Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Never Fall in Love With Your Own Inventory

My grandfather has long and prestigious history in the closeout industry.

As a discount retail pioneer, he founded his business in the early seventies. Nearly four decades later, his company remains a global leader.

Naturally, he’s seen everything, from depressions to recessions to floods to industry shifts to product recalls to lost palettes to technology innovation to stolen trucks to entire ceilings spontaneously collapsing in warehouses.

And something he once told me that I’ll always remember was:

Never fall in love with your own inventory.

That’s great advice for wholesalers and artists.

Because as creators and crafters and communicators, our primary occupation isn’t to discern the value of our ideas, but to keep our inventory of ideas flowing at all times.

And so, we discard our evaluative tendencies. We treat every idea, every experience and every thought with deep democracy. We have to say yes to what is.

A few years ago, my wife and I spent a summer taking improv classes at a local theater company. Our instructors told us, it’s not about being the funniest person on stage, constantly inventing punchlines to get a cheap laugh from the audience. It’s about saying yes and serving the scene. It’s about looking into someone’s eyes and feeling their reactions. It’s about responding honestly to people’s realities. And it’s about keeping the ball in play no matter what, fully committing to whatever rabbit hole you go down.

The creative process has a similar model.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite books, Unintentional Music, a program for using openness and acceptance to get the most out of the creative process. The subject matter of the book mostly revolves around music, but there’s still a lot we can glean from an overall creative standpoint. The author writes:

“Focus on the music you do not intend to make. Align yourself with the flow of process. See disturbing or unwanted things as potentially meaningful. Stay open to what you are typically closed to. Rather than judging experiences, just be with what is. When something arises, let it come, and when something disappears, let it go. And learn to love whatever happens and trust that it will lead you to where you ultimately need to go.”

We never fall in love with our own inventory.

The polar opposite of this concept is premature cognitive commitment.

As you remember from our discussion on working modular, humans can easily become emotionally or intellectually bound to a course of action, assigning labels to ideas too early­­ in the creative process. And as a result, they talk themselves into the wrong ideas and out of the right ones.

For example, think how many times you’ve said to yourself, or heard someone else say to themselves, “Look, if don’t remember it when I get home, then it couldn’t have been that important.”

Bullshit. You don’t know that. Nobody does.

What you know is that your job is to create. What you know is that you have to trust the process. What you know is that your most valuable and interesting and leverageable ideas will make themselves known when the time is right.

Kevin Smith, writer, filmmaker and podcaster, recently gave a commencement speech at a film school, in which he shared his philosophy on this matter:

“Any seed to imagination, any ignition of pure creation, is not just healthy and safe, but practical and necessary. Because every idea gives us perspective. It humbles our creative spirit. And, bad ideas come in handy for other problems later. Nothing is ever wasted, every idea eventually finds a home. Ultimately our process of experimentation helps create the elbowroom for good ideas to emerge. All we have to do is listen. And sometimes, when you chase whimsy as far as you can, it gets winded and weird enough for you to catch it.”

In the decade I’ve worked as a freelancer, I’ve had thousands of bad ideas. Horrible ones. Bordering on embarrassing. Several of which were executed, poorly. But as my mentor used to say, the best way to have a good idea is to have a hundred bad ones. And so, out of that slush pile, I’ve also had thirty or forty really, really good ideas. Ideas that spread, ideas that made money, ideas that made a difference. I believe there are no successes or failures, only the consequences of our experiments.

We can never lose that spirit. We owe it to our creative selves to set up a consequence free space for experimentation. A safe place where we can boldly fiddle our way to the truth. One where we never fall in love with our own inventory, but we never discard any of the boxes either.

So for now, just get the idea into the warehouse.

You never know where you might use it.