Perfectionism and ImperfectionShare
We can move from a mindset based on fear of failure and perfectionism (what Dweck calls a “fixed mindset”) to a “growth mindset” if we just start taking small steps toward our dreams and goals.
Breaking free from perfectionism isn’t easy, largely because of how we’re raised and taught. We’re rewarded and loved by parents, teachers, and mentors for getting good grades, accomplishing athletic achievements, or getting into a great school or job. The problem with that approach to praise and reward is that it builds up our resistance to doing anything that’s less than perfect. And since being imperfect, and being willing to make mistakes in order to discover new paths, opportunities and approaches is essential to any creative process. Unless we’re a genius or prodigy like Mozart, we must unlearn a lot of old habits.
In my experience, many, many people, especially creative people have very judgmental parents. My dad was my harshest critic, though it was all coming from a place of incredible character and unconditional love. His dad did the same, and it just cascaded down. On the flip-side, mothers (and fathers, too) can unleash creativity with their unconditional love and unendingly optimistic encouragement and support, as my mother did (we were very close). Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, had a similar experience with his parents. Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar had the same, as well as his business partner John Lasseter, cofounder and chief creative officer of Pixar, whose mother emphatically encouraged him to follow his childhood interest in cartoons.
Since I work with and lead a lot of artists, the power relationships are very interesting. If a father and/or mother was overly critical, the key thing that needs to happen is for the person to let go of the feeling that they have to be an idea, rather than just being you as I encourage people to be. It’s one of the hardest things to actually do — but what drives it all comes down to support structures and personal will.
For a rich exploration around the negative effects of praising achievements versus effort and why certain people fear failure so much more than others, Stanford Professor of Psychology, Carol Dweck has produced the definitive body of research and book called Mindsets. You can read a great summary article on Dweck’s research in this Stanford Magazine article entitled “The Effort Effect”. Since I work with and lead a lot of artists, the power relationships are very interesting. If a father and/or mother was overly critical, the key thing that needs to happen is for the person to let go of the feeling that they have to be an idea, rather than just being you as I encourage people to be. It’s one of the hardest things to actually do — but what drives it all comes down to support structures and personal will.
When I jumped off a cliff in my career to try to write a book that eventually became Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, I was haunted for months by a voice that had no face. It said, ‘You are not worthy…Don’t fail…No one will want to read this crap…You are a fraud!’ Sound familiar?
Dweck’s findings lead to the key insight that anyone, at any age, can become more creative if they’re willing to start trying things. I call these ‘little bets,’ a loss that you determine you can afford to take before making a small bet. The secret to being creative is that everyone who creates anything needs to overcome fears.
At Pixar, director Brad Bird calls people there who are willing to challenge the status quo and think differently about problems ‘black sheep.’
“Are you a black sheep?”
This revolution will be improvised.
See also Gwenyth Paltrow's blog post on Goop
This article originally appeared at Peter Sim's blog site
Peter Sims is an best-selling author and Co-Founder of The Silicon Guild. His latest book is Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, which grew out of a long collaboration with faculty at Stanford’s Institute of Design (the d.school), as well as his previous work in venture capital. He was also the coauthor with Bill George of the best-seller True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership, a member of General Electric’s Innovation Advisory Panel, an Innosight Fellow, and cofounder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that places entrepreneurial leaders on year-long grassroots projects with mayors and governors to tackle some of America’s most pressing problems.