Make Something That Sucks (Creativity Hack)

Aug 11, 2020


I started teaching music lessons when I was 19. Over the years my approach to teaching became increasingly focused on helping students feel fulfilled artistically. I’ve witnessed many people transform from being unsure about their creative abilities to expressing themselves freely. It moves and amazes me every time.

Here's one of the exercises I have people do to unlock their creative confidence and unique voice.

It's called "Make Something That Sucks"

The primary obstacle that holds anybody back from making something awesome is the fear that it won’t be awesome.

Being willing to make something that sucks is the golden ticket to creating anything, ever. There’s no way around it. We must be willing to make something that’s “no good”.

Without that willingness, nothing happens. With it, risks can be taken. Innovation becomes possible. Our priceless but vulnerable parts become accessible—those parts that are tender and heavily guarded, but long to have a voice. Expressing something that’s actually meaningful becomes much easier.

If we can truly feel okay with making something that’s complete garbage, it’s like having a creativity super power—the power to tap into a childlike state where outcomes don’t matter because we're flooded with pure curiosity and playfulness.

You’ve likely experienced this feeling at some point. It’s a blissful rush that gets many of us hooked, craving a life of self-expression ever after.

But it seems to operate on its own terms. It comes and goes as it pleases.

Is it possible to control this ability? Can we push aside our big-headed, know-it-all selves and be perfectly fine with our art-babies turning out junky/stupid/amateur/shoddy/unsophisticated? (Fill in your own brand of self-criticism here.)

It’s not easy, but it is a skill that can be cultivated and strengthened.

We can practice and develop this skill by creating something “lame” on purpose. It’s uncomfortable at first, but it quickly turns into a great joy.

Here’s how to go about it: Start creating just for the activity, not for the results. When you feel yourself starting to care, make a choice that you would usually never make. Each time you start to get attached to what you’re working on (and you will), do something ridiculous.

Each time you make a bold move like this—a sudden turn, a cheesy embellishment, a destructive edit—you reset your intentions, removing the pressure of the world’s expectations.

Ironically, each absurd move we make can be so fun and refreshing that it causes us to care about the outcome again, forcing another oddball decision to happen. It’s a cycle. We’re launched into that once-unreachable zone of spirited inventiveness.

When the intention of being accepted is removed, aesthetic preferences that are routinely ignored start to surface. We find that it’s not only safe to let them surface, but it’s energizing and critical for discovering our unique voice. As we encounter these distant regions of our taste, we begin to dust off the cobwebs of uncertainty, and confidence expands as we dare to be who we are.

I’ve seen this work over and over, both for myself and others. Rarely does it ever result in something that we’re actually not happy with. But more importantly, it conditions an atrophied creative muscle that we can utilize later when the stakes are higher. Next time, when we have to make something that does matter—a portfolio piece, a commissioned work, a performance—we can reach higher, knowing that it’s perfectly safe to explore beyond our usual grooves.

See for yourself. Set out to make something lousy on purpose and feel the burden of seriousness lift. Feel the weight of goals and artistic identity dissipate. Nobody else has to know it exists, but by the time you’re done, you just might want them to.

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