Release in a Lab

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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.

Typically, creative work takes place in what psychologist Fabra Robin Hogarth calls a “wicked learning environment.” These are environments that involve many variables, which make correlations and causations difficult to form. Predictions are very difficult to clearly make.

In this case, you want to release your work in a kind, closed, learning environment. This prompt calls for you to show your work to 10 different people. Ask 10 of them the same questions, and you’ll start to see patterns. If you’re uncertain of which questions to ask, try this ABCD framework from novelist Mary Robinette Kowal:*

  • What’s Awesome?

  • What’s Boring?

  • What’s Confusing?

  • What Didn’t you believe?

“What didn’t you believe?” may be most helpful when responding to fiction, but disbelief is a form of distraction—a part of a story that I simply can’t believe. So if “What didn’t you believe?” doesn’t seem like the right question for your work, you may ask, “What is distracting?” In other words, you’re looking for elements of your work that take away from what you’re trying to express.

Listen to or read their answers carefully. Or, if you can see them in person, watch their nonverbal reactions. Do their faces look impassive, or concentrated? Are their shoulders pointing away from the work or towards? Sit back and don’t say anything. The silence is supposed to be there. There’s no need to judge exactly what’s happening, but do take note of the reactions.

The only variable that changes should be the person. Hold as many other variables constant as possible. Time of day. Place. The piece of work should be the same (don’t make edits or revisions between feedback interviews). You may be surprised at what you learn, and how good a gauge even a small group of people can be. If you’re interested in learning more about how to get feedback, check out how product designers do it. There may be some methods that serve you.

Share Your Intention

On occasion, an intention—a reason, or a purpose, or even just a hypothesis—can be enough to get an idea started. When you share your intention, you give the other person or people a chance to make sense of it, which refines it and provides a space for it to grow.

It can help to be clearer with how you’re asking someone to support your intention. I remember once introducing two friends over coffee, and one was sharing a vision of setting up a dome installation during a film festival and making a request for the other’s expertise with cameras. I left in awe of my friend’s informal presentation and vision.

Perhaps the request isn’t supporting an end result, but for support during the process. For example, “I’m planning on writing for 100 days, and I’d love your support because I’m trying to be an author and it’s going to be hard!” You might also make a request more specifically for accountability, or for feedback, or just general moral support.

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