All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the cape scene in The Incredibles:
What can we learn?
Artists are defined
by what they decline. Success is just as much about knowing what you aren’t, what you don’t want and what you won’t
do. Seinfeld was once asked if he ever considered pursuing a movie career, to
which he famously responded, I don’t think the world needs me to do that. And so, it takes a certain degree of
honesty and humility to admit when you’ve surpassed the perimeter of your
competence. To tell a client, look, I’d rather turn you down than let you down.
To choose long term fulfillment over short term gratification. Edna refuses to
do capes for safety reasons, clearly, but also for status reasons. She is a
tasteful, artistic, minimalistic design genius, unaccustomed to being
questioned. And she never looks back. Her prolific body of work speaks for
itself, earning her the right to say no to work that doesn’t pass through her
opportunity filter. Meaning, she makes artistic choices that will propel her
toward an inspiring future, not keep her stuck in the past. Are your current projects shaping a new life
worthy of your past success?
Success is a process
of elimination. The power of no is a project strategy, but it’s also a
philosophical strategy. Because only through saying no do we allow the door of
opportunity to swing open. Only through saying no to the good do we make room
for the great. The challenge is learning to ask the right questions. My list of
opportunity filters includes the following: Is this a project worthy of my
heart and soul? Does this work allow me to grow in new directions? And will the
existential threats along my journey be worthy of my worry engine? If the answer is no, let it go. I’m
reminded of a writer friend of mine who always asks himself: Ten years from
now, will I be proud of undertaking this project today? Every artist must
decide for himself. The objection, of course, is that in the beginning of your
career, you can’t afford to say no. Doing so would is at odds with getting
heard, getting known and getting your career on the runway. Very true. Saying
yes early and often is a necessary experience. But over time, the less you say
no, the more likely you are to fall victim to the erosion of your time, the
decay of your focus and the meaninglessness of your work. What have you learned to live without?
Define the whitespace
around yourself. In the world of visual design, whitespace is a critical
compositional element. It literally enables objects to exist. Whitespace helps
the work breathe. It creates balance, focus and sophistication. And it
represents the aesthetic balance between positive and negative. Identity, then,
is no different. We define the whitespace around ourselves every time we say
no. I recently met with a potential client who requested a number of
professional services, one of which was project management. Translation, tons
of detailed, back and forth, technical process kind of work. Vomit. The mere thought of that work
made my chest tighten. And so, I told him, you don’t want me for this job. It’s
not my sweet spot, I’m not excited as I hear about it, and I know I wouldn’t be
happy doing it. Thanks for the consideration, but agreeing to this work would be
a disservice to your company. I was proud of myself. That conversation was a
healthy milestone for me. Because it’s so hard to say no when you’re
hungry. When was the last time you turned
down new business?
What’s your favorite movie moment of conception?