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Uncertain Creation is More Interesting than Certain Creation

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Over the years I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to say or think, “we can make that,” when I see something cool. In many cases the thing is a piece of furniture. Even though I know I can make the cool thing, I never make most of them. The main reason, as far as I can detect, is that I know I can make them. Maybe it’s just me, but the certainty that something can be done makes it less appealing to create or pursue.

However, there are other things that I don’t know how to make. Making art has the opposite feeling. I frequently don’t know how to get the desired effect and I don’t always know how something will turn out until it’s done. When I started learning to code a few years ago it was similar. I had no idea if I could find my way to a solution. But, hey, I could try.

Certain Creation

Certain Creation implies that we know what we’ll make and roughly how to make it. We might not know the specific steps to take in Certain Creation, but we trust that we’ll figure them out relatively easily as we proceed. That self trust is generally based on previous experiences making similar or analogous things.

The direction to take is immediately apparent in Certain Creation. There can be minor adjustments to the process along the way, but it’s unlikely that we’ll need to drastically change directions. We can usually identify the best way forward before we start and proceed in that direction until the thing is done.

It’s not unusual to learn better ways of doing things by making similar things. The main benefit of repetition in Certain Creation is that we often find marginal ways of improving. However, those improvements tend to be marginal rather than major.

Another common theme with Certain Creation is that whatever we’re making (or some variation of it) has probably been made before. We might pursue stylistic differences, but the act of making a coffee table doesn’t involve inventing the concept of a coffee table.

However, there’s another type of creating that’s far more captivating and, at times, frustrating. We’ll call it Uncertain Creation.

Uncertain Creation

Uncertain Creation is a type of creating that begins by asking a question (how can we make that), rather than by making a statement that it can be done. By definition, we don’t know if we can actually succeed in making the thing we’re setting out to make. Additionally, we might not know what the end product will be when we start. Sometimes there’s just a vague direction to move in where only the next step is clear(ish).

In Uncertain Creation, we might begin by sitting down to think about how to begin. In some cases, we might not know the exact outcome we’re attempting to achieve. There might only be some vague notion of what we want to create.

Rather than planning a specific path, we might proceed in some direction until it becomes clear that the direction won’t work. That point is just the first point of failure, it’s not total failure. We can either stop (easy) or think about a new approach and try again (harder).

It’s easy to associate Uncertain Creation with rapid change and invention rather than manufacturing. The most obvious example at the moment is technology. The rise of the internet and constantly evolving technology has enabled businesses to start that weren’t possible 20 years ago.

The real power of code is that it can be used to make things that haven’t been made before. By definition the tool makes possible things that were previously impossible. In the course of history, code is like the invention of Steel during the Han Dynasty.

I think about how different things I make fit into the two buckets and the feelings I have about both approaches. Uncertain Creation is far more captivating and fulfilling (your experience may vary), but some days you just want to work on something Certain.

Note: As I talked about here, there are some ideas that can only be found by pursuing other ideas and iterating. Uncertain Creation seems to reveal more of those ideas than Certain Creation. It seems like novel ideas tend to fuel additional novel ideas.

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