in Ideas, Iteration

Medusa Mistakes: Iterate and Achieve Success

The Ordinary World…

Iterate: it’s a concept we too often forget when producing new ideas. We’ve all been there. In the throes of our daily adventures each of us has become lost in the darkest corners of the dungeon of doubt and come face to face with ideas that turn us to stone unable to move forward. I’ve dubbed these Medusa Mistakes. 

Medusa Mistakes are initial ideas that intrigue us with their potential yet turn us to stone, paralyzing us with the horrors of self-doubt. They occur when we fail to iterate. 

They begin as enjoyable experiences, gifts bestowed upon us as we consort with the gods that quickly degenerate into burdens once we crash back into reality.

Haunted by their daunting gaze we are unable to move forward with our creative projects. If we aren’t able to rip ourselves away from their control we are doomed to remain stuck until we become nothing more than beings cursed into a brittle, cynical and still existence.

I experienced my own Medusa Mistake when I began outlining a novel. I had two chapters I felt great about but then got stuck. This resulted in me procrastinating and banishing my outline into a darkened drawer (not very heroic huh?). I couldn’t move forward with my novel. Facing the blank page, I turned to stone.

The Adventure Begins…

How do we get our Perseus on? How do we cut off this monster of doubt’s snake-riddled head and escape the cavern of darkness known as uncertainty?

We do the only rational thing we can think of and seek out the grey witches.

In Greek mythology, the Graeae (or grey witches) were three sisters who shared a single eye. Perseus, the Greek hero tasked with returning the head of Medusa to Polydectes, first sought out these fine ladies to learn where he could obtain the weapons necessary to defeat our snake-haired friend.

The grey witches represents our need to expand our perspective.

We view our initial ideas with too much sanctity. We get tunnel vision and don’t give our idea time to breath. This is our failure to iterate.

Perseus has a single vision of slaying Medusa and returning her head, yet he seeks a different perspective from the witches. He is iterating on his original idea. He is developing a plan to execute that idea. He didn’t just storm off and try to carry out his task in abandon. Instead he sought outside council to determine the best approach.

Him seeking out the witches is an example of peer review.

Share your original idea with others and get an outside perspective. Get feedback.

I conducted a peer review of my novel’s outline by sitting down over coffee and pie with my wife. Some of her input I brushed aside, but she provided a couple of nuggets that I adopted into my story. Disconnected from the creation of my story, she had a different perspective and found varying narrative opportunities I hadn’t considered. The result was a new iteration, and my story became much stronger because of it.

How to Iterate: First, Gather Your Gear…

Perseus learns from the witches that he must gather three items. A special knapsack to transport Medusa’s decapitated head, a sword and even darkness itself. While it worked for him. How can these ideas or concepts help us on our own adventures?

The Knapsack…

The knapsack Perseus carries with him symbolizes our need to iterate. In our creative endeavors the knapsack represents a place to store things. We have our original idea but we need to throw various interpretations into the bag. Now these variations on our original idea may never see the light of day, some ideas will remain in the bag, but we can be sure that one of them will be a gem we’ll want to share with the world.

Ultimately the knapsack is where we’ll place the head of our daunting idea. When our idea is completed, or in the bag, we will have successful completed our quest.

I used a proverbial knapsack when I took in the ideas of my wife for my story. Not only did she offer up some awesome ideas of her own, just conversing with her got my creative juices flowing and I was able to further flesh out my story.

The Sword…

The sword represents the need to cut away the excess. We have multiple ideas floating around in our knapsack now. In writing there is the term “kill your darlings”…each idea we conceived of that doesn’t stir up enthusiasm and have us  in awe of our own imaginations will meet the sword’s edge and be discarded.

We cut open our knapsack of ideas letting them all fall out. Mercilessly we slay the weak until only the strongest iteration is left. 

Further we revise and refine our idea, slicing away at it’s rough edges until we have a sharp rendition and the best iteration we can possibly have.

After considering all the new ideas I had for my novel. I had to make some tough decisions about my story. Certain elements needed to fall away. A thrilling scene had to be cut because it didn’t fit the narrative. One of my favorite characters got the axe. It was a bloody but necessary mess. At the end of it all I had a concise and strong story outlined.

The Darkness…

At some point, no matter how shining their armor is, a hero must descend into darkness and slay some monsters. The biggest of these beasts is our own doubt.  Anybody can talk about chopping off Medusa’s head, but only a hero is actually going to accomplish the feat.

While Perseus may have approached Medusa under the veil of darkness, at some point he had to drop the cover and expose himself. You’ll need to do the same with your idea.

Be courageous. Reveal yourself, slay your doubts and return from your creative adventure as a hero. 

This is something I struggle with. I’m terrified of sharing my work with the world. You may too, but if we are ever going to overcome our fears at some point we need to step out of the shadows and let our light shine.

The Call to Adventure…

Don’t be afraid. Accept the call and move forward with your creative pursuits. When you find yourself surrounded by doubt and fear reach into your knapsack, wield your sword and destroy the apparitions that are preventing you from being successful. Be a hero in your own right and share you work with the world.

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Photo Credit: * Karl * via Compfight cc

Links:

99u: How to Avoid Getting Stuck in the Trap of Bad First Ideas

Innovation and Iteration: Friends Not Foes

Iteration: A Cyclical Process to Improve the Quality and Function of Design

Books:

Iterate And Optimize: Optimize Your Creative Business for Profit

 

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