Creation and Chaotic Residue (Part 1)

My fiancee is a florist, and the lion’s share of her work comes from brides planning thier weddings. I’ll never forget the first time I helped her prepare an order for an event. I met her at her apartment after work on a Friday, and the entire kitchen and dining room appeared to be a scene of chaos. Buckets of flower bundles of all kinds surrounded what looked like different work stations. Greenery was everywhere, almost literally. Stems, leaves, branches, and more. A toolkit lay wide open on a table with its various contents scattered around the room. In the midst of the mess, however, vases around the room held perfectly arranged, breathtaking arrangements.

Being borderline OCD in certain areas of my life, my gut reaction to this seemingly chaotic experience (and similar ones before) was to ask, “Why the heck can’t people, including me, just keep things tidy when we’re making things?”

After my second or third round of being assistant to the florist, observing a well-crafted system of arranging flowers, and thinking through this question all the while, a characteristic of the creative process suddenly became as clear as day:

Creating order and beauty out of raw material creates chaos as a by-product.

It seems that no matter what you’re doing, if you give dedicated focus to making something, you always leave some sort of residue behind in the process.

Now, I’m no creative expert, and I realize these thoughts are probably self-evident to anyone who works in a creative capacity, but I wish someone had set that expectation with me when I was much younger.

For most of us, the reality is that we have a number of choices to make in what we need to do, and that is rarely ever the same as what is being required of us in a given moment. So, everyday, we choose which things to neglect, and the order in which to neglect them, in our quest to accomplish what we need to accomplish. On good days, we neglect well, accomplish well, and have made steps forward.

Making specific things (or solving specific problems) amplifies this process. For example, when I’m extremely focused on thinking through all possible contingencies in planning the execution of a strategy, I neglect most other things on my plate. Sometimes for days in a row. Papers litter my desk, emails pile up into a daunting mountain, voicemails stack up behind an ominous blinking light.

Perhaps a good way to explain this is to say that I’ve always found (and maybe you have too) that in most projects there is a strong tension between progress and organization. But we’ll tackle that in the next post.

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