(originally posted on Medium.)
This summer, I participated in ITP Camp, a fun, creative, and technological camp for people to tinker with cool technology and build strange things. While I was there, I noticed that the campers who didn’t already come with a technical background were really apprehensive about the program. Intimidated by the code of their already competent classmates, they felt like they weren’t good enough. When I asked them about what projects they would present, they shrugged and said that they hadn’t come up with any decent ideas. In comparing themselves to others, they felt incompetent. And so when presentation day finally came along, they had no projects to show.
This made me think about the insecurity we all go through when beginning a project. And how the pressure of creating something perfect suppresses our creativity.
Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” There is some wisdom in those words for aspiring creators: don’t think too much. Creativity is fun — it’s supposed to be something you enjoy first and foremost. If you keep putting pressure on yourself to think of a perfect idea, you’ll actually end up confining yourself to a box when you should be thinking outside the box.
So stop thinking about how you’re not creative and start thinking about how you can have fun.
Don’t think about having good ideas. Don’t think about your dumb ideas. Just find an idea that you think will be fun and build on it extensively.
Stupid hackathons are a great example of twisting the pressure of creating perfection into an event of the ridiculous. The idea of a stupid hackathon is to build projects that nobody would want to use. Past projects that came out of the stupid hackathon include a pregnancy test app in which you pee on your phone and a personal ad blocker (in which a real life person walks around with a cardboard poster and blacks out all the physical ads you see). None of these ideas would ever make it to the general market but still they are fodders for creativity. All ideas are stupid in the beginning. It’s only when you begin working on them that they are transformed into something remarkable.
There’s also another aspect to going for stupid ideas. Even if an idea is stupid — at least once you acknowledge it — you get to work rather than wasting your time looking for the ‘perfect’ idea. You start building on your expertise and collecting projects under your belt. Even if those projects are nothing special, it’s better to have dumb experience rather than no experience at all. This is very important in terms of rapid prototyping because the more you iterate, the better you get.
Remember the Bogart from Harry Potter. A Bogart is a mythical creature that resides in a closet but takes on the appearance of what you fear most. The only way to get rid of a bogart is to laugh at it, to turn it into something ridiculous. So when you begin learning a new skill or playing with some new tech, remember not to overthink. Your ideas need not be masterpieces. When you start looking at creativity from the angle of having fun and just doing something silly, the ideas will come to you once you relax a bit and begin to actually have fun.