love and how men smother the women they want to be close with.

And the hook is, the writer has this vision of performing the opera with puppets.

Throughout the movie, Peter struggles to make progress with his project. He’s depressed and lovelorn. His creativity gets blocked. He even feels embarrassed to share his work with anybody.

But just when he starts to lose hope on his rock opera, he performs one of the songs for his new girlfriend. And she thinks the material is hysterical.

Smash cut to a sold out theater for the musical’s debut performance, Peter reflects on his creative process, “I didn’t realize that my musical was a comedy, but when someone told me that, and it just, like, opened the whole thing up.”

That’s what’s possible when we work medium agnostic.

This is a common mantra in the digital, startup and tech world. We’re seeing more and more companies who aren’t attached to any one particular solution or idea, rather, they’re fueled by serving the evolving needs of the users in whatever way works best.
Scott Belsky, founder of the online portfolio platform, Behance, is famous for his position on creating medium agnostic. He believes companies should be constrained by their missions, not the media they work in. And so, at his organization, everything they do revolves around empowering careers and organizing the creative world––but pursuing that mission through any medium possible, whether it’s a blog, paper product, conference, or even an online network.
During a presentation at a recent design conference, Belsky said:
“Years ago, a company would have to define themselves primarily by their medium, saying they’re a tech company or a company that puts on conferences or a blog. But in the modern day of cloud servers, open source software and seamless connection with the masses, it’s easier than ever before to pursue your mission using many mediums. The cost of execution has gone down drastically, making it easier for a business to expand outside of the media they’ve established themselves in.”
Of course, that’s the startup world.
But when it comes to the art world, working medium agnostic is just as applicable.
Instead of locking our work into a single path, we keep everything in permanent beta, evaluating new opportunities as they present themselves, taking into consideration our evolving assets. Instead of limiting ourselves to one vision of our capabilities, we live larger than our labels, cast a wider creative net, make use of everything we are and open our work to becoming more dimensionalized.

Because it’s not our job to decide what to create, only listen for what wants to be created.
Last year, I started writing what I thought was going to be my next musical album. But when I stepped back and freed my work from that label, I let the project become what it wanted to become. And eventually, I said to myself, wait a minute, this isn’t going to be record, this is going to be a documentary film.
That’s what wanted to be created.
Another time, I started working on what I thought was going to be my next book. But when I got frustrated and blocked and bored of the material, I stepped back to let the project become what it wanted to become. A few days later, I had lunch with a friend who helped me realize, oh wow, this isn’t going to be a book, this is going to be a college curriculum.

That’s what wanted to be created.
I’m reminded of an interview I read with cartoonist Hugh Macleod:
“We try to reverse engineer the universe from our own ego. Hilarity ensues. A winning approach for me is to just do my work to the best of my ability, and think of every project as not so much in terms of the result I want to have, but as an experiment to see if this works.”
Hugh believes, as I have for many years, that with no labels, there are no limits. That when we keep the results of our work open ended, we open our work to becoming more, uncovering new territory for expansion, inviting new dimensions to our creative life.
In fact, the word agnostic has a fascinating history, around which there has been significant debate and controversy. From an etymology perspective, the word literally means, “without knowledge.” From a historical perspective, evolutionary biologist Thomas Henry Huxley was the first to surround the word with religious, metaphysical and spiritual implications. And from a social and culture perspective, technical and marketing literature use the word to describe an independence from parameters.
The point is, all instances of the word agnostic point to the same basic principles:
Discard prejudices. Suspend judgment. Empty yourself of expectations. Surrender control. Say yes to what is. Don’t fall in love with your ideas. Put an end to the habitual anticipation of outcomes.
Listen to what wants to be created.

That’s the mindset of the prolific creator.