The False Promise of the Double Zero

(or: How To Not Drown Your Creativity In The Details)

Detail is important. If there weren’t subtle differences between the projects we create, they would all end up the same, and we’d be outpouring some homogenized version of our art over and over. More like a robotic conveyor belt than a human expressive artist.

But when we take the attention to details to the extreme it can be become more limiting and damaging than the good it does. And we can spend so long trying to get each project perfect in every way, that we never finish anything. Also not good.

A short story

Petrol Pump
image: tashland

I was getting some fuel for my car the other day, and whilst filling up heard that intermittent clunk, jerk, rumble and rattle of another pump being squeezed on and off over and over. I looked up to see a man across the forecourt obviously intent on getting exactly the right amount of fuel into his car.

I’m just about old enough to vaguely remember when you pulled into a garage and simply asked the pump attendant for ten pounds worth of petrol, and they’d be able to fill it with the trigger held fully in then released just at the exact moment the pump counter flipped from 9.99 to 10.00.

It was like some distant equivalent of cowboys in the Wild West in noon shootouts, handling their weapons with incredible skill.

But I digress. These days we have to try to demonstrate these kind of precision pump trigger skills ourselves.

Because of this, from somewhere, there seems to be this need to fill our cars with exactly ten or fifteen or twenty pounds. Or a whole number at least.

Back to the guy across the forecourt, who from around 9.50 onwards was clunking, jerking, rattling and rumbling his way one tiny squeeze at a time towards the magical 10.00.

You could see the concentration on his face, I swear he was getting redder and beads of sweat began to appear on his crumpled brow. His shoulders hunched further and further upwards, swallowing up his neck.

You’d think – if you saw only the intensity on his face and not the wider scene – that he was either performing brain surgery or diffusing a bomb. Not refueling his car.

9.94, 9.95, 9.97. That two pence skip shook him to the core and he paused to compose himself for a good ten seconds.

9.98, 9.99… 10.01!!

The horror on his face that he’d blown it, he’d overshot the double zero, the patient was dead on the table, the bomb had gone off, was amazing.

Did he resign himself to the fact that precision pump control skills weren’t one of his superpowers in life and go and pay for his ten pounds and one pence worth of fuel?

Nope. He carried on towards eleven pounds, determined to get that perfect 00 at the end of the pump counter.

Can you imagine the kind of anxiety and stress this guy went through in those few minutes in the petrol station?

Why was he putting himself through such pressure just to fill up with an exact amount?

I must confess I used to be a little like this guy. I had to put a round figure’s worth in. If I fumbled and hit the dreaded 10.01, I would go on not to 10.00 but to 15.00. And feel double zero victorious!

These days I take much delight in stopping at completely random points. 12.59. 21.72. 17.81. Whilst somewhere, across the forecourt, or a forecourt very nearby, someone is going through that angst of getting the fabled double zero at the end of the counter, and nearly giving themselves a heart attack as they do.

Back to creating. How does this relate to the way we create?

It’s actually very similar. When we obsess over tiny details, rather than let a creative project just flow until it’s ready to stop, we cause ourselves a great deal of anxiety. Every part must be right, must be perfect. And it must finish at a certain place.

Worse than just doing this at the end of a project, is when we do it at every single stage along the way too.

Not only does our creating take many times longer than it would if we relaxed a little, but it also puts us in a state of almost constant tension and unease.

One of the reasons we create in the first place is to ENJOY it.

Creating gives us pleasure like nothing else in the world can or ever will. When we let it!

When we’re not so incredibly tense and hung up on being perfect that we choke our creativity before it ever gets going, like a World Class marathon runner trying to run with a straitjacket on and a gag over his mouth.

Relax, breathe, let yourself create. Forget about the details, and allow your creativity to unfold naturally, to flow freely.

I think you’ll find not only that you’re far more calm and creative, but that a .59, a .37 or a .12 is FAR more interesting than that “perfect” double zero anyway.

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2 thoughts on “The False Promise of the Double Zero”

  1. OMG. That was me, too. Pumping that gas handle over and over to reach those double zeroes, and ARGH, over it goes. Aggravating. Just like when I tried to balance out my bank account and be off by a few cents, I’d spend waaaay too much time rechecking the amounts, adding, subtracting, erasing, cursing… all to find the mistake and balance it to the penny. Finally I stopped doing that. Life is too short to fuss over such small details. Trying to apply that to my art, too.


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