Brian Wilson, after creating what many consider the finest pop album of its time – Pet Sounds – famously went through a period of composing the follow up album – Smile – sitting at his piano in a sandbox in his living room. He claimed it aided his creativity because it replicated the feel of being at the beach and “created a mood that was magic”.
He also gave some of his musicians vegetables to play, recorded songs in an empty swimming pool and instructed the symphony orchestra to wear toy firefighter’s helmets. But those are all ideas for another article!
Back to the sandbox then. By creating a set of surroundings we find inspiring and comforting – a few metaphorical walls around us, edges that define a safe boundary for us, and familiar objects – we feel able to be more free, and experiment more with our creativity.
There are at least two elements at work in this kind of situation:
First Element: The Safety and Security to Relax
Imagine taking out a new possible love interest for the first time. Then trying to enjoy a steak meal sat in the middle of a pit of hungry lions.
How relaxing would that be? You and your companion attempting to enjoy your meal and get to know each other with a pack of snarling and starving carnivores circling you, saliva dripping from their razor sharp teeth? Probably not the greatest option for a romantic dinner date…
It’s the same for our creativity. By creating an environment that’s comfortable and safe and eliminates some of the external threats and obstacles to our creativity, somewhere where we’re out of the “public gaze” and won’t be critically shot down with every movement we make, we give ourselves a much greater chance and opportunity to produce interesting and rewarding work.
As well as somewhere safe, adjusting the small details of our surroundings – for example, creating a mood by altering the lighting, having motivating and inspiring words and images on the walls, sitting in a favourite comfortable chair – all just by their presence are conducive to greater creativity.
So by doing some of the above, we give our romantic date (in this case a date with our own creative projects) the best chance of being as enjoyable and fruitful as possible.
Second Element: Reducing Options Increases Focus
The second powerful “Sandbox” element is that by reducing our options, we actually become more focused and give our ingenuity and creative invention the green light to work overtime.
For example, imagine you were given the opportunity to be a classical composer for a day. The 100+ players of the London Symphony Orchestra are at your command, ready and willing to put your most amazing musical creation to life. It’s now up to you to simply create a piece of music and tell them what to play.
Where would you start?! Would you first consider the theme of the piece, the story and emotion behind the music? Or would you start by defining the length and structure of the piece, its sections, phrases and movements?
Maybe you’d begin with a melody or note sequence and build outwards from there? Or would you start with the string section of the orchestra, compose the part they’ll be playing and then add the woodwind, brass, percussion and other sections layer by layer?
The options are mind boggling, and the majority of us in this situation would be completely overwhelmed and most likely end up creating nothing at all. Yet this is often exactly the same situation we put ourselves in with our own creative work.
By working in our “Sandbox” and defining parameters – edges and limits within which we’ll work – we can eliminate dead ends, exercise our creative muscles and begin to focus on more specific ideas and solutions.
In the orchestra example, this is the equivalent of making the choice, say, to compose a 5 minute movement based on our feelings after the end of long love affair of our youth, starting with a simple 5 note melody and using the 8 lead players of the string section only.
Already these defining parameters give our creativity something to focus on, get its teeth into, and begin generating ideas around.
Without this framework, our possible options are huge and so too therefore becomes the pressure to choose where to begin and how to progress.
How can you create your own Sandbox?
The benefits of this idea are obvious, so much so that we can often easily overlook them.
So think right now about how you can apply the benefits of the sandbox in your creative life.
How can you incorporate the two elements described above – a safe, secure environment and a vastly reduced and focused set of options – to help you increase YOUR creativity?
© Copyright 2006 Dan Goodwin