Being Creative in the Face of "Dangerous Rationality"

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic. Photo by Erik Charlton [CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic. Photo by Erik Charlton [CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

by AMBER KING
(2 minute read)

I recently went to hear author (and my personal heroine) Elizabeth Gilbert talk in Dallas. Gilbert is best known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, and is currently on tour with her latest book, Big Magic, her manifesto on “creative living beyond fear.”

Gilbert defines creative living as any life where decisions are based more on curiosity than fear. Curiosity asks us to engage with the unknown, and fear will always try to have us avoid it.

Fear, she said, shows up in many guises, such as procrastination, perfectionism, and “a dangerous rationality.”

This one caught my attention. A dangerous rationality, she said, is a very logical reason not to try something. It’s impractical. It might not pay off. This kind of logic is difficult to argue with, because it’s true: your creative pursuit really might not work out.

Curiosity asks us to engage with the unknown, and fear will always try to have us avoid it.

This kind of dangerous rationality often talks us out of our ideas before we even start. The question becomes: why do it? Why invest precious time, your most valuable resource, into something that might amount to nothing?

Gilbert’s answer was simple and brilliant: Because you will learn so much.

Although this might all sound whimsical, this is actually the bedrock of innovation. It fits well with the “fail early, fail often” philosophy in design and UX, where we make things, test them, see where they fail, and move forward with making anew. By staying curious, we learn what is needed. By being brave, we can overcome all the reasons “it can’t be done.” 

Fear will use its most convincing and logical voice to dissuade us from delving into the unknown. Our call is to engage with the mess and stay curious, so we can create solutions that truly improve our world.

Amber is passionate about understanding others and bringing their needs and stories to light. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Missouri-Columbia with degrees in journalism and anthropology. She is also trained in the Hakomi Method, a holistic therapeutic approach, which brings additional skill and depth to the research process.

Amber is passionate about understanding others and bringing their needs and stories to light. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Missouri-Columbia with degrees in journalism and anthropology. She is also trained in the Hakomi Method, a holistic therapeutic approach, which brings additional skill and depth to the research process.