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The Rules of Genius #8: Stay in the dragon pit

The “dragon pit” is the gap between what is and what could be. It’s a space filled with discomfort, darkness, and doubt. Most people would rather grab the first rope thrown to them—what is—rather than stay and fight the dragons guarding what could be. But what could be is where the ideas are. A genius is someone who can tolerate the discomfort of uncertainty while generating as many ideas as possible.

The unresolved conflict of the dragon pit is actually a prime source of creative energy. The gap between vision and reality produces creative tension, which can only be released by a new idea. Without creative tension, there’s no need to push forward to an alternate reality. Inevitably, the result of tension-free thinking is business as usual.

The secret of creativity is to keep your ideas in a “liquid state.” Let them mutate, morph, and recombine as they bump into one another. Avoid the tyranny of no and the naïvete of yes, all the while holding onto to the hopefulness of maybe. Often this requires courage, especially when the stakes are high. The cave you fear to enter, goes the ancient proverb, holds the treasure that you seek.

Creative thinking requires that you leave the known and venture into the unknown. This can be difficult if you’re deeply knowledgeable about your challenge, your discipline, or your industry. The known is an attractor state, a default position that pulls your mind like a magnet.

When you find yourself stuck in your own knowledge, get unstuck quickly. Ask yourself why you’re stuck. Is it a lack of information? If so, get it. A lack of skills? Go develop them. Is it that the solution doesn’t exist? Move on to the next dragon.

Next week: Approach answers obliquely.
Nine ways to surprise yourself—and everyone else.

The Rules of Genius is now a book with a bonus section called “How can I matter?” that includes 10 essential rules.  Buy here.

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