Three skills for being clear

There are three things you need to know for any creative process to be successful.

I believe there are three things that you need to be able to do to complete a full process — from needing something to happen to actually making it happen. I don’t mean three handy tips for success — yadda, yadda, yadda — I mean there are three actual, fundamental, necessary components to any creative process.

Skill number one: getting clear about what you’re doing

When you’re starting work on anything, you need to know what it is that you’re working on.

If I’m building a house, I need to know what kind of house I’m trying to build. If I’m making a meal, I need to know what kind of meal.

If I don’t know what I’m doing — if I don’t know what need I’m trying to meet — then I won’t know if I’m going the right way. I won’t know what to say yes and no to along the way. I can only start building up a picture of how to get there if I know where there is. If I don’t know what I’m doing, there is no how. There will never be an answer to how to get there if there isn’t a place you’re trying to get to.

And, sure, sometimes, I won’t care what I’m working on and I won’t care what the outcome is. And that’s OK. But then it’s not work — it’s just playing around. And there’s nothing wrong with just playing around — so long as you don’t mistakenly believe that you’re working (and then get disappointed that you didn’t get the result you were secretly hoping for).

And, sure, sometimes, when I start out, I won’t know all the detail. But then finding out all the detail just becomes part of the work.

But as a general principle, if I want to get what I want, I need to know what I want. But how do you know what you want? And even if you know what you want, how do you articulate it? And even if you can articulate it, how do you know if it’s true? The process of answering those questions is the process of getting your idea clear.

To make it easier to clarify ideas, I made the Very Clear Ideas process. You can read all about it here on Medium— I explain everything I think might be helpful to know. If there’s anything that isn’t clear, get in touch and I will write about it.

Skill number two: getting clear about who you are

Every job comes with a story about what kind of a person you’re meant to be. Think about a nurse. Think about a lawyer. Think about a mother. Think about a teacher. For each job, we inevitably carry a whole list of expectations of who we’re meant to be when we do that work.

I’m a mother so I have to be caring and kind. 
I’m a banker, so I have to be ruthless and exacting.

Maybe not those things — but there’s always a list.

And in the course of a day, we have to switch between roles countless times. You’re in a meeting with your bank manager, then step outside to make a call to your son, before going for lunch with an old school friend. We switch roles. And sometimes that helps. And sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it’s easy to switch and sometimes it isn’t. And it’s only very rarely that we do it consciously. And it’s rarer still that we question that list of stories about what is OK or not OK when being a banker/mother/nurse/teacher/friend.

I learned about working with roles from three people. Floris Koot taught me about fooling and improvisation — where to be a good actor you have to be able to adopt any role at any time. Studying Buddhism taught me about how trying to hold on to any story about who you are or who you’re meant to be is the root cause of mental tension. Peter Koenig, in his money workshops, taught me about identity and projection — how denying any part of ourselves creates a conflict that we then replicate again and again in our relationships — with money, with our loved ones, with ourselves.

The lesson I took from all three of those sources was the same:

  • being creative depends on being flexible in your identity.
  • being creative depends on accepting every part of yourself.

Because — of course — as a banker, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be caring and kind. As a mother, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to be ruthless and exacting. It’s easy to fall into the habit of choosing what to do based on who we think we’re meant to be. But that way, we’re typecast. That way, we’re on autopilot. That way, we don’t actually do what needs to be done. What we need to do instead is turn it on its head and start from what we need to do and then choose who we need to be — what role we need to play — to get it done.

To make it easier to play around with what roles we’re playing, I’ve been developing Identity Yoga. (It’s basically my way of working with Peter Koenig’s ‘projection and reclamation’ process.) You can read all about it here on Medium. Again, if there’s anything that isn’t clear, get in touch and I will write about it.

Skill number three: getting clear about how things get done

If we’re clear about who we are and we’re clear about what we’re doing, then the only thing left is working out how to work well with other people.

And the thing I’ve learned is that talking about job titles doesn’t help. (For all the reasons explained just now.) What matters is talking about personal commitments.

Two people working together are a team. But it’s not enough that they work in the same office or for the same company. That’s just two people who work near each other. In order to actually work with someone — for a team to be conceived — one person actually has to commit to the other.

This is what commitment means:

  1. I identify a need that we share.
  2. I take responsibility for meeting that need.
  3. You give up responsibility for meeting that need — safe in the knowledge that it is getting done.

All three steps have to happen for a team to be formed.

This is how people work together. Or, to be accurate, when it works, this is how people work together. These individual commitments, these individual initiatives, join us together. And they are defined not by fictional job titles or employment status. They are defined by those moments where we take the initiative to start something or take the initiative to help someone.

To make it easier to get clear on who is helping who with what, I created the initiative mapping process. You can read all about it here on Medium. And, again, if there’s anything that isn’t clear, get in touch and I will write about it.

I love getting things clearer. Because I see that it brings more life to projects, to people, to relationships. I work with people face-to-face (most often in Northern Ireland, London, Brighton, Brussels and Amsterdam) or online. You can find out more at: