Have you ever heard a business leader or artist gushing in an interview about how proud they are of a particular project, and how it perfectly captures their original vision?
There's a pretty good chance that they're lying.
The truth is that very few creative projects truly match the original "a-ha" moment that inspired them. Ideas always appear much more perfect in our minds than they do once they are brought into the world, where compromise and tension are inevitable.
Author Scott Berkun described this dynamic in a recent interview as a series of "gaps" that must be navigated in order to do navigate creative work from inception to completion. As Berkun put it, "The great surprise for people with good ideas is the gap between how an idea feels in their mind and how it feels when they put the idea to work." There are three specific gaps that Berkun argues every creative professional must navigate.
The Effort Gap
Some people become paralyzed at the thought of taking action on their idea. It feels perfect in their mind, and they fear that any execution will never live up to their standards. In his book The Dance Of The Possible, Berkun wrote "Many people suffer from creative cowardice and a fear of commitment. They are afraid of closing the effort gap. They want to be creative but without any risks. They know that there is a chance they can put in weeks of work, and have the project fail. Instead, they prefer the shallow perfection of keeping the idea locked in their minds."
Thus, you must be aware of the forces that keep your idea locked in your head and prevent you from taking first steps toward bringing it into the world.
Is there an idea that you've been afraid to take first steps on because you fear it won't live up to your expectations?
The Skill Gap
According to Berkun, it's easy to become paralyzed when you compare your in-process work with the work of the best performers in your field. "When we see work from our heroes, it's easy to forget they once had skill gaps too. We imagine they were born with the abilities we know them for," he writes. "We don't see their many experiments, their uncertain output during the long years they developed the skills they'd become famous for."
It's important not to allow comparison to paralyze you and prevent you from beginning. Every brilliant project begins with awkward first steps. Almost all great work is the result of refinement, editing, and steady progress.
Is unhealthy comparison preventing you from taking action on your idea?
The Quality Gap
Even the most brilliant contributors still experience insecurity about their work. Your work is unlikely to ever live up to your expectations, no matter how hard you work on it. That's simply a fact of life for creative people with high standards.
"Bruce Springsteen once called the Born To Run album 'the worst piece of garbage' he'd ever heard, and didn't want to release it," Berkun wrote. As hard as it is to imagine, some of the most influential work in culture felt unready for consumption by its creator.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, Berkun concluded. "To be perfectly satisfied with something you make likely means you didn't learn anything along the way, and I'd rather be a little disappointed with projects now and then than experience the alternative of never learning anything at all." The key is to recognize that you're not alone in your struggle for perfection, and to not allow it to prevent you from putting your idea into the world where it can impact others. And, as as a final thought he added, "Take pleasure in small progressions when you see them, and know those hard-won gains are the only way anyone in history has ever achieved anything noteworthy -- for themselves or for the world."
Are you keeping your work to yourself because it doesn't measure up to unrealistic standards?
Creative work is an assault on uncertainty, and it requires persistence, focus, and bravery. Don't allow these three gaps to lock your ideas up inside your head where they are of no use to anyone. Get them out into the world, even in imperfect ways, so that they can impact your organization and the world.