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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Creative Perfectionist vs. The Creative Pragmatist

Brian Little, in his book Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Welbeing, writes about two types of people and their approach to creativity: the creative perfectionist and the creative pragmatist. I find this is a really useful dichotomy to view yourself and music production through. I've often been guilty of leaning towards being a creative perfectionist, that is to say not starting on projects until the ideal moment, and only moving past one stage of a project once the previous stage is completely finished. Below are a series of quotes that will show you why pragmatism in many instances is a better approach. In short perfection is something that simply doesn't exist. You can have very good, but you simply can't have perfection, and striving for perfection will be counter productive in the long run.

Starting

The creative perfectionist:

"... I cannot start my new piece until the ideal moment, meaning I have a large uninterrupted block of time, no other distractions, a strong level of motivation to work on the project, and the ideal plan for how to optimize the entire process. This typically means that I end up doing nothing and feeling guilty about procrastinating until I have no other choice but to begin. This forces me to proceed at a frantic pace, staying up all hours of the night and neglecting almost everything else. I’m so frustrated because I know I could do a better job if I had just started sooner."

The creative pragmatist:

"... I know there will never be an ideal time to begin so I set aside time to get started on one part of the process. When I get to that time, regardless of whether I feel like doing the work or whether it seems like the most urgent priority at the moment, I get started on what I can do now. At the end of that initial start, I decide when I will move forward on the project again. I understand that the first stage of working on the piece is messy and that the project inevitably will take longer and have more complexity than I initially anticipate. But that’s okay because I have time to adapt and adjust my plans and still meet my goals and create good work."

Details

The creative perfectionist:

"... I must obsess over every detail of the piece, regardless of whether anyone else will notice. This leads me to revise and edit myself at every step instead of giving myself permission to bang out an imperfect first draft. Also, whenever I think of something I could research in relation to my piece, I delve into learning as much as possible about the subject, even if I do not really need the information and could never use all of it."

"... This leads to my spending lots and lots of time on my piece but not having much in the way of tangible results to show for my efforts. I also end up feeling really overwhelmed because I know so much that it makes it difficult to focus and narrow down my possibilities. This means that I often overdo the first part of my creative project in terms of time spent and attention to detail. Then I can barely skim the surface of what I should do for the rest of the piece when it comes close to crunch time."

The creative pragmatist:

"... I define the meaningful end deliverables and then start to clarify the intermediate steps to create them. I look at how much time I have between now and my projected end date. By time I mean both number of weeks and number of hours during those weeks to move this project forward. Then I allocate my time to the incremental steps, weighted by the reality of the minimum time that it takes to complete the elements and also by the importance of that element to the overall success of the project. Then, as I move through the process, I push myself to keep pace with the goals I’ve set, producing good enough work within the time I have to spend and giving myself permission to circle back if I still have additional hours at the end. This will ensure that I don’t over-invest in less important items and then botch the finish."

Feedback

The creative perfectionist:

"... If someone points out a mistake, has a different opinion, mentions something I didn’t include, or has anything other than incredibly positive things to say about a piece, I feel embarrassed and like a total failure. I worry that my expertise and respect is in question and that others will think I’m incompetent and an impostor."

The creative pragmatist:

"... I appreciate feedback because it helps me to test and refine my work. I may agree or disagree with the input and I can choose how I respond to it. If I never open myself up to others insights, I might miss out on something really wonderful. My work is improved and my world is expanded through the input of others."

Conclusion

While some sense of perfectionism is important to push you further, undoubtedly there are aspects of being a perfectionist that are not helpful. Here we've identified a few of these as described by Brian little. So what sort of creative ar you? Do you lean more to the perfectionist of pragmatist end of the spectrum? Are there some habits that you can change to allow for a better workflow and more relaxed state of mind, leading to a better end product? Alternatively are you too far towards the pragmatist end of the spectrum, and do you compromise too easily? Whichever it is, understand that you should draw from both sides of this dichotomy but in the right manner.

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