“Dicking about should be tax-deductible for me,” jokes the ever-hilarious Ricky Gervais in a recent blog post, since the work he does is essentially creative, and creativity is, to the English comedian, essentially, well, dicking about.
And he has the body of work to prove it–and an ever-growing body of knowledge corroborates the dicking about theory, Gervais says:
Let me explain. Scientific studies of creativity have basically concluded that it can’t be taught, as it is a “facility” rather than a learned skill. Putting it very crudely, creativity is the ability to play. And, to be able to turn that facility on and off when necessary. This makes perfect sense to me. Everything I’ve ever written, created, or discovered artistically has come out of playing.
To make his point, Gervais reels off a torrent of quotes of writers and artists and fillmmakers, though the one that’s most striking is from another sagastic, jesterly Brit: Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, who said that “creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
It’s safe to expand this point from art to other creative fields, like business, especially the kind that’s preoccupied with innovation, as we at Fast Company incessantly are. To that end, there are two points for us to unpack here:
- that creative work requires exploratory mistake-making
- that exploratory mistake-making won’t happen regularly unless systematized
So let’s review them in order.
Pixar, the beloved animation studio, shared with us a beautiful tip for getting the momentum of productivity going: to get the idea down on the page as fast as possible, then you can start tinkering with it. First draft becomes revision becomes revision becomes final draft. But that shitty first draft needs to be created first.
This is an intensely vulnerable thing: to see your words or designs or whatever emerge from your consciousness and onto a screen, especially if your colleagues or your users (or your readers!) are soon going to see them. So it’s easy to get stifled, get blocked.
Dicking about is a cure for this, as Gervais implicitly suggests. Even if we’re on deadline, thinking of that first draft not just as something like play but as play, we’re sure as hell going to get to that final draft a lot faster than if we waited for the muse to whisper a work of genius into our ears. Put it into other, cruder words, the muse likes it when you dick about.
Either as individuals or in teams, the “dicking about” space tends to fly in the face of a hyper-industrialized, work-is-something-you-should-hate mentality. But, as Drive author Dan Pink has reported and argued repeatedly, making “pockets of autonomy” can lead to great work getting done. Google, of course, has been leading in this for years.
Sometimes it can even launch new businesses. Side projects, as we know, can quickly become innovations.