I read an article over the summer that outlined ten things that had been forgotten when creating blockbusters. The list included this gem: “make the first on a smaller budget and save the big budgets for later movies”.
Seriously? Someone really thinks movie producers should do that? What’s missing from this consideration is that first impressions still count, and a poor first impression may not open the door to the chance for the second impression – in this case, the sequel.
There’s a problem with this mindset, one that shows up in schools far too often. Somehow, we’ve become afraid of being expected to surpass ourselves on successive projects, which is where I think that first gem is routed. If we turn in a strong first showing, then we know that those who will be judging our future creations will expect our next efforts to be better. In school, this manifests as the child who works to a passing level on the grading scale or project rubric so they can appear to grow on the next project instead of working to their potential. In terms of creative work, it can manifest as a safe first attempt in order to secure the second project, where they promise they’re going to bring their full effort.
The problem is, once you get locked into that mindset, you make it all right within yourself to settle for mediocrity, and you can forget what you’re truly capable of.
An important part of the creation process is learning from what you’ve done and using those lessons to improve your craft as you create your next project. If you’re not pushing yourself to do your best every time you work on a project, then you’re stunting your own potential.
In my own teaching experience, more often than not when a student is actively gaming the grading system to minimize the expectations placed on him, it’s a child who is otherwise very ambitious. He already has their sights set high in terms of both his future education and career. But if he’s spent years teaching himself to only submit the bare minimum required to keep from being noticed, what do you think is going to happen when it’s time for him to need to be noticed?
We need to figure out how to encourage people, both children and adults, to not be afraid of being expected to be better in the future, to understand that by performing as best they can and then reflecting on that performance they are going to naturally present something stronger next time. We need to remove the fear of failure and the punitive assessments that can accompany sequels. Only then can we enjoy an explosion of creativity and innovation.