adopt, adapt, and improve

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There’s an old Monty Python sketch where a bank robber breaks into a lingerie shop. Even after he realizes his embarrassing error, and that the place has no vaults or large stacks of money, he doesn’t let it thwart his plans. In a form of self-motivation, he quotes his old teacher, “Adopt, adapt, and improve.”

I can empathize with the guy. Not that I’ve done much in the way of bank robbing or lingerie shopping lately, but we’ve been undergoing remodel for two of our bathrooms. It’s been a lengthier process than I expected with plenty of semi-permanent decisions to be made.

The toughest part, by far, was trying to pick out the right tile. So. Many. Choices! On top of that, we’ve had to consider what looks good with the parts already in the bathroom. Mainly, how do we work with what we’ve already got, but make it nicer?

I imagine you’ve had a similar experience if you’ve been a creative for long. There are different ways of going about a creative “remodel.”

It may be worth scrapping a project altogether and starting over. That’s a hard (and painful) decision to make. Sometimes necessary though.

However, more often, you’ll retain at least part of your work, but find ways to add to or change it. In that case, you’ve got to decide how to “adopt, adapt, and improve.”

This can be a challenge because, while you may have a sense of what isn’t working, it takes time and testing to figure out what does work. My advice: trust your instincts, even (and especially) if they lead you to unexpected places.

One of the tricky parts is knowing when to stop making changes, when you’ve finally reached completion (not perfection, mind you). Here’s some good writing advice I’ve heard, which applies to more than writing:

If you can’t tell whether the changes you’re making are improvements, it’s time to stop.

So go ahead, rework, reshape, and remaster. But don’t spend so long on it that you can’t see the garden for the flowers. In other words, take a good step back and reexamine the thing as a whole before you get too caught up on details.

And hey, while you’re at it, why not ask for advice? You might try your friendly lingerie clerk down the street for instance. Or not, depending on the street.

A.P. Lambert

A.P. Lambert is a creative professional who helps others live with creativity and purpose.