Create. Destroy. Repeat.
Dr. Anthony Paustian is the provost for Des Moines Area Community College in West Des Moines and the author of "Imagine" and "Beware the Purple People Eaters."
I recently watched the movie The World’s Fastest Indian. It was a true story of New Zealander Burt Munro, played by Anthony Hopkins, who took a 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle and highly modified it through ingenious methods, often using very unconventional and homemade tools. After defying the odds and a number of limitations, he found himself at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 1967 at the age of 68, breaking the world record for the world’s fastest motorcycle under 1000cc. It’s a record which still stands today.
In the movie, Burt was asked why he went through all of the trouble to do this at such an old age. His response: “The reward comes from the doing of it.” That statement immediately got me thinking about a period in my childhood that has, in many ways, become the benchmark of how I approach most everything in life today.
When I was eight years old, my parents bought a new home in a new housing development surrounded by active construction. Being an enterprising young man, I went to each of the construction sites and received “after hours” permission to remove the scrap wood that was piled on the ground, as well as the nails that were dropped on the dirt. I believe most of the carpenters saw this as a way to rid the site of excess “trash,” since houses at that time weren't built as efficiently as they are today.
Having watched and learned from the various carpenters constructing the houses, I designed and built all styles of forts including ranches, split-levels, ones with two- and three-stories, ‘A’ frames––some in trees and others on the ground. Each time I built one, I would briefly admire it, think about how I could improve it, and then destroy it so I could begin constructing something bigger and better. My mother found this behavior unnatural and frequently proclaimed, “You build these beautiful forts, but you never play in them. I don’t understand you!”
Prior to high school I was by no means a good student, and I could be somewhat challenging at times for my parents, teachers, neighbors, and just about every other adult figure. Despite this, most thought me to be “creative,” but they never really understood what that meant or how to help me harness it in such a way so as to succeed in school. Without realizing it, they were doing just that each and every day by supporting me in my many endeavors, not the least of which was fort building.
In a results-oriented world, the final product or outcome typically gets the majority of attention and praise. What usually goes unnoticed is the “process” that goes into getting there, which is the primary aspect of creative thinking. Creative people are all about the process, and truly “the reward comes from the doing of it.”
Thomas Edison, thought to be an addle-brained youth and most noted for inventing the functional light bulb, had to experiment with thousands of possible filaments before he found one that worked––a daunting task. That success wasn't enough, however. He went on to help design and create a method to distribute the electricity needed to power the bulbs in the first place. He designed the first commercially available fluoroscope (a machine that used X-rays to take radiographs), the motion picture camera, the phonograph, and many more devices that led to him holding 1,093 patents in the U.S. alone. For Edison, it was about the process of improving.
Apple Computer had the best computer available in the late 1970s, the Apple II. However, Steve Jobs wasn’t content and pushed Apple forward with the development of the Lisa, and ultimately the Macintosh, before his release as CEO for having been too aggressive on these developments. After his return in 1998, he continued on with his process approach that led to the development of the color iMac, iPod, iPhone, MacAir, iPad, and a variety of innovations in between.
For creative people, it’s seldom about the destination. Although the outcomes along the way can frequently lead to wealth and success, the stories of these and a great many other creative people always have one thing in common––the key to their success was the drive and passion related to the process, not necessarily the end result.
Practice Challenge: What do you enjoy doing? What about that activity brings you joy? I believe that for most of us, it’s the actual act of doing it––the process. Determine what is most important to you and then do more of it. Edison invented because he loved inventing. Jobs pushed the envelope on design and function because that was his passion. Life is short. Spending your limited time engaged in an enjoyable process can be a huge source of happiness in your life.