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Inspiration is for amateurs

Sustainable sourcing small group work in my sustainability strategy course.

The painter Chuck Close was asked about the inspiration for his work and his experience with the mental blocks that come with creative work. Close famously stated that "Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work."

Teaching often bumps up against this deep misunderstanding that students (and many of us) have that inspiration is a moment not a process. Like barnacles these myths cling to our mental models: the lone inventor who is struck by the proverbial apple falling from the tree. But Close says no, you "show up and get to work." I tell students that "inspiration is the inevitable outcome of a disciplined, creative process" and not a moment of luck or good fortune. In class, we recently took 20 minutes to reinvent a plastic spoon. We generated around 300 ideas using a combination of brainstorming, rapid web research, and pair shares. Then with collapsing small groups we eventually landed on a single idea: the edible spoon. No student thought it was possible and all grumbled when the exercise began. It's amazing to me the unique ability that separates us as mammals--our ability to think and reason and imagine--is so rarely practiced and so successfully avoided!

Thinking is hard. Thinking is painful. "Knowledge is made not received" the best educators recognize.

This is critical for the work ahead to reinvent every industry to operate within the bounds and bounty of the earth's operating system. We need to let our students wrestle--in real time--with the challenging, messy questions. Mastery only comes from practice and repetition in various contexts and settings. So we must halve our lecturing and double the opportunities for them to "show up and get to work" reinventing the world.

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