View profile

Thinking Askew – The Creative Tools Issue

Thinking Askew – The Creative Tools Issue
By Alf Rehn • Issue #18 • View online
So I didn’t put out a newsletter last week, but I blame the fact that I was traveling (only to my native Finland, and with good reason + a mask). This “Thinking Tuesday” will arrive a little later in the day as well, and here I blame the weather – it’s been very hot! So, today, another bit from the notes on creativity as hard graft I’ve been writing, one on tools. And, as usual, some flotsam and jetsam I’ve come across. Onwards!

The Tools of Creativity
True creatives wield tools, and they tend to love their tools with a passion. Talk with an artist, or a writer, or an art director about creativity, and they are more likely than not to speak in quite vague terms and never really committing to much. Ask about their preferred pens and the other tools of their trade, and their passions are far more likely to be awakened. Some will state that no creative work is possible without the presence of a notebook, often a Moleskine. Some will extol the sublime pleasures of a Blackwing pencil, or their preferred paints. Others will be quite adamant that they cannot work unless they have their laptop bag in perfect order, or just the right keyboard. Musicians and podcasters wax lyrical about microphones. Touch a chef’s knives or an artist’s brushes without their permission, and you may find yourself with a freshly punched nose, and for good reason too. Tools are important, and for creatives they can be part and parcel of their very identity.
As a consequence, one (possibly surprising) way to develop your creativity is to focus on your tools. Some might scoff at this, and insist that ‘real’ creatives can do their work with the most primitive of tools, and reference some author about whom it is claimed they wrote an entire novel with just a pointed stick and paper they made themselves out of spit and leaves. Sure, an artistic genius can work with limitations that would stump a normal person, but you are more likely to be the latter. I know I am. Also, geniuses prefer good tools too, even if they can go without.
Taking your tools seriously is a step towards growing in your creative work. Don’t work with the first tool that comes along, nor with the tool that the cool kids say is the very best. Try a ton of different tools, and try to find the one that sparks creative joy in you. For some, it is one tool and one tool alone. For others, it is a vast array of them. For me, it is my iPad with a good keyboard. For a dear friend of mine it is expensive yarns and cloth for her quilts. 
Finding the right tools is an exercise in finding out what makes you want to create. If you grip a pen, and the experience of it in your fingers makes you want to draw or write, you’ve found a good tool. If you become more likely to build something because you cannot wait to grip your new wrench again, you’ve found a way to channel your creative energies. Before you’ve become a expert creator, having good tools makes you both more likely to do something and less likely to make a complete mess of it. I am not advocating spending endless amounts of money, nor claiming that you will become incredibly creative just by buying tools, but taking them seriously is a step in the right direction.
For even though we like the idea of a photographer creating great art with a beaten-up old phone, experts tend to be quite picky with their tools. They’ve been around the block, tried out most things in the market, and by now, their favored tools are like extensions of their body. Watch a great chef wield a favorite knife. Carrots are julienned as if by magic, and the speed and deftness of the cuts seem otherworldly. Could they cut with a cheap knife from IKEA? Of course. Would they, if they had an alternative? Never. Is the result better, and their work more joyful, thanks to having just the right tool? You be the judge. (But yes, yes it is.)
Once you have your tools, the next step is learning how to use them. When you find joy in using a specific tool, you start using it more, and the more that you use it the more you can do with it. We grow with our tools, and they become something more than just tools. They become conduits, even talismans. These days, I rarely leave my house without my iPad (and its fancy keyboard). Sure, I might only use it to check social media and play games, but just having the heft of it in my bag reminds me of my creative being, and is a subtle nudge to create something. I find new places to use it, new shortcuts, new ways to keep creating. With my tools, mainly words and software, this is relatively easy. Still, I consistently try to find new words (such as Micwaberish, from the preface, used by me for the first time ever here) and test out new possibilities for writing and expressing myself. 
Some tools are of course more difficult to use. A lathe can be tricky to master, as can a potter’s wheel. Photoshop can be daunting at first, but not as daunting as a chainsaw. So what? Use the tool (but stay safe), and see what happens. Sure, you may make a total mess of it first time, but that’s OK. Try again, and try to do a bit better. And then one more time. We already stated that creativity is like fitness, but so is tool-use. You get a little better each time you use a tool, so better get the first times in early. 
Once a tool is used, it needs to be cared for. Just like anyone who works with their hands, a creative needs to respect the tools. You do this by ensuring that whatever wear and tear, spoilage and soilage you’ve subjected on your tools is attended to. You learn to clean your tools, and sharpen what needs to be sharpened. It is fun to create when your tools are polished and shiny. You make sure that the ones that need charging or refilling are topped up. 
As you put them away, you keep showing this care. You pack them in a way that shows your tools the respect you’d wish for your own work. Chefs put away their knives in a knife roll, textile artists make sure that needles and yarn are stored safely. We show care for our tools, for they are part of us, part of our work. Tools matter.
Some Wonderful Things I Found
The UX of LEGO Interface Panels
Liteboxer is Peloton, but for boxing
That’s all for Thinking Tuesday! Remember that sharing is caring!
Did you enjoy this issue?
Alf Rehn

Professor of management & innovation, speechifier, and popular culture geek.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue