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The Dance of the Possible: the mostly honest completely irreverent guide to creativity Perfect Paperback – March 10, 2017
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"You'll find a lot to steal from this short, inspiring guide to being creative. Made me want to get up and make stuff!" - Austin Kleon, author of How To Steal Like An Artist
About the Author
Scott Berkun (@berkun) is the best selling author of six books, including Making Things Happen, The Myths of Innovation, Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Year Without Pants. His work has appeared in the The Washington Post, The New York Times, Wired Magazine, Fast Company, The Economist, Forbes Magazine, and other media. He has taught creative thinking at the University of Washington and has been a regular commentator on CNBC, MSNBC and National Public Radio. His many popular essays and entertaining lectures can be found for free on his website.
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Top customer reviews
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.
Berkun goes out of his way to avoid giving an easy solution to being creative, and he's very dismissive of creativity as an end goal. The point of being creative is to create something, and creativity as a virtue is a relatively recent development. Explore the possibilities of choices in mundane situations, he suggests. Somehow, this ended up with me writing on my sock with a permanent marker at 12:30 AM.
Any sort of creative work, even this very book review, is a delicate dance between two opposing forces: expanding what is possible for the project and contracting the scope so that it actually gets done. I can deconstruct the message of the chapters and reassemble them in any way I want, mixing them into something new. And I can shuffle these ideas around forever, but at some point the review must be published, or else what good has it done you?
One aspect of the book that I particularly liked was Berkun's focus on some of the mental issues involved in trying to develop a creative work. In chapter 12, he talks about "the tightrope of creative confidence": being confident enough to act, but not too confident. I prefer to think of it as "the eternal struggle between the Dunning-Krueger Effect and Impostor Syndrome", but regardless of the name it's a balancing act I know well.
All-in-all, The Dance of the Possible was a quick read. Indeed, the very first note I wrote down was "he seems to insist we not read the book." This is not a book designed for Scott Berkun to wax poetic for chapters on end. Instead it shares real, actionable advice for exercising the thinking muscle. I enjoyed this book and found the framing of the problem and solution to be very helpful in understanding my own thought process. I can't say that I came away with any sudden, brilliant insight, but maybe that's the point.