Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Guessing Game Creativity

Ever panicked when you saw the title of a book or article because it looks exactly like the book or article that you are attempting to write? Me too. That happened to me this morning. I was sitting on our green couch, browsing the usual passel of blogs, and bam! There it was. My book. The book that I was supposed to write. It winked at me. My stomach shrank, my butt clenched, and my inner monologue monologued:

“Why should I go on? I should let sexier, more seasoned experts have their way with this topic. Maybe I’ll get in the game after 10 more years, at least 5 of which will be spent abroad under the sadistic tutelage of a wildly-bearded guru . . .”

Then I remembered that I am writing about creativity. Then I remembered some sound advice from reconstruct: be an ouroboros. Write your book about creativity using the very ideas that you are writing about in your book. Genius. I am writing about using principles from improv theater as a vehicle to unleash your creativity. So, to ease myself out of the quagmire of self-pity, I thought of the best improv technique to use in guessing games (even though this probably won’t be in the book).

Guessing games involve one improviser who is kept in the dark about an audience suggestion–e.g. a crime they committed. During the game, the improviser tries to guess the crime she has committed, while other improvisers feed the guesser clues, all while acting out a specific scene (like an police interrogation).

A prime temptation for many guessers is to keep their guesses vague, so they don’t get it wrong. But this means that the other improvisers have no idea what the guesser is thinking, so they can’t adapt their clues to help the guesser discover the right answer. The more the guesser can make strong, specific offers, the greater the chance of success, because the other improvisers can adjust their hints to shepherd the guesser in the right direction. If I say, “I stabbed a mechanic with a turkey beak.” Then you can snarl, “Yes, but you did something that wasn’t quite so fowl too!” Now (hopefully) I know that I should drop the idea of birds and try again.

Application station! Let’s say that you are the guesser and life is made up of other improvisers trying to steer you in the right direction. It is our job to give the world strong, specific offers. The world’s job is to give us clues to let us know if we are headed in the right direction. In my case, the world was saying, “Hey check this book out. It will let you know if you need to adjust your topic slightly to an unexplored area.” Three implications of this mental model:

  • Our environment is not static. We are part of a dynamic network. Creation is collaboration.
  • We shouldn’t let fear of failure keep us from getting in the game. In fact, jumping in is the only chance we have of success.
  • A blocked path is not always a cease and desist order. It is a nudge in a different direction, and an encouragement to keep going.

Happy creating . . . in the dining room with the candlestick . . .

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