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What can Jordan, Picasso, and "Call of Duty" teach us about living a creative life?

Updated: Apr 14

"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life." - Michael Jordan

By the end of his career, Jordan took the 5th most shot attempts in NBA history with 24,537 shots, misfiring on 12,345 for a made percentage of 49.7%.

Of course, missing shots is part of the game, but when considered from a different point of view, Michael failed more often than not. Obviously, his "failure" culminated in one of the most prolific and important athletic careers in the history of any sport.

He was the first global superstar athlete, but for all of his talent and tenacity, perhaps his greatest strength was his ability to miss the mark, adapt, and take the next shot.

Pablo Picasso was one of the most productive artists of all time and created at least 50,000 works during his lifetime. Working in several different mediums, he produced massive volumes of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and textiles and was incredibly curious throughout his lifetime.

He drew his first work at age nine and was considered a child prodigy. But even though he amassed staggering wealth (an estimated $500 million net worth) and power throughout his long life, he often commented that it had taken him most of it to find what he considered to be "success" as an artist.

"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."

- Pablo Picasso

His drive and passion for the work changed the course of art and artistic thinking in a way that reverberates still today. His1955 painting Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) sold at auction in 2015 for $179 Million.

But was his success really just a product of his massive output?

Did Jordan succeed just because he took more shots?

In a Scientific American article adapted from the book:

Wired To Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind

Author and humanistic psychologist, Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. put it this way:

"It’s a great myth that creative geniuses consistently produce great works.

They don't. In fact, systematic analyses of the career trajectories of people labeled geniuses show that their output tends to be highly uneven, with a few good ideas mixed in with many more false starts. While consistency may be the key to expertise, the secret to creative greatness appears to be doing things differently—even when that means failing."

This might lead us to believe that simply failing repeatedly gives us a greater chance of success. But it turns out that how we fail or rather how we react to failure often determines the outcome.

Video games such as "Call Of Duty" are built on the concept of trial and error. Gamers spend hours and hours testing and retesting, learning, and adapting their strategies to fit the needs of the game. Video games teach us how to fail or, more specifically, how to alter our behavior based on what we learn from that failure in order to make better decisions in the next round.

Failure in a video game is low risk and an expected part of the experience. Imagine what would happen if there were no re-spawn?

However, simply learning from your mistakes isn't the only factor contributing to success. "Try, Try Again" is only part of the story.

Rather than making sweeping changes every time we fail, learning how to make minor adjustments and retesting is crucial

Keep what works – empty the trash – try again.

In the paper – “Quantifying the dynamics of failure across science, startups and security”

Researchers also found that a key indicator of success lies in the time between failed attempts. The less time taken between the next attempts, the more likely you are to succeed.

In this way, we can start to see:


What does all of this have to do with Creativity?

As an artist, creative failure often carries a certain kind of emotional sting.

When the constant battle with the inner critic becomes a public disaster, a bad review, or dismissal of our work by those close to us, it can exact a toll that can be hard to overcome.

For many artists, there is no “Re-spawn.”

We retreat to the inner safety of our creative caves… sometimes, the retreat is permanent.

Learning how to deal with criticism is an art form on its own. Building the courage and stamina to absorb blunt and, at times, misguided critical review of our work can zap our creative energy and push that crucial window of time between attempts further down the road. Making it that much harder to succeed.

Of course, it is essential to understand the difference between the constructive critic and the destructive critic in the quest to learn from our mistakes. The critic that exists only to destroy the creative spirit is just a parasite offering little to no substantial input aside from flexing their own ego.

Avoid these critics like the… you get what I mean.

I’ll save the “Techniques to deal with the destructive critic” or listing the “Top 5 tips to build a safe creative space” for another post.

The important take away here is that our job description as artists is to do the work. That’s it.

Take the shot.

If you miss, learn from it and take the next shot as soon as possible. Volume does matter but only as much as you can learn from the last failure.

Take the shot. Focus on the work.

Let the critic sort out the rest.…

(Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases on affiliate links.)

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