Igor Stravinsky Agrees: Standards Enable Creativity

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on August 6, 2010 · 1 comment

This week I’ve been commenting on things I’ve found on the web. Often, they are posts I’ve saved in my blog reader Gruml (which by the way is a fantastic Google Reader desktop app if you are a Mac user).

I’ve always enjoyed Jon Miller’s posts on Gemba Panta Rei. This is a post that caught my attention because it’s a topic I talk about frequently – the application of standard work in a creative setting. Jon captures some of the words of Igor Stravinsky in Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons. I won’t copy Jon’s post because I want you to head over to his site and check it out for yourself. Here is a phrase that caught my attention though:

My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned to myself for each one of my undertakings.

None of us like constraints – we like freedom. I love to be able to make any decision I want to make. But structure, constraint, method – they help creativity. How?

  • They provide focus.
  • They provide a foundation on which to experiment and learn.
  • It enables the mind to spend more bandwidth on the challenge at hand without having to be distracted by coming up with the method at the same time.

Any talented author (writing my book doesn’t count) has a structure underneath their writing. It’s not written down and checked off and audited – but under all that creativity of writing is some standard work. The same is true of a famous author, a musician, or chef. Jazz is known for its fluidity but it is a structure that makes that improvisation sound good.

1 Brian Buck August 6, 2010 at 10:59 am

I am a trained actor and know a lot of artistic people. I have found that most artists do have a ritual of sorts.

Actors have a pattern for how they discover and create the character. They may write out a history for the character or try being the character for a day in the real world. Sometimes they develop a walk for the character to see if the physicality helps drive the internal way a character acts.

Painters usually lay their tools in a certain way and change the environment (lighting/music) to one that enhances their ability to create. Sculpters follow similar patterns.

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