Jonathan Fields is a force of clarity for creatives. He regularly posts brilliant insights and reflections on his own site, and tomorrow his wonderful new book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance catapults into bookstores everywhere.
I had the chance to connect with Jonathan to hear more about the book and to learn a little more about the role of uncertainty, doubt and fear in the creative process. (For more, you can also listen to our recent interview with Jonathan on the AC podcast.)
How does uncertainty affect our creative process?
Being in a state of uncertainty is critical to the creative process. It opens you to the possibility that you don’t know everything. That there might be better ideas out there to find or create. Being certain, by contrast, is a quest-killer for creatives. Why bother pushing further when you already have the answer?
Problem is, being in a state of uncertainty and having to act in that place is also very uncomfortable for most people. It causes unease, anxiety and fear. That leads us to either shut down or race through it in the name of not having to feel the discomfort any more. Problem is, at the same time, we end up killing or stunting the very thing we hoped to bring to life.
You introduce us in the book to something called the “creative crux”. Can you explain what that is?
Creatives always work with some level of uncertainty. But, without fail, there will be critical moments where everything comes to a head, where you’ve got to make a major call and take substantial action, even though you don’t know how it’s going to end and don’t have all the information you think you need.
What you do in the those pivotal moments often defines the success or failure of the entire endeavor, even if they make up a small amount of the total time and decisions involved in the fuller quest. These moments are your creative crux moves.
The name, by the way, comes from the most challenging move or series of moves when you’re rock-climbing. And, similarly, the difficulty of a climb is not rated so much by the overall route, but rather by the difficulty of the crux moves.
Being in a state of uncertainty is critical to the creative process. It opens you to the possibility that you don’t know everything.
What are some ways you’ve found for creatives to deal with the fear of judgment and “getting it wrong”?
Fear of judgment is one of the biggest things that shuts creatives down. It stops forward movement, but also, because of it’s indirect effect on your ability to handle uncertainty, it also stunts creativity.
Step one is to realize we actually do not want to eliminate judgment. Judgment is just feedback…with a bit of emotional sludge attached. We may not want the sludge, but the feedback is critical.
Simply understanding that it’s a needed part of the process can help shift the way you feel about it. How you feel about judgment also flows from whether you’ve adopted what Professor Carol Dweck calls a growth or fixed mindset.
A growth mindset assumes progress comes from work, so mistakes and feedback are just parts of the process that bring you closer to success. A fixed mindset assumes success is based on genetics, so mistakes or failures are signs that you’ve hit your potential and judgment is viewed more as futility because there’s nothing you can do about.
Also, creating a small, selective creation hive type of environment with the right people, ethic and all-ships-rising culture can be immensely helpful in disempowering the fear side of judgment, while keeping the data side needed to go deeper into the creative journey.
What was your favorite thing you uncovered during researching and writing this book?
Probably the coolest thing about the research was how it profoundly changed not only my own creative process, but the way I live in the world. For example, it’s hard to sit there and have a parade of world-class creators tell you that truly great work comes when you surrender the process to where it needs to go, and then realize that you’re not following their advice as you write your highly-planned, linear work.
So, at a certain point I had to leave the plan behind, apply many of the ideas and practices that unfold in the book and let the book go where it needed to go.
If creatives could walk away with one main lesson from Uncertainty, what would you want that to be?
The butterflies are there for a reason. They are signposts that what you’re seeking to create matters. Rather than hunt and kill them by default, spend some time learning how to listen to them, then if it makes sense, train in the skills and processes that’ll allow you to harness and ride them to greatness.
As a general rule, when yo kill the butterflies, you also kill the dream.
Thanks, Jonathan! Learn more about Uncertainty, or connect with Jonathan here.