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Monday, April 16, 2020

If you want to be more creative, give yourself more time

If you want the people in your team to be more creative, the same applies to them.

In all the discussion about creativity, one subject that rarely occurs is time: the necessity of giving yourself enough time to allow the creative process to happen. Maybe we’re too influenced by the Hollywood idea of the sudden flash of brilliant insight, so we ignore the patient period of thinking and ruminating essential for any flash of inspiration to happen. Given the rush in today’s world, and the constant demands for instant gratification, we’re in danger of becoming steadily less creative—right when we need it most.

Getting creative ideas takes far longer than people usually allow. It’s not the idea itself—that may come in an instant—it’s the preparation, plus the time needed afterwards to check it out, explain it to others, and turn it into a practical plan of action. Creativity isn’t something that you can ignore for years, then expect to be able to switch on right away. It needs practice, nurturing, fuel, time to grow, time to allow the basic ingredients to swirl around inside your head in chaotic form, until one day something clicks and the idea is there.
  • The first requirement for creative thinking is fuel: knowledge, information, concepts, facts from many sources, different perspectives, shifting viewpoints. You need time to read—then read some more. Nothing gives better fuel for the “creative juices” than reading. Nothing is more effective in helping you to learn, to think, to reflect, and to internalize all the ingredients that will, one day, come together in some new and unexpected way. The general lessening of time spent reading is the direct cause of most of the obvious problems we have with limited thinking and stunted imaginations. The Internet is a great research tool. Lectures, talks, TV documentaries, and videos have their place. But nothing, nothing beats reading. If you want to be creative, read as much and as often as you can. There’s no better way to stimulate your mind. Show me a home free of books and I’ll show you people with little or no spark of creative thought in their heads.

  • Next, you need time to find those unexpected links between ideas, thought patterns, or areas of knowledge that are the bedrock of innovation. The brain finds it hard to hang on to disconnected pieces of information. Unlike a computer, it doesn’t cope well with large amounts of more or less random data. What it does best is to see connections, ways of linking information together into patterns in place of independent pieces of data. Remembering a principle and applying it is far easier to do that recalling a fact. This process is always slow. It’s still slower when we are searching for connections that are new or unexpected. Do we see innovative links instantly? Usually not. It takes time to find and register them fully, then understand them well enough to grasp their potential for changing the way we do things or see our world.

  • You will also need time to prioritize these budding ideas and choose which ones are worth more attention and energy. Doing this in a rush risks making mistakes, missing good ideas, and wasting effort on those that soon run into the sand. Creative thoughts don’t come in neat packages. They arrive mixed with other thoughts or notions that aren’t what you are looking for. You need time to sort them out.

  • Checking your growing ideas, researching, and creating sensible plans for implementation also take time. You aren’t going to be successful with every creative thought or idea every time. Many will fizzle out, or prove to be more difficult—and provide fewer benefits—than appeared at first. You need to “noodle” around, trying them out, adapting, extending, combining, and dropping poor ideas in favor of better ones. Until you start to explore how a creative thought might work in practice, you can’t see clearly which are going to be worth taking further.

  • Most of all, you need time to daydream. I’m not talking about sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. That’s a romantic idea that bears no relation to what genuinely creative people do. In all those “gaps” where they appear to be doing nothing at all, the world’s outstanding creative minds are hard at work below the surface: reflecting, ruminating, “noodling” with odd ideas, daydreaming possibilities, and tinkering with patterns and unexpected connections. What you see is the tiniest tip of a mental iceberg: nearly all the activity that brought it about is hidden below the surface. Time spent day-dreaming, or running over intriguing ideas in your head, is the “soil” in which creative ideas grow.
How do you make this time? The simplest way is to arrange your day to stop wasting so much of the time you already have. To-do lists and similar organizational tools can help, but they mostly make it easier to recall objectives and track tasks, by putting them into some kind of order. Useful stuff, but not critical to creativity. Finding more time for creativity needs you to recognize how much garbage doesn’t need to be on your calendar or to-do list at all. Many items can simply be dumped: pointless meetings, reading and sending endless e-mails, wasting time on reports designed to cover someone’s backside, or team co-ordination meetings when there’s nothing to co-ordinate. Have nothing to do with Instant Messages. Stop people copying you on e-mails of no consequence. Don’t waste time gossiping or swapping e-mail jokes. Turn your cellphone off sometimes. Refuse to become a slave to a BlackBerry. There’s plenty of time really, so long as you stop allowing it to be frittered away on rubbish like this. Set aside time to think and defend it as ferociously as a lioness defends her cubs.

