When I finished writing my first book, I was unaware that it also inadvertently closed a chapter of my life. So I was especially mindful when writing my second book “Creative Strategies” to leave room for the unknown - until now.
Although printed and bound, my first “book" was more of a learning guide for a complex 3D modeling software named “Alias” that I was teaching at ArtCenter College of Design at the time. The software did not come with comprehensive instructions, and my students encouraged me to write handouts, which I frantically did week after week, term after term. Eventually, the photocopying got out of hand as I was schlepping phonebook sized stacks around with me. Luckily, just around that time, the software developer approached me to write the book, which ironically led me to realize that I should probably quit teaching Alias altogether.
What had occurred to me is that if one writes the “how-to” manual to anything, they might as well move on. Change is a constant in life, and it was time for me to evolve. Deep inside, I was yearning to teach a class based on analogue tools instead of digital ones that could transcend cultures and languages instead of being in a singular tongue accessible to anyone and could benefit everyone. Like cracking a code, I tried to decipher what process I might have to offer that would be worthy of teaching, which could eventually replace the computer classes. This was the birth of “Creative Strategies,” a kind of experimental creativity class that I teach at ArtCenter to this day. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is also referred to as “Creative Tragedies.”
The class is unconventional in every aspect, and students regularly tell me that it was amongst their favorite ones that they took in college. They cited the untamed freedom to create as the reason. That encouraged me to perhaps write a second book, hopefully not with the same outcome as the first one. The journey that I was about to embark on took years of outlines, re-writes, and edits, and all along with the feeling of uncertainty if I will ever get it done. You will never know this from the final product, though. It is a relatively quick read meant to be consumed in an afternoon and leave you with the appetite to start something creative by yourself.
To me, the most challenging question was: “How does one write a book about Creativity in the first place?” I did not want to write another “how-to” manual for creativity. After all, that might accidentally make me stop being creative. But I also did not want to write psychology, history, or business book, perhaps because my experience level on those topics is nil. Thus I took the most uncomfortable approach from my perspective: writing about my own creative experiences and sharing with the world.
The voices in my head did not wait for long to cast doubt on me: “Is what I am writing any good? It must be perfect! But what if what I am writing is not perfect? I really need to use the word “I” less. And by the way, is there a more profound message in the text?” It turns out there is, even though I did not know it at the time. Only now, when I reflect on what I wrote, would I understand my point of view that was hidden in plain sight. I think the process of writing has this awesome power to allow the mind to release information and translate it into another medium, which forces editing. Editing is the process of making choices. Choices can create meaning.
As the Creative Strategies book was being edited for content by the fantastic crew of the publisher, DesignStudio Press, I had enlisted my friend and keen design strategist Jessie Kawata to help with the visual designs. There was just something about her ability to translate the concepts into visuals that seemed perfect for this book. I am forever thankful to her for contributing because I have recently realized that her designs ultimately hold the key to the book’s underlying message.
That truth is that the book and my attempt to teach students how to be more creative are really about connecting all of us with our inner child-like mindset. Not the childish attitude, but the child-like one. What is the child-like perspective, you ask? It is the one where imagination and possibility are the only rules of the day. Everything is inspiring, and anything will fly, where parental judgment is suspended because it has not yet been developed. Your mind is rewarded by how long it can keep playing instead of how fast it can win the game.
Looking at Jessie’s designs, I can see how she captured that spirit and how the visuals are a timeless expression of the child-like mindset. In some way, they appear to be done by someone who can traverse effortlessly between the adult and the child in all of us. And that I believe, is the key to creativity, the one I did not articulate in the Creative Strategies book, and so I want to offer it here for you:
There is no such thing as being creative or not being creative. Creativity is not an asset, talent, or gift. It is a mindset. We all have that mindset available to us. It is within us since we all were a child. The question is, how much do we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to access that part of our thinking capacity? How much can we mute the adult in us that keeps telling us what is right or wrong when we experiment with creativity?
“Creative Strategies” has been a very personal journey for me as it traces the ups and downs of my design and problem-solving processes. Writing it was a challenging time, but hopefully, reading it will inspire you to write down your own experiences as well. Writing can start a journey during times of uncertainty, and it has helped me reflect upon my experiences. Write to know.