Friday, March 31, 2020

White Space

Here's a poem by A. E. Housman called "When I was One-and-Twenty." It comes from his collection: "A Shropshire Lad."

Do you find it hard to read? Not very attractively presented? Try this version. Same text, same typeface and font size.

The only difference between the two versions is the amount of white space around the text.

"Slow" is increasing the amount of white space in your life. White space doesn't sound exciting or important, but it is. It's essential for you to see clearly what's right in front of you. Just as a page of writing with insufficient white space around it looks cramped and unattractive—besides being annoyingly difficult to read—so a life without enough "white space" in it is congested, confining and likely to make you frustrated and unhappy. White space doesn't look much, but it counts for a great deal.

What produces white space in your life? Rest; sleep; time to think and reflect; periods doing nothing save staring at the sky, watching a bird, enjoying a beautiful flower; listening to music (not merely having it playing in the background); enjoying a good book. The list could go one and on. White space is made up of just about anything you do for its own sake, without hurry or concern for achieving some set result.

In leadership, the boss who packs every moment of every day with restless, frenetic activity will produce a cramped, congested culture where vital messages are hidden by all the clutter and noise around them. There's no space to breath, no time to reflect and consider. It's like the first example of the poem above. All the words are there, but a whole book printed like that would be completely unreadable, however important the message it contained.

We need white space in our lives as much as we need the air we breathe, the water we drink and the time we spend sleeping. None of these sound exciting, but try doing without them. Doctors are now pointing to lack of sleep as a major cause of sickness in adults and children in the USA. We're designed by nature to have around eight hours uninterrupted sleep each night; more when we're children. Most adults get barely six hours. Some children are watching TV, playing video games or doing homework until 11.00 p.m. and getting up before 5.00 a.m. to get the school bus. If that's not a miserably cramped existence, I don't know what is.

Ask any designer; the white space makes the image. Musicians too know the rests and silences in their music are what really lets the melody appear. Wise leaders don't skimp on white space in life or your work. They know the rest isn't worth a damn without it.

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Kelly K. said...

I found this a really potent metaphor. I am a very visual person, I have been an artist and designer and know that when creating a page, what you leave out is as structurally important to what you include. The idea is to clear away anything that isn't important, to let what really matters shine. So in life and leadership as well, right?

12:57 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Absolutely right, Kelly. Just another case where less is more, I guess. Or do I mean more (white space)is less (confusing)?

4:52 PM  
zinger said...


You have such an insightful and helpful blog that always gives me a chance to pause...








I even had to slow down as I typed that.

Carry on caring,

6:40 AM  

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