Extraordinary Wisdom from a 7-Year-Old on Courage in the Creative Process
We often think that we need to teach children about life. The truth is, children have a lot to teach us. Here is what I learned from my 7-year-old nephew about courage in the creative process.
Lessons from LEGOs
My nephew Chase is 7 (and a half). He is really into Legos these days, specifically the Lego building sets, which pack a specific project and all the Legos you need for it in one box. The last time I saw Chase, he was working on the Lego “Lakeside Lodge” set.
As I watched him work and we spoke about it, Chase reminded me of two important lessons about courage in the creative process. These lessons also apply to business ventures and life itself. That’s a lot of wisdom for a 7-year-old.
(1) Make it Your Own
At one point, Chase called me over to ask my opinion about a decision he made in building the LEGO Lodge. I thought he was just following the direction, but he actually used the picture on the box only as a general guide. He took his own creative liberty to create a lodge that varied a little different from the picture.
He made it his own.
I loved that he did not care about following the picture exactly.
(As for my opinion: I advised him to trust his instincts.)
Of course, this is certainly a function of personality type as much as age. Some kids — and adults — will obsess with making the house look exactly as it appears in the picture.
Use a Model to Stimulate Creativity, Not Replicate Creativity
Creativity thrives within constraints. A random set of LEGOs offers infinite possibilities, which can create overwhelm. The box set and picture gave Chase a constraint: build this house. Within that constraint, he created his own version. It was his lodge.
We can apply this in our lives too. It helps to have a model or illustration of what something could look like: a result that someone achieved, a business model, a sample marketing piece, or website, or other swipe file or template you use for reference. This can give us some structure within which to create and a direction to follow.
But our true expression emerges when we release our attachment to the picture of what someone else created and instead use their image as a general guide to creating our own version. Instead of copying someone else’s creativity, use their image to stimulate your own.
Model the Function, Not the Form
Chase made some tweaks but what he built was still a lodge, and it still had all the same functionality.
For something I’ve never done before, I often like to have a visual guide as a frame of reference, but almost always deviate from the guide to make it my own. I can’t help myself from making tweaks to create my own way.
What I’m modeling is the function — the general big picture result — rather than the exact form of how it looks.
The Bottom Line: Honor Your Creative Instincts
Allow the picture of what others created to be your guide to what is possible, but follow your heart to create what you desire in the style that works for you.
(2) Be Willing to Destroy What You Create
Not even five minutes after he completed building the LEGO Lodge, Chase announced that he was going to take it apart and build it again a different way.
He wasn’t attached to his creation. He was willing to destroy it.
This is fitting for Chase, who has already demonstrated a love of process. He loves to understand — and explain — how things work and he is a natural explainer and teacher.
Destruction Isn’t a Dirty Word
Our culture has a weird relationship with destruction; we tend to view it as scary or “bad.”
In fact, I heard my mother’s voice come out of my mouth as I asked him why he would take it apart.
Didn’t he want to put it in his room and save it, to appreciate what he built?
Argh. The second I heard myself, I wished for the words back. That question was exactly how I was conditioned to hold on to things for too long. At one point, I was like Chase: building and destroying and rebuilding. It’s taken me decades to try to undo the conditioning to protect what I’ve created — (clearly, I’m still working on it).
Destruction is a Part of the Creative Process
When you love the process, you view destruction as just a part of the process. One way to learn how things work is by taking them apart to see how they were put together — reverse engineering. Within this context, destruction is just one part of the creative process.
The truth is that all creation emanates from destruction. To create is to destroy: the act of creating something destroys other possibilities for what might otherwise be created.
All change — whether a new job, career, relationship, home, political environment — is effectively the destruction of one thing to create another.
When we look at destruction in this context, it ceases to be a “negative” thing; instead, it’s a positive. It is not about giving up something, but rather about embracing something better.
Destruction is Fundamental to Growth
The willingness to destroy what you created lies at the heart of experimentation and wonder. It is crucial to entrepreneurship, leadership and the ability to gracefully navigate change. And it is fundamental to growth: we must prune the weeds to grow flowers, cut our hair to help it grow longer, and destroy who we think we need to be to become who we are.
Bottom Line: Embrace Destruction as Part of Creation
Rather than fearing destruction for what you will lose, embrace it for what it will give you: a chance to rebuild something better or stronger, or even something different.
The Common Thread: Courage
Consider what you can learn from the children in your life, or how you can re-engage with your inner child, especially when it comes to your creative process.
Some inquiries for reflection:
- How can you reembrace the sense of wonder and curiosity that you once had as a child?
- Where in your life could you use the freedom to express yourself without the constraints of the conditioning that have caused you to suppress?
- What result did you see someone achieve that you desire, and what would it look like to model that person’s process while making the picture your own?
- What in your life is calling for destruction so that you can create something new or better?