H ave you ever known a perpetual college student who just doesn’t seem interested in getting a real job? Or a commit-o-phobe who can’t handle a serious relationship? Or a job bouncer who doesn’t ever want to stay someplace more than 2 years? Or a boss who never changes anything?
Each of these people, and others like them, probably don’t know it, but their actions are driven by a futile creative vision. This post is about how to find a better one.
First let’s acknowledge something:
You have a creative vision whether you know it or not.
Say, for example, you’re a parent of a kindergartener. You may or may not see it, but you have an image in your mind – a vision – for how to raise your child.
It’s mostly formed from your own childhood, and from a lesser extent people you’ve met and things you’ve learned along the way.
If your own early years were healthy and vibrant, good for you! But if not, you’ve got trouble ahead, and it’s best to recognize it soon, or you’re going to find yourself in a ditch, and others’ lives will be affected.
An unrecognized, bad creative vision will derail you and those around you.
The aforementioned perpetual student is perhaps scared of work life, because her mother was never home, work seems like a prison, and a 40-year steel cell awaits.
Or the commit-o-phobe’s parents divorced early, and his home life was a wreck, and he has a bad creative vision of a settled marriage relationship. So he relationship hops, wanting intimacy but scared to death of it.
In the movie Affliction, James Coburn plays an aging, angry alcoholic whose unchecked personal demons subsume his son, played by Nick Nolte, in spite of the son’s desperate desire to discover a different creative vision for his own future as a man.
At every stage in life, you can get stuck.
When your creative vision of the future is unhealthy or void, you need a better creative vision.
Unchecked, a bad creative vision can even begin to seem right.
Say you’re leading a declining organization – say a church, because sadly most churches are declining – and it’s been declining as long as you’ve been a professional.
If this is all you have ever known, you might without knowing it begin to normalize your experience, and say that such paucity is the way it’s supposed to be. It’s hard to live in suspension forever, right?
Further, you might even begin to spiritualize it or turn it into a label to wear, like the Episcopal bishop who announced that their denomination’s decline was good because they were saving the planet from over-population.
When your creative vision is an image of stagnation or decline, you need a better creative vision.
There’s a High Likelihood That You Need a Better Creative Vision.
If your vision isn’t something that makes you want to jump up and run around the room, then it’s not good enough.
In fact, most people are driven not by a powerful vision for the future but by an image of fear. One of the key findings that supports my book on creativity, Think Like a Five Year Old, is a Gallup poll that discovered that 87% of us are dissatisfied with our work life.
The vast majority of us need a better creative vision.
A Story About Circumstances and Vision.
I decided to look up the story about a vision God gave the people of Israel, of a beautiful land and home. (It’s in Numbers 13-14.)
The people of Israel wandered the wilderness. One day, God said to Moses, their leader: Send some men to explore a land called Canaan. I am going to give it to you. So twelve men went. The men were all leaders of their respective tribes and they were all hand picked by Moses.
Moses said to them, do the following:
- Assess the land: what is it like? are there forests? fruit? is it abundant or harsh?
- Assess the people: who’s there? how many? are they strong or weak?
- Assess the cities: are there camps or towns with fortified walls?
After a long period, the men returned with a report for Moses and the people. They said:
- Land – favorable. The land is abundant to overflowing – an amazing place. They brought back a branch with so many grapes on it that it took 2 men to carry it.
- People – unfavorable. The people are gigantic and fierce.
- Cities – unfavorable. Huge, well-fortified, and placed on strategic hills.
Ten of the men said, we can’t go there, or we’ll be killed. But two, Joshua and Caleb, said, “Let’s go up and take the land—now. We can do it.”
After the meeting was over, the ten men began to spread rumors. Word spread fast, and the community began to riot. They advanced on Caleb and Joshua to kill them. At the last minute, God showed up.
God considered killing the ten men and their tribes but relented, on one condition: no one above 20 years old, including the ten leaders and all of their people, would receive the gift.
Then, God told Moses to send Caleb and Joshua and their tribes on an alternate, round-about path to the land. Moses told the two leaders, and they departed. (At this juncture I can imagine the other ten saying, well, if we’d known about the other path, we would’ve believed you!)
