The evidence is clear – drawing is not my strong suit!

The Process is the Point

But that’s not the point. Whether writing, drawing, doodling, painting or collaging, expressive arts aren’t about the product. They’re about the process.

This week, the third week of Quest2019 (which you can still join!) Jeffrey Davis challenges us to design what we want to see in the world with more curiosity and insight.

Pause. Gaze. Praise.

Jeffrey offered this wonder-inspiring invitation.

  1. Pause: Slow down and pay attention. Much of what we create stems from our appreciation of the beauty of the things around us, large or small.
  2. Gaze: Slow down your eyes to focus on an object in the environment. It cold be something you see every day, and never think about. Wonder about its history.
  3. Praise. Express your appreciation for this object.

What could this simple exercise do? As it turns out, plenty!

My Experiment

As I looked around my kitchen, my eye fell on an object I use everyday. A pepper mill. I never give it  any thought, just the occasional attention needed when I refill it.

Pause. I looked at it for a minute. I decided to draw it, in order to prolong my gaze and focus my attention.

Praise. I never before marveled at my pepper mill, but the reason we own two of these, one for the kitchen and one for the dining room table, is because it is the best either of us has ever used. I imagined this tableau as I drew.

A design team sits around a table. The members ask each other:

  • What do people need from pepper mills?
  • What makes our pepper mill stand out from all the others?
  • What experience do we want people to have when they use our pepper mill?

They brainstorm their responses:

  • It should be easy to adjust the grind from fine to coarse
  • Refilling it should be simple
  • It should be durable, lasting for many years
  • It should be aesthetically pleasing
  • It should be comfortable to hold and to turn the grinding mechanism
  • It should be easily affordable
  • This pepper mill should meet your needs so well that you never have to think about it!

The team designs a prototype, tests it with potential customers, listens to their input, improves the prototype and brings it to market. It becomes an ongoing part of the company’s product line, enduring even though there are many competitors.

The Experiment’s Results

I learn from doing things I’m not so good at, even if its more comfortable to stick with what I know well. [cllick to Tweet]

The effort involved in drawing made me attend closely to the pepper mill’s shape. As I worked, I entered a peaceful place where my attention was solely on what I was doing in the moment. My thoughts flowed into visualizing the design team at work.

I thought back over the times when I’ve gone ahead and done something that made me feel uncertain or vulnerable. Giving my first keynote presentation to the largest audience I’d ever stood before. Taking  a 6-week  “Bicycle Mechanics 101” workshop. Publicly sharing something I drew. Learning to contra dance.

In some of these ventures, my performance was great. Other times not so much. But though the product sometimes mattered (ie the keynote speech) it was always was less important than the process.

  • Confidence. Sometimes you do better than you think you will. And when you don’t, guess what? You survive!
  • Connection to self. A deeper connection to self as I call upon my curiosity, knowledge, experience and playfulness to try something that will be new and maybe difficult. I think of how young children are – everything is new, yet so often they are eager experimenters.
  • Empathy. Other people, including those who come to me for coaching and consulting, may feel a similar hesitance. Just seeking out help can cause feelings of uncertainty, reluctance and fear. So can trying out new approaches and perspectives.
  • Self-compassion. There’s no need to criticize myself for not having the best of products when I try something that I’m not so good at, or not good at yet,  because it’s the process that really matters.

How This Helps Me Create

While my Avant-Garde-ishness always makes me care about doing my best, I’ve learned to embrace the benefits of good enough, of prototyping and improving, and the creative play of prototyping and co-designing with others. Being willing to be “perfectly imperfect” makes my work better and makes me a more accepting person.

I read books, articles, and posts written by people whose background is different from mine, but who care about things that matter to me. They inspire new ideas and perspectives. Example: I’ve read the work of public health experts and from it, adapted the idea of “transformational resilience” to apply not only to environmental change, but to the deep permanent changes in our personal lives.

I am helped in empathically holding participants and clients in mind as I design experiences that crate a safe environment within which to be vulnerable, to soul search, to experiment and learn.

My creative and innovative side comes out to play when I step into the unknown zone and into uncertainty in a place where I may be thinking “I don’t know. I’m not sure what to do, or if I can do it” and open myself up to new ways of seeing, thinking and acting.

These are the learnings I carry carefully with me into doing my best work in the year ahead.


This experiment was inspired by listening to Jeffrey Davis interviews with Mark Osborne and Tracy Fullerton, as well as Julianne Swartz  and Denise Markonish.

Tracy is the video game innovator whose team at USC Game Innovation Lab designed the ground-breaking Walden the video game. Mark Osborne is a filmmaker twice nominated for an Oscar for best animated film and winner of the coveted Cesar Award in France for best animated film for his animated remake of The Little Prince.

Julianne Swartz is a world-renowned installation artist and Denise Markonish is  curator of Massachusett’s Museum of Contemporary Art (or Mass MOCA).

Previous Quest 2019 Posts

Dedication to Love

Dedicated to Fairness

Dedicated to Freedom, Peace, Life and the World

Dedicated to Being a Good Human

Bring Your Young Genius to Work Day

In Other Questers’ Words

Alicia K Anderson:  When you learn, teach. When you get, give.  

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Day 19: What gifts do I bring to Solstice? ⠀ What gifts of this year are mine to offer up?⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In Advent Dark Journal we’ve made Offering Bundles to burn in a Solstice fire. I feel compelled to speak gratitude for all that has risen forth this year and all I feel called towards.⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ How about you? ⠀ Could you make a ritual offering to honor all you’ve come in to this year? Small prayers over steaming cups of coffee count.⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ As poet Joy Harjo says, “May it be done in beauty. May it be done in beauty.”⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Xo,⠀ S⠀ #adventdarkjournal #advent #winteriscoming #prepare #artistjournal #notafraidofthedark #wintersolstice #solstice #artsaveslives #dailypractice #altars #naturemandalas #offerings #getoutside #nature #dailyprompts #sacredrefugesundays #mixedmedia #collage #wequest #womensfaces ⠀

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