There’s something to be said for planning. Being a strategic thinker is one of my top strengths according to the results of my Strength’s Finder test. On top of that, there’s ideation, which shows up in the fact that ideas fascinate me and I weave threads of connection between ideas, events, even people that may seem unconnected to most people. Then there’s input, my craving to know more and to obsessively collect and archive information, ideas, things, even relationships. All this falls heavy on the side of the creative process that tends towards analysis, perfectionism, and the propensity to write long yet grammatically correct sentences laden with syllables.

But all thought and no action is a recipe for nothing but regret, according to Michael Schwalbe, contributor to OPEN forum who cites research from happiness expert Daniel Gilbert.

Thank goodness the other two my my five response-generated strengths (that, interestingly enough, I’ve gotten both times I’ve taken the test) push me into the action part of creativity. Communication is the strength that led me to my profession. The strength of achievement is what gives me so much personal satisfaction from being productive and working hard – and is probably also what compelled me to break down into tears over the one B I got in college.

The Sweet Spot

So, for me, finding the sweet spot, the balance between thought and action is a continual adventure in learning. I collect motivational sayings on the topic to remind myself that I’m not the only person who’s trying to find that place.

“Don’t worry, be crappy.” – Classic Guy Kawasaki quote I first experienced staff meeting style, via VHS!

“Getting your ducks in a row is not nearly as powerful as actually doing something with your duck.” – Seth Godin

My new favorite is this simple yet elegant venn diagram from David Armano that I’ve been referring to mentally about three times a week ever since we met at Blog World.

Agile Planning by David Armano

Agile Planning by David Armano

Adding in Risk

Wait. With this talk about planning versus action, where does the risk part come in? Somewhere pretty close to the middle, according to some theories.

In fact, Schwalbe writes about risk in the article cited above, where he explains what he calls his 40-30-30 rule: that success in anything is like success in sports, where 40% comes from physical training, 30% from knowledge and skills, and 30% just from being willing to take risks. He cites Gilbert’s happiness research and notes that:

While we tend to focus solely on building our skill sets or expanding our knowledge, the greatest advancement and learning most often comes from action, experience, and taking risk. And our regrets in life reflect this. According to Gilbert, studies show that “in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.”

Because the truth is, no plan will ever be perfect. Or maybe it’s more like, if you wait for the exact, perfect iteration of the plan, you’ll never get anything accomplished. Because you have to try, and sometimes fail, and at the very least learn, to be able to move from where you are or to get beyond the idea you have at this moment.

Because ideas will keep coming. Innovation, research, thoughts, connections, relationships, life. It will all keep moving, changing, shaping the plan you’ve already made until at some point, you’ve got to abandon the idea or take the risk.

The risk of action in an imperfect world.

Without knowing what’s going to happen. Embracing the possibility of the worst. And the anticipation of the best.

So, is risk worth it all? For an extreme and highly interesting example, take a minute to listen to this story about Earl Cooley, a ground-breaking, elite forest fighter. He took a risk to jump out of a plane in 1940 to parachute into a burning wildfire to fight it. He went on to establish smoke jumping as one of the most effective forest-fighting tactics in history and just passed away this week a hero in his industry and at the ripe old age of 98.

Time, Discipline & Inspiration

My husband has this theory, (and no, he’s not alone in this thought), that over time, the more you take these risks, which are, almost always, just mental risks inside your own mind, and simply dedicate yourself to action, the better you will become – at whatever it is. As an artist, he extends this idea to the thought that disciplined action sustained over time can create results on par with the results you get from pure, unfiltered inspiration in an environment that lacks true discipline.

I think about that a lot. I see it happen in his art over time. The really inspired stuff is always brilliant. Everything else? His art is always good, but with discipline, it’s just as brilliant the more he simply commits to the process. Takes the risk of doing what he can (inspired or not) and moving on to the next page so he can keep developing the skill.

Taking action and putting yourself out there – especially when you’re not inspired – can be the ultimate test. The ultimate risk. In terms of risk and reward, this makes sense.

The more you work, the more risks you take, the more inspired you become.