Earlier this month my wife, a florist, wrote a short blog post about messes and failure1. It included a few pictures of what her studio and work truck look like after the chaos of a big event.
A lot of bloggers, designers and makers use this phrase “a beautiful mess”. It’s great. Really. I understand it 100%. My work is 95% messy in the flower world. SO not glam. Lots of buckets and lifting and moving and stems all over the place. I have been following the sister team of A Beautiful Mess for a few years now, and have enjoyed watching them continue to create and grow. They were interviewed by Design Sponge recently (read about it here), and I like how they phrased this – “Failure is a funny thing because, if you treat it right, it just morphs into a lesson learned.” If you treat it right. I like that. Do you need to shake something off? Change something you’re doing? Say you’re sorry for something? Ask someone for help? Treat the failure and it will morph into a lesson learned.
That reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago called Creation and Chaotic Residue2 that included a short anecdote about my first experience with the messes that being a florist creates. (It was also fun to look back and see myself writing about this as a fiancee before we tied the knot.) Here’s the original article:
My fiancee is a florist, and the lion’s share of her work comes from brides planning their weddings. I’ll never forget the first time I helped her prepare an order for an event. I met her at her apartment after work on a Friday, and the entire kitchen and dining room appeared to be a scene of chaos. Buckets of flower bundles of all kinds surrounded what looked like different work stations. Greenery was everywhere, almost literally. Stems, leaves, branches, and more. A toolkit lay wide open on a table with its various contents scattered around the room. In the midst of the mess, however, vases around the room held perfectly arranged, breathtaking arrangements.
Being borderline OCD in certain areas of my life, my gut reaction to this seemingly chaotic experience (and similar ones before) was to ask, “Why the heck can’t people, including me, just keep things tidy when we’re making things?”
After my second or third round of being assistant-to-the-florist, observing a well-crafted system of arranging flowers and thinking through this question all the while, a characteristic of the creative process suddenly became as clear as day:
Creating order and beauty out of raw material creates chaos as a by-product.
It seems that no matter what you’re doing, if you give dedicated focus to making something, you always leave some sort of residue behind in the process.
Now, I’m no creative expert, and I realize these thoughts are probably self-evident to anyone who works in a creative capacity, but I wish someone had set that expectation with me when I was much younger.
For most of us, the reality is that we have a number of choices to make in what we need to do, and that is rarely ever the same as what is being required of us in a given moment. So, everyday, we choose which things to neglect, and the order in which to neglect them, in our quest to accomplish what we need to accomplish. On good days, we neglect well, accomplish well, and have made steps forward.
Making specific things (or solving specific problems) amplifies this process. For example, when I’m extremely focused on thinking through all possible contingencies in planning the execution of a strategy, I neglect most other things on my plate. Sometimes for days in a row. Papers litter my desk, emails pile up into a daunting mountain, voicemails stack up behind an ominous blinking light.
Perhaps a good way to explain this is to say that I’ve always found (and maybe you have too) that in most projects there is a strong tension between progress and organization. But we’ll tackle that in the next post.