The Creative Flush
Make hard decisions easier with the Wheel of Life in your toolkit
Artwork by Iris Compiet
When too many ideas causes a creative block, it’s time to flush the system
You probably imagine creative block as the absence of ideas and inspiration. You might have a clear picture of a blank canvas staring at you. The sound of an empty room, the feeling of emptiness.
That creative block can look like not-knowing what to do next in your life or career, or literally on a canvas. Trust me on that.
However, you may have encountered the opposite problem, too many ideas, too many different areas of focus. When all options seem equally good (or not), it can be frustrating to feel confident in any decision.
It's just very hard to get started when you're not sure you're moving in the right direction.
If you're like me, this is the more common scenario. I've found a few fairly consistent ways to figure out how to make this kind of difficult decision just a few notches up on the "easier" scale.
THE PROBLEM: A JAM-UP OF OPTIONS
Artist Iris Compiet recently tweeted about this very different kind of creative block.
(she also took our Art Business Bootcamp course and is now kill. Ing. It. In the entertainment industry)
Iris makes art for a living, but these words apply to anyone from creative "artrepreneurs" to organizers, activists, business leaders, and non-profit execs.
I recently Coached a client who is a non-profit leader and consultant. She has an impressive track record AND a wide variety of interests for what her next edge is. Using a version and iterations on the same tool I share below, we went through a process of organizing these ideas and simplifying the process of making these decisions. Now she's in the process of launching multiple new national initiatives.
If you're an entrepreneur of any kind or your creative flow is waiting to happen, you understand how liberating it would be to have a clear decision-making superpower.
WHY YOU CAN’T JUST PICK ONE
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could "just pick one" and be sure it was the right one?
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The problem is if you pick at random, then you can't be sure of your decision, you certainly couldn't defend it. And since no decision is ever 100% risk-free, when anything pushes back you may be filled with regret and mostly around not doing enough to be "sure." You'll be in the unenviable position of wondering if you should abandon the work you put in, or push on without really understanding why.
THE CERTAINTY PRINCIPLE, WHY PROS AND CONS DON'T WORK
What you want is certainty. The good news is you just can't have it, so you don't need to chase it.
What you can have is a reliable process.
If we could be certain of the outcome, things would be much easier. It's worth noting that some decisions are that easy mostly because they don't have much impact on your life. However, many are not simple or straightforward so the best thing we can rely on is a decision-making process that gives us the best possible chance of success.
To do this, if you're like most, you'll lay out a pros and cons list. You have probably done this and found that the answer to "which one" continues to elude you. Or worse, you pick one, something unexpected happens, and you feel terrible that you "picked the wrong one."
The solution, in part, is to figure out what and why we are making the decision and prioritize our options. According to Annie Duke, we have to weight the list.
Annie Duke is a multimillion dollar profession poker champion, and has written extensively on the subject of making decisions. She is an expert decision-maker when the stakes are high and time is short. In her book/s (linked below) she lays out processes for how to frame, categorize, and evaluate decisions. Specifically, in "How to Decide" Annie takes some really complex ideas and makes them easy to understand and use right away.
For small-deal decisions, like which healthy breakfast to eat, Annie suggests that yes just pick one because you'll have another chance tomorrow. Don't waste your time researching eggs over oatmeal if you can just make the other call another day.
Here's my three sentence summary of part of her process for bigger decisions:
Framing: Is this a big deal or not? If I make the wrong call, what happens?
Categorizing: Is this important? Who else is impacted?
Evaluating: After the result, will you still feel confident you made the best decision?
Annie calls this process of weighting pros and cons "The Three P's: Preferences, Payoffs and Probabilities" She recommends listing all options, potential outcomes, preferences, and likelihoods of outcomes. Multiply those numbers for an easy shot at a good decision.
There are two things I would add to this process as we blend it with a foundational Coaching tool.
When you define a successful outcome, decisions become easier.
When you find the linchpin choice, decisions become easier.
EXERCISE: HOW TO DECIDE & THE PRIORITIZATION LIST
If you want to get started and have a decision you're struggling to make, you can use this exercise to get more clarity. And don’t forget the key question at the end, Step 5.
In the coaching world we use The Wheel (sometimes called a "life wheel" or "prioritization wheel") to go deeper on this process of decisions.
Below is a real example that I created for my own work as a Coach and artist.
This simple tool has created dozens and dozens of breakthroughs for me. I recently had a client in Ireland who said that our wheel work "just changed (her) life."
What the wheel does is a one-two: flush all your options onto the wheel, and then prioritize those options. In most if not all cases this reveals a clear decision.
THE TOOL: PRIORITIZATION WHEEL
As always, you are free to use the tools. You can also find more information about why the wheel works if you Google "life wheel."
Here’s the process, with a visual below.
DECISION: WHERE TO FOCUS TIME/ENERGY
Define a successful outcome for your decision on where to focus
(see example below)
Draw a pie chart with 8 slices
Write down your options in each slice (the “flush”)
You can add slices for more ideas, or you can try to keep it to 8 by grouping similar options
This process is the same if you’re deciding on the subject of your next painting, a next topic for your podcast, or your next product for your small business.
This is one of the most powerful prioritization questions I know. Answering this with your fullest and most honest self will reveal so much.
STEP 5: Ask, Which of these options has the most impact on all of these options?
Now mark those on the wheel.
The rest is easy, just do it 🙂
Caveat: you will likely still doubt, and unexpected things may happen. But when you put the time into the "why" of your decision and use that to measure your options, you will have a much easier time getting started.
Once you get unstuck and get started, you have momentum, and mistakes always look small against serious mileage.
AND if you want to go much deeper with this work I recommend working with a Coach. Not only will you discover more about your wheel but, like the movie Inception, you can break slices into new pies and find deep inner Purpose.
(or you’ll find Leonardo DiCaprio. Both outcomes seem like wins. YMMV.)
BOOKS FROM THIS ARTICLE
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