Get Out of Your Rut – Get Into Your Groove (Insight from Twyla Tharp, & a little Taylor Swift)

Everybody’s complaining about how music sales are shrinking, but nobody’s changing the way they’re doing things.
Taylor Swift; From Taylor Swift on 1989, Spotify, Her Next Tour and Female Role Models

When optimism turns to pessimism during the creative process, you are in a serious, dangerous rut. So serious that it can become the mother rut – depression. Forget spinning your wheels. The wheels have come off the wagon…
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

in a rutrut
a long deep track made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles.
a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.


Yesterday, I presented my half-day workshop on Creativity and Innovation. It was a good session, with great insight and conversation from/with the participants.

Creative HabitI referred to a number of good books, but especially The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp and The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley.

One section in the workshop got to me personally. It was the reminder from Twyla Tharp about being caught in a rut.

A rut is understandable. It can, at times, be a good thing. You know, the path of least resistance kind of a good thing.

But ruts are only good when you are going in the exact same direction you’ve always traveled. And then, you fail to take alternative paths, and you miss seeing so much.

In other words, creativity (and innovation) pretty much requires you to get out of your rut.

In her book, Ms. Tharp writes that ruts can come from:

  • a bad idea
  • bad timing
  • bad luck
  • sticking to tried and tested methods

And, to get out to get out of a rut

  • you have to see the rut
  • admit you’re in a rut
  • actually get out of the rut

And she is real big on the value of a new idea to get you out of your rut.  From her book:

The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight. There is nothing yet to research. For me, these moments are not pretty. I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head: “You need an idea.”
You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however miniscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.
The unshakeable rule: you don’t have a really good idea until you combine two little ideas. (p. 97).
When you’re in scratching mode, the tiniest microcell of an idea will get you going… The idea is the toehold that gets you started.

Once you get your idea, you can then “embrace the experience of creating and being in a groove.” So, get out of your rut, and into your groove.

So… here’s your challenge. First, be honest with yourself – are you in a rut? (In my case, there have been times when I have been in ruts, plural, in every part of my life). Acknowledge that you are in a rut. (Maybe we need a new 12 step program for people unable to get out of their ruts. “My name is Randy, and I’m in a rut.”).

Then, after you acknowledge that you are in fact in a rut, fight like crazy to get out of it.

If you are in a rut, and if you stay in your rut, you will absolutely only repeat traveling the same path over and over again…

And, to solve your current problem, to reach your next goal, to successfully complete your current vexing challenging project, it may be time to try a new path. And that will probably require you to get out of your rut.


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