Discipline vs. Creativity

Learning to fly has brought me a new appreciation of the role of discipline as a critical mental (or invisible) tool. For the last twenty years, I’ve been working to unleash my creativity. Frankly, I have enjoyed leaving behind the rules and parameters of the accounting and banking worlds that formed my early career. Suddenly shifting gears into the world of rules, checklists, and memory items has sort of felt like having a bucket of cold water dumped on the fire of my creativity.

And that’s a good thing.

When I enter my art studio to throw pottery or paint in watercolor, I also try to throw caution to the wind. As I walk down the stairs from my office to my studio, I intentionally make a mental shift into an experimental thinking mode. What if I used this color? What would happen if I did this or that thing with the pottery? How can I feel my way through to doing something new? Such a mindset leads to lots of joyful failure with the occasional moments of breakthrough.

Walking up to the airplane is a whole different ball of wax, as the saying goes. Imagine what would happen if I said to my instructor pilot “Today, let’s see how much joyful failure we can create!” Nope. Not what she wants to hear.

Instead, I’ve found that I’ve had to learn to make a totally different kind of shift in my mindset. It’s the discipline to follow the steps, even when a part of me is sure that everything is ok. After all, there’s a good chance that someone just brought this plane back from a safe flight, so it should still be good, right? That kind of thinking leads to the type of failure we want to avoid at all costs.

So, I’m learning to shift my mindset to look for the not-so-obvious deviations from standard, to follow the steps without skipping around, and to check and double check my assumptions. In other words, I’m reaching for my tool of discipline. Lots of pilots went before me to learn the steps for safe flight. Their hard-earned effort only pays off if I’m willing to have the discipline to stay within the parameters that are proven to be safe.

It’s not all checklists, rules and steps. Every landing is a little different, and I’ve found that being able to feel my way through it has a place. I’m developing a sense of when I’m too high or too low, and when it’s ok to land and when it’s best to go around.

Adding discipline to my list of useful mental tools is priceless. More than once, double checking has helped me discover errors before they became disasters. As much as I love being creative, I’m learning to love being disciplined as well. Balancing between the two is much like the walking a tightrope, where it’s possible to lean too much one way or the other. The magic is finding the right balance and allowing the situation to tell you where the balance point resides.

In what domains do you need to amplify the mental tool of discipline? How do you shift from one thinking mode to another? Where would you like to have more balance?