The three gaps of Creativity: Effort, Skill and Quality
The big surprise for people with good ideas is the gap between how an idea feels in their mind and how it feels when they try to put it into practice. When a good idea comes together, it feels fantastic. Good ideas often come with a wave of euphoria, a literally high dopamine, and we are happily overwhelmed by it. At that moment, it is natural to overlook the dozens of questions that must be answered to bring the idea to life. We easily postpone those questioning thoughts, believing that if we can get to the big idea, surely we can also overcome all the little problems. An epiphany is a powerful experience, but the myth of epiphany is that it’s only all you need.
When we sit down to work on the details of an idea, the euphoria fades. The act of thinking about how to bring the idea to the world is much less fun than the magical feeling of the idea’s arrival. It may take an hour or a day, but soon the tasks at hand feel surprisingly normal. While the 30-second summary of his science fiction script remains fantastic, it does not eliminate the effort required to write three or more full drafts to materialize the idea in its final form. Even if your idea was for your job, maybe a new inspirational proposal you have for your boss, the job of drafting the required project plans and obtaining budget approvals is simply not very interesting. This is the effort gap. No matter how good your idea is, there will be energy that you will have to spend, often in relatively ordinary work, to deliver it to the world.
The instinctive reaction to the understanding that your amazing idea has led to normal work is to retire. We feel that we are doing something wrong if the delivery of the idea is not as stimulating as finding the idea itself. Somehow, we believe that the feeling of euphoria should remain throughout the entire project, and when it does not, and we have to choose to strive, we assume that something is wrong. In movies, they often go from discovery of the idea to fame and fortune, but in real life we have to close that distance ourselves.  Or maybe more honestly, we just don’t want to work so hard, preferring to go back to the excitement of thinking more ideas instead of doing something about it. There is nothing wrong with this, since dreaming about dreams can be fun. The problem is when we torture ourselves by denying the fact that we have less ambition than we want.
Many people suffer from creative cowardice and fear of commitment. They are afraid to close the effort gap. They want to be creative but without any risk. They know that there is a possibility that they work for weeks and that the project fails. So they prefer the superficial perfection of keeping the idea locked in their minds, taking it out only to caress their ego and annoy their friends. When someone else produces something with a similar idea, maybe a movie or an invention, they will claim a false possession and exclaim: “I thought about that years ago!” But the only way to possess an idea is to close the effort gap and actually put something in the world. It turns out that thinking about the idea is often the easy part.
Sometimes, the problem is the recognition that, while the idea is excellent and you are willing to strive, the skills you have are not good enough to fulfill it. The natural assumption is that the ability to have the idea is the most difficult part, and if the idea is good, it implies that you have all the necessary skills. Unfortunately, like many common assumptions of our silly little brains, reality is not so friendly. For example, although I can imagine doing quadruple dives back and singing five octave melodies, that imagination has no relation to my body’s ability to do those things. This is the skills gap, the distance between the skills your idea requires and those you have. It is often only through the effort in a project that we discover our skills gaps.
When we see the work of our heroes, it is easy to forget that they also once had skills gaps. We imagine they were born with the skills for which we know them. The problem is that our vision of other creators is reversed. We know them after they became famous and after they learned their trade. The works that we know best are not the first works of an artist, but those that are considered masterpieces. When we see a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe in a museum, or a JRR Tolkien novel in the bookstore, we see the creators at their best and probably at their best. We do not see their many experiments, their uncertain outcome during the long years in which they developed the skills for which they had become famous. As Steven Furtick said, “The reason we fight with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes scenes with the most prominent roll of everyone else.” We have to do everything possible to find his work behind the scenes, and often Forget it even exists.
Ira Glass, host of This American Life, explained how these skill gaps work against us :
“Nobody tells people that they are beginners, and I really wish someone had told me … to all of us who do creative work, we get involved because we have good taste … there is a gap … during the First two years that you ‘doing things, what you are doing is not so good … It is not so good … It is trying to be good, it has the ambition to be good, but it is not so good.
But your taste, what got you into the game, is still a murderer. And your taste is good enough that you can say that what you are doing is a kind of disappointment to you … Many people never pass this phase … … they quit.
And what I would say with all my heart is that most of the people I know who do an interesting creative work, went through a phase of years [of this] … Everyone goes through that … And the most important that you can do is do a lot of work. Do a great deal of work … it’s just by going through a volume of work that is really going to reach and close that gap. And the work you’re doing will be as good as your ambitions. “.