When Moses told the ten about God’s decision, they refused to accept the bad news. They decided to march on the land and take the gigantic people of Canaan head on. Moses tired to discourage them, but they went anyway. The ten leaders and their people were struck down.
How to Recognize a Creative Vision
Every man who scouted the opportunity saw the same abundance and the same challenges. One kind of leader–the ten–dismissed the vision because of its challenges. That type of leader wanted a readymade package. They didn’t want to have to put anything together.
They didn’t want to work for it. (By the way, “Creative vision” is redundant, like saying you teach at a “school of learning.” If there’s no learning, it isn’t a school, and if your vision doesn’t involve creating something, it isn’t a vision.)
The other type of leader–Caleb and Joshua–saw the situation not for what it was, but what it could be. They had creative vision.
Here’s my definition of creative vision:
Creative vision is a clear, God-given image of the future, based on our source of un-peace, that inspires others to join together in co-labor to realize God’s redemptive gift.
Caleb had a creative vision of a better future for the Israelites. Based on the story, here are some characteristics of creative vision:
- It is from God
- It is specific
- It is related to our passions
- It is redemptive
- It is inspiring
- It is unrealized
- It is borne from struggle
- It involves community
- It is going to require significant work
So how can you discover your own creative vision?
How to Make a Better Creative Vision
1. Look for God’s revelation.
Here is a non-comprehensive list of tests, according to the story, for whether a creative vision is from God or not:
- It seems to come out of nowhere
- It’s audacious
- The majority of people don’t think you can do it
- You’re not really qualified for it
- The path to start is clear
- It protects and serves those in your care
- It honors God and gives glory to God (not you)
- It’s true to the character of God as contained in Scripture
Takeaway: If you have a creative vision, compare it to the list above. If you don’t, then pray for God’s revelation.
2. Use your imagination.
Ten of the leaders made the mistake of looking for a solution lying around like a $100 bill on the ground that nobody else wants to pick up. That’s not going to happen. God doesn’t deliver a 5-star meal; God sends ingredients and asks you to be the sous chef.
The first step is to assess the circumstances and then imagine what you’d do differently.
Caleb and Joshua saw more than the reality. They saw possibility.
The promised land isn’t already built, empty and waiting for us to occupy it; God wants us to co-create it right here and now using resources he’s giving us–some of which may already be in use by something else. The difference is you start with reality in naming need, and switch to possibilities in finding solutions. What would it look like for you to “possess the land”?
Takeaway: Make a list of what inspires you – even if something else is already leveraging it.
3. Get curious.
After getting inspired, now go figure it out. Deconstruct your inspiration. What would it take to seize the opportunity?
The keyword here is Curiosity. Decline turns inward. You lose sight of what’s going on, or casually dismiss it. A new creative vision begins by exploring the marketplace of ideas and activities.
We know the name of Thomas Edison today because as a young man inspired by the telegraph machine, he didn’t just sit in a telegraph office and dreamily click a button to talk to somebody in Poughskeepsie. He had to understand how the machine worked. He broke the telegraph down, and ended up creating iterations that improved its performance. Later, he used this same pattern – love something, then tear it up to understand why – in service to a massive list of world-changing inventions.
Takeaway: Identify other players in your field, even if you don’t like their approach. Make a list of ten practices that contribute to their growth.
4. Have hope.
Finally, you need the spark to make it happen, which comes from hope.
But be careful about the cynicism of age. Age does terrible things to vision. Age is no longer blissfully unaware. Age knows, often first hand, the danger of challenging those who want things to remain the same. Age sees powerful interests and coalitions of stasis.
Martin Luther King, jr. wasn’t blissfully unaware, riding a dreamy cloud. He was fully cognizant of the dangers he faced. Yet he plowed ahead, because he had something even better than an imagination. To quote the book of Joel, he dreamed a dream. MLK didn’t change the world by impertinence, but by hope and the courage to name it.
Takeaway: Take your creative vision before God in prayer and find out if it’s commissioned.
How can you make your creative vision better today?