Incremental. Its Visceral.

by Peter D on October 16, 2014

“We follow a path of discovery, strung like pearls on a thread of curiosity, lending richness to our work.” – James Krenov

When you’re in the weeds of a designing and building a piece of furniture – like a lot of things in life – it’s hard to remember that you’re the first person ever in the history of the universe to be creating the thing you’re creating…

Creativity is synthesis (and “design” is nothing more than problem-solving). There’s nothing new under the sun. But what you bring to the table, the pieces you put together from pre-existing ideas, the way you put them together – it’s new and has never been done before. You are not working from a “project build” with a cut-list and a how-to. That is invigorating and extremely scary all at the same time. Its especially scary when you aren’t working in a field that is within your wheel-house.

Commencing a large project is all about expectation. External, supposed “objective,” expectations; your own internal expectations related to your self-perceived capacities. If it’s a furniture build, you are consumed by external “comparators” you found on Pinterest, or maybe from your previous work. If you’re in a class, your comparing your ideas and their implementation to that of your peers. You’re also already an accomplished person, and thus are driven by your own expectations of yourself.

I’ve been contemplating this as I engage with the Soulcraft Cohort. I am thinking about it from their perspective – as professional educators and administrators embarking on a large-scale build with little prior experience. I am also thinking about it from the perspective of an experienced furniture designer and builder – as well as from the perspective of a teacher of the craft.

I was talking to an extremely talented furniture designer and maker who uses the shop recently. He said, “When starting the speculative design process, I am often intimidated by my previous work.” Indeed. And if I had his body of work, I’d be intimidated too!

This is no less the case with educational processionals who have felt capable and fluid in most endeavors they’ve chosen to pursue in their lives, yet nevertheless feel a bit ungrounded when approaching a novel experience like furniture making. They are used to performing to expectation and usually exceeding it. How does one proceed when you actually know you have limited skill set – yet – still aim to produce on the level you are used to producing?

What is happening there? And how does one overcome that expectation – internally or externally motivated?

There is a tension inside the process itself which answers these questions. There is, of course, some amount of prior experience which enables just enough boldness to commence. To even put one’s self in an uncomfortable, unknowable situation, requires a certain self-confidence, regardless of pre-existing skill-set and regardless of self-doubt. It might not be much, but it is just enough to make a start.

And that’s point one: Make a start. You don’t know the end goal. You don’t entirely know the process that will get you there. But just, well, MAKE A START.

The educators in the Cohort are willing to do this, in a completely novel and scary situation, because in a totally different situation, they did so, once or often. We make a start somewhere, without knowledge of the result or even means to get there, and you grew. In fact, we might even point to such experiences as seminal in our past growth. So, we have an inkling of, well…….faith. In the process. And in our capacity to respond to it. It takes both, I think. Its a mindset.

Inside the process, and especially trusting the process, we find our feet and our confidence.
We have to decide what we don’t have to decide yet. It is tempting for the expectation-laden designer to map-out the entire project. To draw a direct line from the paper to the vision in their head. This gives piece of mind to the expectation-driven type. Yet this is an illusory and very constricting method of attack on a project.

But here’s where we started: remember, we are building something no one else on earth has built before. As an idea – which is all it is – it has a life unto itself. It will – 9 times out of 10 – defy an attempt to turn it into a “cut-list” right from idea to paper. There are so many variables that are unseen – both aesthetic and in construction – that can’t be quantified until we are looking at them face-to-face.

Sometimes, we have to make just – and ONLY – the decisions necessary to cut wood and construct in order to have a skeleton of a 3-D structure in front of us. ONLY THEN can we start thinking about further decisions. So often, that’s when the “AHA!” moments happen. We’ve designed and built just enough to even be able to ask the “next” question. And, importantly, we know have a 3-d structure in front of us to assist in the answering of that question. In a very cool way, the answer is often SOOOOOO different than our original idea. Often, that’s when the design starts to take real shape.

Make the next right decision; the process itself will then enable the next incremental creativity and insight.

We’re not implementors. We’re creators. We have to act like it and exercise the faith that requires.


Follow this dynamic Cohort here:

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