Many talented people never develop their skills because they hate the feeling of this distance. They are ashamed and tortured for it. They hope to improve at a rate that is born only of illusions, and when they fail, they despair. They lack the commitment required to discover, through practice, exactly how much skill they can have. Instead, they want an easy and guaranteed path despite the fact that none of the heroes they compare to have had one. The hard news that Ira Glass insinuates is that it is easier for our ambitions to grow, since that happens simply by consuming good works, than improving our skills, something that requires a dedicated effort.
One way to stay motivated to close the skill gaps is to study the history of the teachers you admire. The first works of Claude Monet and Jackson Pollock are drastically different from the styles by which they became most famous. Brad Pitt’s first “acting role” was a chicken costume for a Mexican fast food restaurant.  Michael Jordan, the basketball legend, was eliminated from his college team basketball team. And who knows how many bad plays the young Shakespeare wrote that burned, or the poems that Emily Dickinson tore and buried in the dust? Honest biographies of almost all famous musicians, writers or entrepreneurs will share with painful details how they worked to close the skills gaps in their careers.
Once you have developed your skills, the way to choose them is a matter of style. Style or quality gaps are the most subjective of all. Unlike the effort and skill gaps, a quality gap is a subjective opinion of the quality of what is done. When JK Rowling filled five pages of Q invented words, it was not due to lack of skill. There was a specific quality, a feeling, a tone, an effect that I wanted him to fight for. Each word still did not feel quite right, so he came up with another (in other words, he resolved a quality gap by creating and closing an effort gap).  Depending on the idea you have in mind, even if you work hard and have the right skills, you will continue to experience quality gaps when working on projects.
Some legendary creators struggled with their own opinion of their work, even after their public success. No matter how popular they became, they felt their work was flawed, inferior and immature, and they never reached the standards set in their own minds. Woody Allen rarely sees his films once they are finished, and thinks little of Manhattan and Annie Hall, two of his most famous works. Bruce Springsteen once called the Born To Run album “the worst crap” he had ever heard, and he didn’t want to release it.  Nabokov hated many of his novels and had thrown Lolita’s manuscript into the fire.  Franz Kafka and Emily Dickinson instructed to destroy all their work when they died. Artists are often victims in a way that they perceive quality gaps. They struggle to unite ideas in their minds with what they can manifest in the world.
Some very successful creators never close the quality gap, at least not in all projects, and you probably won’t either. This is fine, maybe even good. If you want to keep growing, this requires that when you finish a project, you will see it differently than when you started. And in the same things that you lack or that you wish you had done differently, you find the motivation for the next project and the next one. Being perfectly satisfied with something you did probably means that you didn’t learn anything along the way, and I’d rather be a little disappointed with the projects from time to time than experience the alternative of learning nothing at all.
These three gaps, effort, skill and quality, will be constant companions. Be patient in how to deal with them. Consider yourself part of a challenging trade where it takes time to develop your trade and that development never ends. If you really believe in your ideas and your potential, you should be willing to stay on track and commit to the long and unique realistic path to fulfill your ambitions.
If you can, enjoy doing things to do them: what a gift to have the time to do them! If you were born 200 years ago, or from different parents in a different country, you wouldn’t have time to feel bad about your job, because you wouldn’t have the wealth and time to try. If you feel love for your trade, honor it by introducing yourself, even when it is difficult. Especially when it is difficult. Working when it is more difficult, often teaches strange lessons that will make you travel from time to time. Enjoy small progressions when you see them, and know that the gains made with so much effort are the only way someone in history has achieved anything remarkable, for themselves or for the world.
[This is an excerpt from the book The Dance of The Possible: the totally honest and irreverent guide to creativity. If you enjoyed it, imagine how much you will like everything?]
 The divisions between effort, skill and quality gaps eventually break. In a way, all gaps are effort gaps, as work must be done to fill gaps of any kind. But sometimes it can be useful to ask: do you need to try harder? Invest in skill development? Or do you simply have more patience to achieve the quality you want?
 Louis P. Masur, ” Vagabundos como nosotros: El nacimiento de Born to Run ” , Slate , September 22. 2004
 George Lowery, ” Vladimir and Vera Nabokov had mystifying relationship schiff says , dice Schiff,” Cornell Chronicle , June 23, 2006