The Nature of Creative Work

by Kenneth Lange  

Spain, 1937. German and Italian warplanes assault the tiny village of Guernica. It’s the first aerial bombing of a defenseless civilian population and the result is pure horror.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The journalist George Steer watches the atrocity and writes a chilling eyewitness report. Picasso, who’s exiled in Paris, reads Steer’s report, and decides to throw all his artistic energy into creating a masterpiece that will bring the world’s attention to this genocide in his homeland.

Picasso makes tons of sketches to explore how he wants the painting to look. He makes some sketches in vivid colors, others in black and white. Some of the sketches lead to blind paths, others lead to promising paths he want to explore further with new sketches. His sketches are not quick, throwaway pieces, but small masterpieces in their own right.

His experimentation pays off and lead to the massive painting, we know as Guernica (featured below), which is a true, iconic masterpiece that in its own chaotic, claustrophobic way captures the tragedy of war.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Picasso’s non-linear, exploratory approach stands in sharp contrast to the early software movement, which wasted decades trying to force software development, which is also a creative activity, into an linear, industrial process.

The reason for this is that we are still stucked in the industrial mindset, which glorifies the factory with its assembly lines as the optimal way of production.

But creative work is different. Sure, it’s also performed under a deadline, but the aim is not follow a sequential path towards the deadline, but rather to discover the best possible solution before the deadline arrives.

I mean Picasso had to get Guernica ready for the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, but that didn’t mean he abandon his non-linear approach. Why? Because as a master artist he knew that this was the only way to produce outstanding creative work.

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