Bestselling author Seth Godin said that art is “when we think something might not work”.
Yet in the creative world it’s all too easy to avoid risk—to follow others and hold on tightly to our achievements like some ratty safety blanket.
It’s only when we let go—when we embrace what’s unfamiliar or ‘wrong’—that we have the chance to make something incredible. And yes, it is only a chance. In art and creation there are no guarantees.
For German award-winning designer Tobias Van Schneider, success has come only through the trials and tribulations of constant risk taking.
Tobias left high school at 15, leaving him with few options in the more ‘traditional’ business world. Instead, he embraced a life of doing what others told him he couldn’t: When no company would take him on as an apprentice engineer he did it anyways, finding a government program that would help him into the industry.
When the graduate and design schools he applied to told him he didn’t have enough skills or experience, he opened his own studio instead.
“That’s probably why I ended up in the creative industry,” explains Tobias. “A place where no one really knows what they are doing and where ‘doing it wrong’ isn’t something you get punished for.”
“For me, doing it wrong is a gift and there are not many people who have the courage to do it the wrong way. The moment we understand that ‘the wrong way’ just means ‘our own way’ we know we’re on the right path.”
As part of the Unsplash Book, we sat down to talk to Tobias about inspiration, taking risks, and why action means more than intention:
What do you mean when you say ‘Inspiration needs action’?
One of the questions I get asked the most is ‘How do you get inspired?’ or ‘How do you get started?’ The answer is simple: You get started by just starting, there is no way around it.
The same happens with inspiration. Instead of waiting for inspiration to strike, you have to do something in order for inspiration to find you.
Marcus Aurelius famously said:
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Does that mean you believe that what you do means more than how you do it?
I believe this is very relative to each person. For me, I would say the process is more important because it’s the process that helps me grow and it’s the process that I always remember.
I will remember working with my friends and colleagues on something over the course of many years—all the small little interactions, the mistakes we made, and the fun we had. I might not necessarily remember what we were working on, but will always recall the process of how we got there.
“For me, doing it wrong is a gift and there are not many people who have the courage to do it the wrong way.”
However, this doesn’t mean I only focus on the process for the sake of it. I’m an incredibly goal- and product-oriented person. The process is something that follows automatically when having your eyes on the cake.
What it comes down to is this: The final product is more important while there is no final product. The process happens as a result of working towards that final product and in retrospective I remember and value it more. But when you’re not there yet, when you don’t have a goal in sight, it’s easy to get lost and fall in love with the process.
How do you ensure you’re always taking risks with your art?
Think of all of the things you own as your imaginary cake. The money you make, the apartment you live in, and all the furniture and little gadgets you fill it with. All of those things, as well as other non-material goods like your past accomplishments, make up your personal cake.
Once you build up this cake, most of your time becomes devoted to protecting all these things—protecting your cake.
The older we get, the bigger our cake grows, and not only do we get used to it, but we spend more and more time protecting it.
Essentially what happens is that personal development and personal growth stagnates.
Our attention shifts from trying something new to protecting the cake out of the fear we’ll lose it. We only have so much brain capacity, and most of it is now devoted to the old, rather than the new.
This metaphor helps me to navigate my own life. Every time I feel stuck, I ask myself ‘Am I protecting the cake again? Or are there any real reasons for me to not make the change?’
In most cases the real reason is absolutely to protect the cake. Every argument I have (even with myself) is based only around protecting what I have, not thinking about what I could have instead.
In the end, the cake is a lie. The cake is just an embodiment of what we believe is important to us. There is no value in protecting a cake no one can eat. Happiness will either result out of eating the cake, or baking a cake but never by protecting it.
“When you take risks with your art, you pull yourself out of your comfort zone and approach problems from a new perspective. Taking risks means you have to think hard, act fast and balance on your toes.”
Taking risks means feeling alive! In the end, most of the things we call ‘a risk’ are never really a risk. The only risk is that we lose our little cake, nothing else.
What are the most important values a creative individual can have?
For me, it’s always curiosity and optimism. Without those two attributes you just won’t do good work and you won’t be a good designer or creative.
Both of those values help you to understand and work with human beings. They open your mind, and help you to stay fresh and see things from different perspectives. The opposite of this is to be bored and pessimistic. It’s pretty easy to imagine where that mentality would lead.
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