In his 2005 documentary entitled Sketches of Frank Gehry the filmmaker Sydney Pollock commented that one of his own mentors told him that “talent is liquefied trouble.” Pollock mentions this in part to convey that there was some struggle that Gehry couldn’t contain, a kind of upsurge that had to come out in his work. He was also trying to convey that there is a level of friction inherent in all creative work–and that some of this was internal for Gehry and some inter-personal.
I’ve been thinking about Pollack’s phrase in terms of the kind of struggle that people often go through when they engage collaboratively in open and exploratory discussions, such as with the Interactivity Foundation’s approach to “sanctuary discussions.” I don’t mean to claim that you have to be an especially “talented” or uniquely “creative” individual to take part in the discussion process. I’m thinking of this more in terms of what it suggests about the experience of thinking creatively or innovatively. There are times when participants in sanctuary-style discussions really struggle, when they feel troubled and express frustrations. In fact, it’s hard to imagine really engaging in this sort of open exploration and not feeling troubled and frustrated at some point. As I mentioned at the recent Summer Institute, I think that this can be a good sign—a sign that creative thinking is going on. It can be a sign that the discussion participants are moving in directions where there is no pre-established pathway. It could be a sign of opening up new possibilities or of creating something new.
If you’re thinking of using this approach in the classroom, it may help to alert students to this aspect of the experience. It might help them recognize that a certain amount of frustration, friction, or being “troubled,” is not only natural but also a good sign. This won’t give them any easy answers, but it may help them deal with their struggles along the way and to see them in a more positive light.