Creativity is a surprising process. Left unchecked, too much application of prior knowledge can stifle innovation and hinder creative work. "Not knowing" can be your most important asset if you can use it to your advantage. Without placing importance on not knowing, you run the risk of damaging the integrity of your creative work with your own bias.

Charles Dickens once wrote to his friend John Forster about the process of creativity:

As to the way in which these characters have opened out, that is, to me, one of the most surprising processes of the mind in this sort of invention. Given what one knows, what one does not know springs up; and I am as absolutely certain of its being true, as I am of the law of gravitation . ....."

Dickens was open to creative surprises and allowed his creation to take its own path. There is no right and standard prescription for creative work. Creativity requires some form of knowledge. But knowledge alone is not useful unless you can make meaningful connections. A more refined design and an efficient implementation are not absolute guarantees of success. The pressure to deliver can be a distraction and limit innovation but you must always embrace and use the element of surprise.

Creativity is an "open" process

Real creativity is a revision in progress, always. It proceeds in fits and starts of ignorance. Creative professionals cannot work without knowledge, skills, and experience. It's the basic requirement to thrive in any field. But the only way you can surprise yourself and deliver your most amazing work is to embrace creative ignorance.

Start every creative process with fresh eyes and set aside your assumptions. And allow your creation to take its own path and find its own destiny. The outcome -- a combination of prior and acquired knowledge, open-mindedness and experimentation applied to the initial creation is novel and enduring. That is the outcome you should seek and pursue. Make your creation a process of discovery and learning.

It pays to embrace a bit of uncertainty

Jonah Lehrer once said "The only way to be creative over time -- to not be undone by our expertise -- is to experiment with ignorance, to stare at things we don't fully understand."

By all means envision and have a plan of action, but adapt and adopt new ideas as you progress. Ideas can come from anywhere if you open your mind stay curious. When you are used to a single perspective, it can limit your ability to create something truly amazing.

When you begin to explore different topics, ideas, and new ways of thinking, you essentially learn everything else you were ignoring. Making connections between different ideas fuel creative thinking and new ideas.

Instead of putting pressure on yourself and trying to predict the outcome, make room for creative surprise. Ignorance is not your enemy. You can experiment with ignorance, stare at things you don't fully understand and be open to learn and adapt new ways to do your work better and smarter.

You will be surprised at how much better your work or project ends when you are open to new ideas as opposed to deliberately sticking to every plan. Sometimes what you don't know can't hurt you but will make it easier to improve yourself.

Ignorance is not the enemy

You can't start any project without domain knowledge. But not knowing every answer to all your creative questions can also be a source of inspiration, curiosity, excitement and personal growth. Mark Twain says, 'All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and success is sure.' Ignorance is not a barrier to action.

When you start any creative process with a strict preconception about how you expect the work to turn, you will stifle your creativity. You can't take too much knowledge into the creative process.

Open-mindedness and the willingness to experiment can surprise you in the best way possible. Don't cramp your imagination to fit your expectations. The unexpected is the source of creative magic. Many amazing things are done on pure accident when creative professionals are open to the trial and error process.

Published on: Jan 5, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.