The Dance of the Possible: the mostly honest completely irreverent guide to creativity Kindle Edition
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It's not uncommon that when we finish a book, we feel something lacking. Sometimes it's because it starts strong and wears out at the end (like most bestsellers); sometimes because it facilitates thoughts beyond the scope (philosophy or mathematics); other times because it's inspiring enough to provoke thought, but not practical enough to provoke action (positive psychology).
Scott Berkun's The Dance of the Possible (DoP) goes farther and beyond. It’s one of the most satisfying, convincing, and actionable initiators on creativity.
1. It’s Satisfying
Many bestsellers are actually best-fillers, inflating one chapter (or less) worth of materials to a dozen-chapter balloon, which eventually shrinks to the bare and bald.
Scott’s book is bestseller-worthy with no compromises. With his characteristic fluency and just-enough humor, Scott’s book is dense with insights, to-the-point with examples, and is intentionally kept concise for the most impatient. There’s no reason you can’t or shouldn’t read it.
2. It’s Convincing
Over the years I’ve also, just like the author, read quite some books on the topic of creativity. Blended with my own experiences and lessons, many of the books’ major points are resonant and are often finer and summarized better. Only solid research leads to sound reasoning, which is evident in the book.
Misconceptions, myths, and blindspots about creativity are all well addressed, barely leaving any space for further doubt. The author does a great job in anticipating and answering your questions along the way. Major concerns are usually addressed on-location, in a logical, practical manner.
You end up connecting all the fuzzy dots in your own experiences and reasoning about the topic, and, along with the author’s, shape a far better understanding and opinion. It’s not magical. It's just incredibly intelligent.
3. It’s Actionable and Inspiring
The understanding, the steps, and the encouragement are all right in the book. You can easily see yourself doing all the things suggested, with most of your skeptical or anxious questions about taking action answered.
This should be your first book on creativity, and hopefully the last (because it’s just so action-provoking).
Eventually, there's no magic at all when it comes to creativity. It's always in the details. And attending to the details of the mind and the action requires a higher calling, established by intelligence, curated by will, and implemented by habitual commitment.
Scott's book guides you to that calling. And the rest is, well, not easy, but finally in sight, probable, and most importantly, approachable.
The book is broken into three parts which roughly correlate to Idea creation, Idea development, and Idea deployment.
Part 1 Idea Creation
Scott clarifies the fact that nothing really is truly original and all ideas stand on the shoulders of giants, so to speak.
He offers a number of methods for finding ideas, and I agree with his approach of having a small toolbox of solid methods vs an ever expanding universe of pundit solutions. Use his or find your own, but keep it manageable and you'll be more productive.
The motivation for solving a problem is an interesting area in itself (ideas driven vs needs driven approaches) and Scott elaborates on some aspects of this. I felt it could have gone a little deeper using psychological theories such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to more outcome focused innovation processes like Ulwick's Jobs To Be Done, but that's a big topic in itself.
I really like the concept of the "Dance Of The Possible". It's an accurate emotive (visual, physical, emotional, auditory++) metaphor for the thinking process of exploring a solution space to a problem. Scott punctures a few more balloons here by highlighting that "Discovery is never efficient", so you need to get some skin in the game and enjoy the process as much as the outcome.
At the end of Part 1 he goes into the need to learn how to improvise. I fully agree with this, but I would also add (based on my own experience as a technologist and a musician) that improvisation best starts from knowing some kind of framework or reference point first. The old adage about knowing the rule book before you throw it away can pay dividends, especially if your improvisation needs to speak to people familiar with an existing paradigm. That's just makes it easier to market, which leads into elements of Part 2 and 3.
Part 2 Idea Development
My big takeaway from this section was Scott's eloquent distillation of the idea development process into a gap analysis framework of Effort, Skills, and Quality. Some great anecdotes are used here to zap a few more balloons and bring into focus some aspects of creativity expectation management that are sorely needed. I really liked the point about not being precious with your ideas, and building your ability to absorb feedback and constructive criticism to better hone your idea development process.
Part 3 Idea Deployment
Scott covers some important points which tie back to the motivation for undertaking a creative task. Whether that task is at the tip of Maslow's pyramid (eg: a creative urge to self actualize through making an emo shoe gaze tune) or more functional like a user needs based Jobs To Be Done approach (eg: developing an incremental or radical technology innovation for your company) at some point you will need to meet the spotlight of user feedback - or if you're really unlucky complete silence! Knowing how to handle this is key to building the confidence to continually develop creative projects, as is the ability to recognize burnout when you're wellspring has run dry and knowing how to refill it.
Lifelong learning is the default mindset we all need to cultivate for a healthy existence, and creativity is a key part of it whether through play, experimentation, or more focused application.
It's a refreshing read on an important topic with lots of immediately actionable advice.