One of the great myths in the history of music is the story of bluesman Robert Johnson and his encounter with the Devil. According to the Faustian myth, Johnson traded his soul to the Devil at a Mississippi crossroads in exchange for exceptional musical abilities, allowing Johnson to achieve success. This story was comically portrayed in one of my all-time favorite movies from the brothers Coen, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
There is one part of this story I find completely convincing: that is my belief that creativity, innovation, and even genius, are found at a crossroads. This crossroads is the intersection of person, place, and time.
One of my mentors defined the great moments of creativity in one’s life as the crossroads of preparation and opportunity. Neither one of those moments are accidental. Preparation is ongoing; opportunity takes place in the context of place and time.
In my experience, these are the factors at work at creativity’s crossroads:
- The motivation for creativity will come from a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards;
- Creativity will likely emerge through an encounter with tension (Robert Johnson’s “Devil”?);
- Creativity is born in environments that foster creativity;
- Sustainable creativity leads to innovation, but must first be tested;
- Creativity comes to those who are disciples of experience (Leonardo da Vinci’s self-description);
- Creativity is often accompanied by failures along the way;
- Creativity needs periods of reflection along the way.
My advice when approaching a crossroads: be alert, slow down, avoid idiots, push through.