Practitioner, Scholar, Neither, Both

Day 361 Week 53 Q4  Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Commercial Art, Fine Art and Academic Art are generally not the same. Innovators and Innovation Scholars are even less likely to be the same. Company Founders and Bureaucrats who found companies, create industries and make markets are even less likely than that to be the same, And  Creative Outliers often find themselves swimming in the waters surrounding and connecting all of these islands. And yes, these are capitalized on purpose, for they have different priorities, workflows, problems and opportunities.

Scholars tend toward the comprehensive, to contain and maintain multiple points of view. Both of these, in general, require complexification in contrast to practitioners, who in general, need to commit to a single point of view which demands simplification. Leadership also requires simplification, usually into an easy-to-understand narrative, for extreme followers tend not to tolerate ambiguity.  

Now that I have equally offended almost everyone, some explanations are in order, especially to the particular group this blog is intended to address, namely creative outliers. And specifically, creative outliers who may be betwixt and between being practitioners and scholars. And to make matters worse, as the title suggests, there is more than a simple ether or choice here, there is also Both. And herein lies the danger, for when trying to be Both you could end up s Neither. 

Okay, now you have either given up on this line of thought or are curious to get it explained. There are at least three tremendous forces operating upon the initially undifferentiated creative outliers which tend to differentiate us. Furthermore, these forces of creative expression, understanding and money, come in waves that are not always equally present.

Here is an observation, it is difficult to get paid for not knowing what to you. This is why most posted jobs request directly relevant experience in addressing some relatively narrow need. The wide open positions tend not to be posted by awarded through word of mouth channels because, in these cases, it is potentially that is being sought, not narrow skills, and these are relatively impossible to evaluate through surveys or printed text.

Here is another observation, even those who began as creative outliers or innovators when sufficiently promoted up the ladder to enter into exalted management levels, tend to become increasingly risk averse and, therefore, resistant to change or different points of view. 

Most artists do derive some, even large portions of their income from teaching, which pushes them toward being practitioners and scholars when in academic settings. If one does not have significant intellectual and creative bandwidth, they tend to end up as neither for each role requires an almost full-time commitment. The same is valid for business and technical people who are often denied even the possibility of being both self-employed entrepreneurs or inventors and also holding academic posts because of intellectual property and other non-compete policies. 

So how to navigate through this mess? Periodic periods of simplification and complexification. When you are trying to deliver a result, complexification is counterproductive. You have to simplify even if you are aware that you do not want to. You have to voluntarily put on blinders to narrow your focus to get the job or project at hand done. Completion is rewarded, but still working on it is not, at least not sustainably.   

In order to creatively manifest, you do have to have a point of view, not a hundred points of view, even if you are aware there are actually many points of view.  And even if you have very many potential techniques and tools available to you to apply to your workflow, you have to put the majority of them out of your mind for some time period in order to complete, in order to monetize, and in order to be compensated, all of which are required to be sustainable.

On the other hand, if you forget there are potentially infinite points of view, you then become stuck in what may have begun as a voluntary and temporary simplification. This can make you, who was originally a change agent and pioneer, into a risk-averse administrative bureaucrat.

Fortunately, our lives can be long enough to experience multiple phases dominated by different points of view. Unfortunately, our lives are also long enough to experience both success and failure, for not all points of view work equally well. All of this gear shifting can consume a lot of time and energy.

If you are an involuntary innovator, you will sometimes find yourself breaking things and causing horrors, disruptive innovation, which, if you are truly successful, is the most impactful kind. 

If you have the intellectual bandwidth and creative diversity to play many roles and be many things in many situations, be careful not to become Neither instead of Both. Yes, life is a juggling act but would you really want it any other way? If you are driven by curiosity and imagination, then you are not very likely, going to stay a ship that never leaves the safety of the harbor, for that is not why ships are created.  

If you find some time that you are stuck in Neither, then you have two choices Complexify or Simplify. I strongly suspect, if you are indeed the kind of creative outlier who is fueled by inexhaustible supplies of curiosity, imagination and energy, that the answer is to Simplify for a bit. At least long enough to complete a project or task to get both psychic and fiscal payoffs.

Don’t worry; you can always complexify again, probably instantaneously. But for now, pick a subset of the possibilities, maybe even a very narrow subset, like one. It may take a lot more energy to simplify instead of complexifying.  Society pressures us to be subdimensional, which is not our natural state, but in order to finish instead of starting something new, it may be necessary.

Do this with gray instead of rancor, and remember you can always go the other way, just not all of the time. This is also true when you are your own boss who can give you permission to spin around trying new thoughts endlessly. But that also means you have no customers and no stakeholders. 

The best stakeholders require you to be both narrow and straightforward enough to be focused on getting something done but flexible and complicated enough to be able to pivot by reinventing because almost nothing goes completely to plan. 

And so the dance begins? What, you say you have no stakeholders except yourself? Well, you had better do something about that and get into a feedback loop with external reality, not just your own internal one. 

Create an advisory board, or join a flywheel from which you can possibly recruit an advisory board. 

What did you say you are already networking?  Flywheels are not the same as networking; they are much more. You have to show up creatively and be open to the possibility of strategically but not manipulatively, for if you are taking more than you are giving, you are missing the point.

Yes, I know; you tell yourself capitalism is based on exploitation, right? So manipulation is justified? Wrong; providing value is not manipulation. You have to create value in order to provide it, and that means simplifying and narrowing at some point, or there will be no output from your process.

To provide value, you must simplify but still be aware of the larger, more complex framework. This is kind of like thinking globally and acting locally.

The more options you have created, the more you have to simplify, at least temporarily. 

But see if you can be both a scholar and a practitioner, for it is only then that you are a conscious practitioner and a helpful scholar. 

Whoops, I used up the allocated complexification time, and now it is time to simplify.