Do expectations of making something to your own standards of perfection ever create a creative block that stops you from getting started?

Getting-Started-BlockThat was the case a dear friend described as she struggled getting started creating a very special book of reflections about her husband. She could see the book perfectly in her mind. But her apprehensions about the potential disconnect between the perfect book of reflections she saw in her mind and her expectations of how the final product would fall short created a huge creative block to getting started.

The thing is the book of reflections will be a truly incredible gift – no matter what it ultimately looks like.

Creative Block vs. Getting Started Block

When you have expectations of perfectionism on a high stakes creative effort, it’s possible for an apparently huge creative block to form. My contention though is it is less about a creative block than a getting started block.

Thinking about the situation that evening, I created this list of eight questions that might be helpful for her or you when facing a similar situation and expectations of perfection prevent getting started.

Honestly answer these eight questions about your creative situation:

  1. How many people (other than you) will notice if it’s not perfect?  ___
  2. How many people (other than you) will care if it’s not perfect?  ___
  3. How many people will change their opinion of you if it’s not perfect?  ___
  4. How many truly great future opportunities will you lose if it’s not perfect?  ___
  5. How many significant problems will you create for yourself or others if it’s not perfect?  ___
  6. Have people who might help you to do the best you can refused to help you?  Yes | No
  7. Is anything stopping your from practicing ahead of time to help you do better?  Yes | No
  8. Will something prevent you from starting over or adjusting if it’s not as good as you’d like?  Yes | No

Add the numerical answers to the first five questions with the number of “Yes” answers to the last three questions.

Getting Around Your Getting Started Block

In some cases, the number may be large – if you’re Beyoncé and supposed to sing the National Anthem live at the presidential inauguration. In most cases, however, the total number is probably very small. In my friend’s case, I’d contend the number was “zero” for all eight questions combined.

If you find the number seems too large, your answers can show where to adjust your creative situation to minimize the getting started block.

With my friend, I was helping her create cartoons for the book (question 6), she developed her own handwriting font to allow her to format and adjust the book’s written sections on the computer (question 7), and she found a book style that allowed pages to be removed and added (question 8).

In a follow-up phone call, she was still hesitating. I asked her how many pages were in the book compared to how many pages she needed (a version of question 5). Her answers revealed she had 50% more pages than she needed for her completed book. Think about that – even with all the concerns, she could still have a 50% “failure” rate and be okay!

It’s far easier to see how someone else should just be getting started than it is when we’re the one facing an apparent creative block. Ideally, these questions (which I readily admit AREN’T perfect) can help you in getting started next time you’re the only one stopping you from getting started with your first creative step.  - Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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  • http://twitter.com/wbendle Bradley Woody Bendle

    Great stuff Mike! Reminds me of something I read from Seth Godin a while back… at some point you’ve got to go to press, otherwise, all you are doing is thinking about doing something.

    • http://www.brainzooming.com Mike Brown

      Definitely, Woody. Although if it makes more sense, thinking and not doing with what’s in front of you right now may lead to better doing later.

  • http://smallbusinesstalent.com/ Stephen Lahey

    I can be a perfectionist, so the eight questions are great food for thought — then action. Thanks, Mike!

    • http://www.brainzooming.com Mike Brown

      Stephen – So perfect that you left two comments to get everything in! : )

      • http://smallbusinesstalent.com/ Stephen Lahey

        Ha! Thought that a Disqus glitch lost the first comment. :)

  • http://smallbusinesstalent.com/ Stephen Lahey

    Mike: I would also add – setting a deadline for action helps me. As always, great food for thought!

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  • http://twitter.com/DorleeM Dorlee M

    I loved this post, Mike. I definitely think that the desire or expectation for something to be perfect can be a huge stumbling block to one getting started on any important project… The way, I have typically addressed this is to trick myself/my mind by saying that it doesn’t matter how I begin and that I can always change whatever I am doing later… and this has been enough to relax those impossible standards and allow me to just do what I need to do and once I am working on the project, I am “in the flow” and am no longer worried or concerned and am doing just fine :)

    • http://www.brainzooming.com Mike Brown

      That’s a great approach Dorlee. It can be very powerful to let yourself know that what you start with doesn’t have to be for keeps…as long as you’ve allowed yourself time to actually start over if you need to do that! : )

  • http://twitter.com/Davidbgoldstein David Goldstein

    Great 8 questions to ask in order to help get started. Often with so many ideas in my head, I haven’t always developed the techniques required to bring them to life as I envisioned.

    Expanding on your #5: one thought that often helps me is to consider that it doesn’t have to be perfect – our imperfections make our creations our own. Thanks for sharing Mike!