Letting go of control, and introducing chaos into an environment, is one of the keys to cultivating creativity. If you’re ever experiencing blockage or a sense of stuckness on a decision, try opening the door to chance in order to support your creative work.
In The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity, authors Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber quote the late Professor Salvador Luria of the University of Illinois as praising “controlled sloppiness, which states that it often pays to do somewhat untidy experiments, provided one is aware of the element of untidiness.” In any case, the idea here is to trend toward chaos, entropy, and randomness in your work—a sense of controlled sloppiness.
For example, if you’re feeling stuck on what to write, you can take a chance with a dictionary or a random word generator. In literature, there is a constrained writing movement called Oulipo. Several of their techniques are set by constraints and involve chance. For example, the N+7 technique involves creating a new poem through taking an existing poem and replacing each noun with the seventh noun after it in the dictionary. In the 1920s artistic movement Dada, a common game to manufacture inspiration involved cutting up newspapers and pulling words and sentences out of a bag.
In the board game Letter Tycoon, each player starts their turn with a limited set of vowels and consonants, with the goal of spelling out the highest scoring words. You could replicate this game by picking eight letters and write as many words as you can with the set as possible. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even compose a poem or write a sentence with the letters.
A popular improvisational comedy technique is the one word story, which requires two or more people. The goal is to tell a story by taking turns, each person adding one word at a time.
Similarly, in The Creative Habit, legendary choreographer and author Twyla Tharp shares an exercise where she throws a group of coins on a table. Based on how they land, she draws ideas from the arrangement, occasionally rearranging some of them to be in a more pleasing pattern.
Anytime you experience reluctance at leaving something up to chance, consider that Donald Glover developed his stage name, Childish Gambino, through a Wu-Tang Clan name generator. (He has succeeded perhaps in spite of the name, saying, “If I had known it was going to be something for real, I wouldn’t have used it.” The lesson I chose to take is there’s perfect vision only in hindsight, and you can make mistakes and still get to where you want to go!)
Chance plays a huge role in creativity and can be a useful generative constraint. If you want to make fewer decisions, enlist chance as an assistant. Whenever you need to make a decision, write out your options and let a coin toss, a dice roll, a results generator, or another person’s selection of multiple choice, to decide what you’ll do.