“My five-year-old could do that.” An acquaintance is looking at a drawing on my wall. Two figures, one big and one small, are looking up towards a star. The figures are simple, nothing but a few black lines and dots. There are a few more lines and dots drawn with crayons. There’s a second star, also in crayon. And that’s it.
Of course, my friend is right. Well, almost.
There are two big differences between the drawing on the wall and what my friend’s child draws. The child draws to the limit of her ability. The artist is unlimited by ability.
The drawing on the wall is by Joan Miró. Like all celebrated artists, Miró’s early paintings were more realistic and more conventional than later works. He moved from realistic paintings of Catalan landscapes to surrealism and on to the abstract style of his maturity.
Joan Miró – l’Orniere 1918
Joan Miró – Montroig la iglesia y el pieblo 1918
Joan Miró – Dog Barking at the Moon 1926
Abstract painting has been accused of being the style of choice of artists who can’t do the more realistic stuff. That’s true of a lot of amateur abstract painters. But all of the great abstract artists were accomplished technicians who could paint realistic landscapes if required. They simply chose not to.
And this is the hardest thing for most of us to do. As we become expert in our fields, our egos suck us into the trap of wanting to show off our accumulated knowledge, our technique. We seek to impress our peers and dazzle our audiences.
Children don’t overthink things. They ask naïve questions because they haven’t learnt how to ask sophisticated ones. They’re not out to impress. They’re out to learn.
Experts struggle to unlearn their expertise, even if temporarily. When I run creative thinking programs for clients, many are surprised by the simplicity of most creative thinking techniques. Their simplicity is their strength. The best of them force you to put aside your industry-specific knowledge, to move outside your field of expertise.
Many clients are surprised to find the answers they seek in the most unexpected places – in a child’s toy, in a fishing magazine, in a villain’s modus operandi, or a surrealist’s drinking game.
Next time you need to solve an unsolved problem or discover unseen opportunities, don’t look to your own experts for the answers. They’ll dazzle you with subject knowledge, but miss asking the crucial naïve question that will lead to the breakthrough. Look outside. The greatest disruptions to established industries have come from people who don’t work in those industries. They have nothing to lose by asking naïve questions.
Painting by Joan Miró – Landscape (The Hare) 1927