I trust the third mind more than I trust my own.
William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, or both of them, coined the phrase when they worked together in a period that resulted in the cut-up technique David Bowie later picked up and played with as a tool in his songwriting. With cut-up, reassembling a text or combining it with another is a way of forging or exposing new connections through randomness. That's one example of what can be thought of as another mind at work. When two minds come together in ways that spark, they occupy a space that can effectively be considered a third. There comes a point in collaboration when the notion of who came up with a particular idea is redundant. When it flows, the process generates solutions as they're needed, and laying claim to them is an exercise that usually starts with ego and ends in bitterness.
I've seen it in action plenty of times. It's one of the reasons I love working with others, rather than being resolute in believing that squeezing my brain juices over a project is inevitably the best solution. My brain juices are fine - and cocktails are even better.
On the recently created Projects page of this site, there's a newly completed audio version of my play Breaking In. Thanks to a lack of foresight, we did the recording session with the actors in a way that didn't lend itself to a naturalistic production with sound effects creating the ambience of different locations. Oops. Only, why let that limit us? A lot of the most interesting art in the last century parted company with naturalism a long time ago.
Brian Eno nailed it with his Oblique Strategy card, 'Turn a seeming disadvantage to your advantage'. Which is itself another take on 'Necessity is the mother of invention'. In this instance, I turned to Darren Bourne for a solution, confident that the man who comes up with the music of halF unusuaL would have a trick up his sleeve. Turns out he did. In playing with the voices of the two actors - a cut-up of sorts - Darren hit upon a shimmering glow of a soundscape, that in its numinous quality nails the emotional core of the story, about a couple whose efforts to find love on a weekend break remain seemingly out of reach, though each yearns for that experience. That musical theme is threaded through the play at appropriate moments, and marks out the scenes in a far more interesting way than doors slamming, the crunch of footsteps on gravel, and the ambience of a hotel bar, which is what might have happened otherwise.
Treasure mistakes. Eno again: 'Honor thy error as a hidden intention.'
Sometimes the third mind pops up after a first connection in another seemingly unrelated context. I spent a day on a new project with a client in London last week. We hit on a very distinctive visual metaphor that we are developing as an actual image. A few days later, the very same image came up in the context of a Tarot reading someone did for me, and in talking about it the reader hit on the core of the work that had been done a few days previously, work she was unaware of.
Question your instincts. When I wrote the short film White Lily, the male and female roles were scripted intentionally in a way that hopefully cut against gender stereotypes. Later, in rehearsals, the first couple of times we did it as written. Siddhii Lagrutta wanted to swap the roles though, or at any rate find out what happened when we did. That's what we ran with - there was an extra energy and dynamic to the resulting relationship between her and David McCaffrey that director Tristan Ofield and I recognised and responded to. I'd accidentally written the parts the wrong way round.
Earlier tonight, a filmmaker sent me a rough cut of a piece we're developing. We'd come up with ideas of how we wanted to work together, but as interesting as they were, he couldn't follow them through with conviction. Where he's ended up instead is somewhere neither of us had anticipated, and all the more interesting as a result. Any endeavour has a life of its own. Go with that, rather than be limited by your initial conceptions of it.
There's a time and place for following the map you've created between you. But all too often the treasure hasn't been marked on that map, and only shows up after the fact. Ideas flow when you're onto something. Learn to go with that, and you'll leave safe harbours behind and discover brave new worlds. We'll find tomorrow there, not by turning over the bones of yesterday's concepts and mistaking the women and men who came up with them for the power of the ideas they came across when they plugged into the third mind.