The Architecture of Courage and Creativity

Date: Jul 25, 2017 3:33:51 PM

As an architect, many things influence what I do. Environments are complex living organisms and designing them takes attention to detail. Understanding people and how their environment can inspire them do their best work is expansive and poetic. To keep energized and curious, I feed my imagination with tidbits from the least expected places. Today I am taking my meal with a musician and a writer.

I was listening to David Bowie over the weekend, and I recalled an obituary-of-sorts I had read in The New York Times Magazine shortly after Bowie’s death in 2016. It was written by Rolling Stone contributing editor Will Hermes, and was called “Blackstar - David Bowie: On composing music, and your death, while dying.” 

Hermes hooked my attention with the thought: “Death is one of life’s main events. Shouldn’t it be our own composition?” Hermes likens Bowie’s last creative burst, the making and release of the album Blackstar just two days before his death, as “…a brilliantly choreographed sort of ars moriendi, an art of dying.”

Hermes’ view inspired an integrated model in my mind of courage and creativity; an architecture of sorts. I see how Bowie’s choice to face his mortality with a flourish, greeting his death in a glorious embrace, is an example of how courage becomes the fuel for creativity. It’s an act of power to see a limit as an opportunity. Bowie may or may not have seen this work as courageous – and it’s a rare human that does not feel fear in the face of death. I’d guess that what is more rare is to walk toward the ultimate unknown, despite the fear, and use that experience to create. It’s masterful. It’s an art. Perhaps it can be an inspiration for all of us who tread everyday into the unknown, wondering how to not get gobbled-up.

We all experience irritating, everyday road blocks that come seemingly out of nowhere. Imagine if the road blocks can be the foundation for creative solutions. What’s required to move from frustrated and stymied to inspired and creating? One thing: point of view.

Everything is impacted by our point of view. Many times our point of view gets so fixed that we don’t even realize there may be another way. When things get stuck, if we can shift our point of view, we open up worlds of potential solutions. In fact, this is what artists do. Artists are masters of shifting point of view. They can see relationships, aspects, and characteristics that others cannot, and then they share what they see through their medium. Shifting point of view takes flexibility, it requires risk, and it builds the framework for robust, empowering creativity.

What can we learn from David Bowie’s example in the face of his death to unlock our own day to day courage and creativity?

  • IDENTIFY THE LIMIT. Limits happen. Life happens. We can’t control what happens, but we can control our response to it.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE LIMIT IS UNCOMFORTABLE. This may be emotional. We might feel like our ego or reputation is at risk. What will really happen if we have to change our plans or adjust our expectations?
  • GET MENTALLY FLEXIBLE. Separate what we think a situation “means” from the details of the situation. Practice “Just the facts, ma’am” and let go of interpretations.
  • SEE THE ALL OF THE OPTIONS. Brainstorm. Identify as many options as possible. Notice how previously unconsidered options feel energizing, or perhaps a new pairing of idea and circumstance solves more tasks with less effort. Notice the flow that comes from letting go.
  • TAKE THE RISK TO ENGAGE ON PURPOSE AND EMPOWERED. Put options out there. Test them with others. Share and then listen. Be you, be creative, and be amazed.


Recent Posts