How can we be sure that we’re on the right track? Doubt is the rust that eats away at our ability, as designers, to be confident that what we’re producing is good and worthwhile.
In this episode, professional speaker Merlin Mann talks about overcoming or, perhaps, embracing self-doubt, to become better producers of quality work. Are we allowed to change our minds and how do we deal with the criticism that results from that?
I enjoyed this talk immensely. For me, it helped to highlight the perspective that many self-described “non-creative” (or, just as applicably, “non-technical”) people have when interacting with creative or technical processes. That is, generally:
1) There are going to be a lot of ideas,
2) Most of them are going to turn out to be garbage, and,
3) The process of sifting the garbage from the gold is anything but linear.
Here, Merlin poignantly describes that perspective:
“If you only know what things look like when they’re done – if you only know what a finished house or a finished bridge or a finished website looks like – your expectations are remarkably high. And your basic judgement is that it’s a one or a zero; it’s either done flawlessly, on-budget, and on-time, or it’s a disaster.”
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between.
That “in between” can be hard to explain to those unfamiliar with it. So often, creative professionals hear from their clients, friends, and family, “Oh, I guess I’m just not the creative type.” What does that mean, exactly? As TJ Luoma puts it, odds are these people are plenty creative, just in different ways. More often than not, when people self-describe as “non-creative” or “non-technical”, what they really mean is not in the sense that they are never creative or incapable of creativity, but rather as someone who is not habitually creative and who is just generally unfamiliar with that way of thinking.
The doubts and disappointments that go along with that thinking are natural, essential parts of the creative process, not signs of failure in and of themselves. In psychology, the recurrence of these thoughts is called Impostor Syndrome – the inability to internalize one’s own accomplishments:
Despite external evidence of their competence, those with Impostor Syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
The thing is, everyone feels that way from time to time. It pushes us to try harder, work smarter, and reach farther. It’s that voice inside your head saying that not everything is as it seems, and it all has the potential to be better than it is. When you can’t hear that voice anymore? That’s when you should start to worry.
Kurt Williams is a professional nerd and amateur writer at Ogilvy Washington
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