No, I’m not referring to that anti-hero of our age Walter White.
Any task you determine to undertake will yield a different outcome from its original design. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “That is the way of things.” When you begin working on a project, from the humble assembly of a sandwich in your kitchen to the grand assembly of a sparkling airport built on an newly constructed offshore island, there will be inevitable transformations on the road from design to completion.
The great physicist Werner Heisenberg said that the more precisely we know a particle’s position in space, the less precisely we’ll be able to characterize that particle’s momentum. The opposite is also true. The more we can characterize momentum, the less we know about position. While some of the complex math at the core of this truism may have evolved in the last century, the practical realities have not. Acts of “doing” affect states of “being”.
There has never been a screenplay that unspools a movie in precisely the same way as a screenwriter envisioned it. Nor has an expertly painted portrait ever captured the complete existential nature that a painter ever wanted to portray. An eternal tension remains, namely how to ride unpredictable waves of improvisational opportunity and seize unexpected moments while somehow remaining true to an original schematic.
The trap of improvisation’s great potential snares many good ideas. Many people think they can just wing it, whatever it is they’re doing, and figure it out as they go. This is especially true of some people who’ve grown enough in their careers to develop solid skills but haven’t yet realized that lack of clarity and focus is never a recipe for good outcomes. Improvisation is great and grand and a beautiful tool for discovery, but it’s rarely enough to deliver something sublime. Improvisation is a way to build schematics, a powerful mechanism out of view from anyone you’re ultimately interested in showing what you’ve done. In fact, most things beginimprovisationally to one degree or another until they grows into something more robust. Improvisation is something to encourage and practice all the time, but as an end to itself, it’s a strategy that should only be rolled out publicly if the very act of improvisation is heavily rehearsed, deeply understood, and fundamentally integral to a final experience.
Professional actors know that great performances look inevitable and effortless, as if those expressions were excerpts of real life unfolded in front of an audience. The rarely considered reality is that effortless performances are not the product of talent simply walking and talking in compelling ways as real-time urges strike. The work of delivering a great performance came before, in the rehearsal, the experiments, the improvisation about how to play a scene until a concrete plan started to emerge, solidify, and shine. Part of what makes those intensely rehearsed scenes come alive is in an actor’s ability to react to the nuanced changes taking place as the scene unfolds. Great performance in any discipline can never be an auto-pilot flight; it must always have human hands on the steering wheel, ready for anything.
Figuring out where you’re going matters profoundly if you’re serious about reaching somewhere interesting. The more interesting your intended destination, the less precisely you can account for how you’re going to get there, and the less likely it is that the arrival will reveal something extraordinarily special and sublime. But there’s one thing for certain: all creative destinations without uncertainties are usually less interesting than the Heisenbergian uncertainties that keep us engaged in pursuing places still unknown.