Make a Risky Version of Your Work



Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

One of the best things you can do with and for your creative practice is to get outside your comfort zone and exercise your capacity for creative risk. Think of it like the director’s cut of a film. As Marina Abramović wrote in Walk Through Walls, “I always question artists who are successful in whatever they do. I think what that means is that they’re repeating themselves and not taking enough risks.”

“Safe” means creating something you’re most familiar with, that is, your “style.” Making something risky might mean dialing your style up to the maximum, or flipping it to be the complete opposite. Or it might just mean doing something completely out of the blue—that exceeds my capacity for suggestion.

For example, my friends told me that writing without quotes makes for better writing. This had paralyzed me for a bit—until I decided that I’d eventually just create two versions of this draft of the book, one with no quotes and one with all quotes. Similarly, I’d been stuck on structure, until I realized that I could just create a different version of the book with a completely different structure, perhaps a more essay-related format. I had no idea when I released this how it was going to look—and that was okay. That was how it was supposed to be.

Creative rituals, routines, and themes make it easy to get into a creative groove. But ease isn’t the goal, excellence is.

A certain degree of risk is a necessary ingredient in tapping into, and feeding, the chaotic energy of creativity. The risk could result in something original, which pushes the previously self-imposed boundaries of your work and pushes you to perceive or express yourself in a new way.

Or flip this prompt: Find Your Comfort

Archive an Idea

Choose an idea to put away. Don’t look at it again for at least six months. This prompt is particularly useful if you’re struggling with developing an idea; get out of your own way and let time do the work for you by archiving it.

The late Intel chief Andy Grove writes of a simple rule in High Output Management: “All production flows have a basic characteristic: the material becomes more valuable as it moves through the process.” That’s because more time and energy have been spent on the material to make it a final product.

One implication of this idea is the earlier you stop working on something, the fewer resources you waste. For example, if I’m coming up with a pitch, a quick Google search could tell me if someone else has written about the thing I want to write about. If someone has, in exactly the way I wanted to write about it, then I can easily shelve the idea in its current state, as it’s not acceptable to me. If I didn’t come across the prior coverage until later in my process, I’d have to give up the idea after hours spent researching and writing (which has happened before).

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