Is it time to reinvent the wheel?

It’s Thanksgiving evening and I trudge up the stairs with every anticipation of writing a post about food and family and gratitude. I pull up my chair and flip open my MacBook. A black screen appears. I tap on the buttons. Nothing happens. I click the power button. Still nothing. I stare at the screen, baffled by what I’m seeing (or not seeing). A few minutes pass by before flashing folder appears with a flashing question mark.

Panic sets in.

Suddenly, I’m searching forums, perusing help text, and checking out videos. Apparently, my Mac isn’t reading the hard drive, even when I go into Recovery Mode and try out the Disk Utility. It becomes an all-out five stages of grief as I go from denial to bargaining and finally sink down into depression as the reality sets in. My work is gone – a set of sketchy videos, my keynote slideshows, my lesson plans, and fragments of a book I plan to write.

It’s gone.

I get it. I’m supposed to back things up with the Time Machine, but it’s too late. Everything is gone. I make a list of items I’ve saved on Google Drive and Drop Box and then I wait and hope for some kind of data recovery.

Two days later, I show up to the Apple store, hoping for a miracle. It doesn’t happen. The peppy Genius informs me that the hard drive is toast. But something unexpected happens. I expect to be crushed by this news, but instead, I feel . . . relieved. Crazy as it sounds, I feel hopeful. As I drive home, I think of which videos I want to recreate and how I want to rewrite my book. Instead of making tweaks and revisions, this is a chance for a fresh start for some of my creative works.

Reinventing the Wheel

When I was a student teacher I asked my mentor Brad what he did to keep his instruction so relevant.

“How do you always know exactly what people need?”

“I throw away all my lessons the day after I teach it.”

“All of them?”

“Yeah, every time. Lesson plans are meant to be temporary. They’re like conversations. They are tied to the present. You can’t repeat them to a new group at a new time. If you do, it feels stilted.”

“But what if you teach something great and then you forget it?”

“If it’s worth remembering, you’ll remember it.”

For twelve years, I followed Brad’s advice. Instead of iterating and refining, I reinvented our projects. I borrowed ideas from what had worked in the past, but I relied heavily on students for input on what they wanted to learn.

Creativity is often about revising and refining. However, this corrupted hard drive has reminded me that sometimes it’s okay to start from scratch. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Here’s what I mean:

  1. Starting from scratch keeps things fresh. Sometimes creative work requires a blank canvas or a fresh hunk of clay and if you spend all your time improving what you are already doing, your work can feel stale and stagnant.
  2. Starting from scratch allows you to pivot rather than simply improve. There’s power in pivoting toward new ideas. But sometimes it’s not even a pivot. It’s more like a huge leap in a different direction. I get it. Why reinvent the wheel? Well, sometimes it’s because you don’t want to build a car anymore. You want to build a space shuttle and the wheel is in the way.
  3. Starting from scratch keeps your work from turning derivative. As teachers, we can sometimes slip into a place where we find what works and then we continue to do that over and over and over again. But it can start to feel like the band that plays a different version of the same three songs on every new album.
  4. Starting from scratch keeps your work relevant. It’s a reminder of that creative work is contextual. It is rooted in the here and now. All creative work is a conversation – whether it’s a song or a meal or a lesson plan.
  5. Starting from scratch encourages positive risk-taking. You start producing work that might fail rather than improving work that’s already working. But this experimentation leads to deeper learning. You stretch yourself in your craft and you end up innovating in ways you could never have predicted ahead of time.

Although it’s important to keep refining, improving, and working through iterations, sometimes it works best to create something new from scratch.

Listen to the Podcast

Just click on the audio below to listen to this Creative Classroom podcast. You can also listen to it on the go by subscribing on iTunes (ideal for iPhone users) or Google Play and Stitcher (ideal for Android users)


John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

One response

  1. I’m torn as I write this comment. The techy in me would have liked you to expound on backing things up. It’s never been easier, especially if you set up a wireless Time Machine backup in your house. Then your machine is backed up, automatically, whenever you use it at your house.

    But, then I also like the way you went, starting over. Whenever I switch laptops or machines, I always start over, but I also store almost everything (except downloads) in Owncloud, Dropbox, and Google Drive. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *