When I was young I was an avid fan of a teen-drama called Dawson’s Creek (don’t judge me). For the uninitiated, Dawson’s Creek was an American show about absurdly good-looking teenagers with great skin played by people in their twenties who spent their time having normal teenage problems while living in an idyllic little town, speaking in long, convoluted sentences, with too many sub clauses, somewhat like this one, and absolutely not having sex.
Dawson was a film nut. He dreamed of being Steven Spielberg. His bedroom was covered in movie posters and he spent all his free time writing scripts and learning about cinematography, story structure and character development. And absolutely not having sex.
Dawson was laser focused on becoming a movie director and everything in his life (apart from the rampant virginity) was about movies. You’d imagine that this was a good thing; after all, focus and determination are precisely the qualities we demand in the pursuit of success. But, in fact, his extreme focus on movies didn’t help him, it hindered him. When he tried to write and direct a movie himself what he found was that his movie was just about movies! By being so focused on becoming a movie director he’d missed out on all the experiences in life (such as sex, maybe?) which would have made him a good director. He was so focused that he became trapped inside a sterile environment, a monoculture.
What he needed, in spite of what we’re so often told, was a little less focus.
Which brings me to another one of my favourite words: eclecticism. Something which is eclectic is derived from or owes its origins to a diverse range of sources. A living room which contains a range of furniture from various different styles is eclectic. A music collection that spans classical jazz, electronic, heavy metal and folk is eclectic. An autodidact who studies history, economics, biology and sports is eclectic.
But eclecticism isn’t randomness. Consider a living room where all the furniture has been randomly chosen. Barring some massive fluke it’ll be a mess of mismatched colours and clashing styles. An eclectic living room is diverse and non-uniform but not random. Between the pieces there must be some common thread or some balance which unites them. Eclecticism is broad and diverse but it is also coherent.
I’ve found that the most capable, the most talented and most interesting people I’ve ever met are also often amongst the most eclectic. And for a creative, like our old friend Dawson, eclecticism is almost a pre-requisite. Steve Jobs described being creative as just finding new connections between things. He said that the more experiences you’d had the more things you would have to connect and the more creative you could be. That, to me, means being eclectic. Not dogmatically following a trend or seeking out sterile purity but filling your life with a richness of diversity.
When I’m struggling to be more creative I often find that I’m also being too focused. I’m reading too many books on one subject, diving too deeply into one set of ideas or just spending too much time working on one problem. When my life has become too focused I know it’s time to take up a new hobby or discover a new musical artist. Anything to bring back the refreshment of eclecticism to my parched mind. But be warned, too much novelty is as bad as too little. Randomness and novelty are tools in the creative process – but they are not creativity. Be eclectic – but have a point!
And on that note, I think I’ve made mine.