One of maturity’s hallmarks of passage is a slow, situational assessment, the sudden knowing that “no, that’s not a good idea.” Unlike the rebellious “no” of late adolescence– which is much like the cocky seat of the pants “ of course!” of earlier adulthood, maturity’s “no” conforms to William James’ “ sure, slow heave of the will”. It is certainty as the residual of experience.

Bad strategic decisions may be effectively countered by such certainties; indeed, the ability to marshal experience necessary to make these assessments is a critical component in the midlife professional’s tool kit. While received poorly and often extruded in organizations founded (and headed for foundering) in irrational exuberance, the steady, surety of experience—like salt on the table— is essential for effective business strategy.

Significantly, this mature “no” is a reflection of creativity. By midlife, we shift our creative energies from the showier displays of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, desirous of immediate attention and oriented toward instant recognition and praise. Midlife’s progress is incremental. It proceeds in an orderly, stepwise course. We have an idea. We concretize it: get it down on paper, in whatever form: flow chart, spreadsheet, napkin doodle. And then we begin to get to work fine-tuning. The steady acts of midlife creativity flow from within the sure movements between thought and physical reality.

It is important to pause here and to underline the importance of reflection’s “kicking the tires” as the fulcrum of creative action. Reflection involves both cognitive and aesthetic appraisal. Unlike creativity in earlier life which screams, “hey, look what I did!” the reflective dimension of midlife creativity only works through the surety of saying, “no, that’s not it”, coupled with the willpower to discover the way “it” shall be. This willingness to be wrong, to disconfirm, essential within scientific thought, in order to “get it right” is learned through life experience. It only develops with wisdom. Through the internally reflective act in contemplation, another try at getting it right is made. And the process continues.

As we all know, the end product is often very different than its original conception. But each step is reliant both upon a concretization of thought: a picture of what it looks like as given; and then a thorough assessment of its viability. At the heart of the process, is the ability to know, “no”- that’s not it, twinned with a similar willing toward achieving the hopeful “it” the future will be.

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The Creative No


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