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A Clean Slate

To make room for fresh ideas, you need to let go of the old ones.

Learning to let go is as important as learning how to create. If all your energies are engaged in supporting what's right in front of you, you won't choose to create something new. It's not easy to let go of familiar products and services or processes, risking what is for what might be. Clinging to the status quo is natural, so acknowledge that, grieve the old ways, and move on.

Being skilled at letting go has its advantages. First, it gives us the confidence to change. Our fast-paced world will force us to let go sooner or later, so learning how to move ahead fearlessly on our own will give us some control over the process. Second, starting fresh creates more possibilities.

One of the best practitioners of letting go was Seymour Cray, inventor of world-renowned Cray supercomputers. He began every new project with a blank page. Building on top of the old can limit what is possible and often makes the new version more ponderous and complex than necessary-no matter what you're inventing. Starting fresh can lead you to innovations that wouldn't be possible otherwise.

Cray started with a blank page, not a blank mind. He took advantage of all the input he had received and everything he had learned since his last invention. He started over with the technical details and reviewed all the things the world offered at that point in time. He risked it all with each new computer and never knew if his new invention would work. This was the price he was willing to pay to continuously invent the world's most powerful computers.

The next time you need to create a new solution, begin with a blank page. If you have difficulty with so much white space, write down on one side of the paper what you're unhappy with or want to change. On the other side, next to each dissatisfaction, write whatever you know right now about the qualities of a better reality. This will get the creative juices flowing. As always, be as specific as possible.

Old ways still have their place, but one of the realities of our economy is that much of what worked in the past to help us become successful may be what keeps us from surviving in the future. Our energies need to encompass operating well now and cultivating curious exploration.


Juanita Weaver is a creativity coach and consultant. She'd like to hear how your company sparks creativity. Contact her at juanita@juanitaweaver.com.

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This article was originally published in the November 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Clean Slate.

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