Most people don’t achieve anywhere near their full creative potential just because they never give themselves time to do so. They’re so conditioned to quick action that they give up on fresh thinking long before it has any chance to develop. Don’t make the same mistake.

One of the worst aspects of modern life is the constant hurry. Not only does it create stress and tension, it goes a long way to making us all seem dumber and less creative than we are. If you want to get your brain going, slow down . . . and give it some time and space to work.



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16 Comments:

Bob Grommes said...

Excellent post. I would add this nugget from Blaise Pascal: "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."

The work atmosphere is an often-overlooked creativity-killer. Many office environments are noisy, not only from ambient noise, but from intrusive loud intercoms and constant phone interruptions, lack of sunlight and outside views, cramped cubicles and other doorless office designs resulting in lack of privacy, and so forth.

A principle of good management in software development teams applies here. If you have employees who do creative work or who need to focus and be "in the flow" to be productive, one of the best things you can do for them is to shield them from interruptions. For example, such employees should not have to answer the telephone directly, at least not during designated times of the day. Provide them with a gatekeeper to take messages.

6:19 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Bob. Great comment.

Keep reading, my friend.

7:27 AM  
Christopher Richards said...

Perhaps we should take a stab at what creativity is? Yes, there is a lot of talk about it, and most people would agree that it is a good thing. But in most workplaces anything more than lip service is discouraged.

Employees are valued for their obedience, not their ideas. At least that is my experience of working with senior managers in some large corporations. If an idea comes from an employee, or a department, say, marketing, then it is seen as worthless. However, if the idea comes from a consultant (fortunately me in a few cases), they take the idea seriously and fund it.

Corrine Maier, in her book, Hello Laziness, talks about how meetings are not to communicate information, but to assert authority and reinforce obedience. She also makes a good point that higher education is valued by employers, not for the knowledge and ability gained, but that the employee has demonstrated compliance. If that employee is in debt, that is even better. Corrine is a cynic and French. I like the French despite the fact that they invaded my country of origin in 1066. Forgive and forget I say.

As Bob so rightly points out, a culture of fear kills creativity. But more than that, our educational fetish for being right at each stage does the same thing. Logic is overrated. Yes, it has its place—certainly in the realm of software development. But sometimes strengths in one area are weaknesses in others.

I was lucky to have a creative education. I left school, and home, at 16 and failed my way through the next eight years, taking multiple jobs, and wandering over Europe and North Africa (I was living in England mostly). I studied at night school to get the qualifications necessary to go to art school in the UK.

That was a creative education. In art school in the 70’s we were encouraged to think for ourselves, to have the space to create, and not to emulate. My philosophy class had just four students in it. We learned to think in ways beyond just coming up with (the first) right answer quickly.

Emulation (all following the same path such as pleasing the professor) is what business school is about, and our so-called education system in general. It is a shame that we only educate the head and not the whole body. There are multiple intelligences and they feed each other.

Creativity involves necessary failure, resilience, responsibility, and a tolerance of risk. Think about the process of writing. We start with horrible first drafts. That’s OK. We need something to form before we refine it.

Risk and tolerance for being wrong are not traits employers are looking for. Even if, at a senior level seeing differently is valued, by the time an employee has moved up through a hierarchical system and conditioned by an authoritarian educational system, creativity has been trampled to death. Employers are looking for people to do what they are told, and do it as quickly as possible.

Note: Carmine, I am amazed at your output for a slow guy. I commented on the blog section of SlowDownNow.org

Yours in slowness,

Christopher

8:18 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Great comment, Christopher.

You make some excellent points.

I too quite like the French (my younger daughter lives near Paris), and it was my country too that they invaded in 1066. Don't let the carefully learned American English fool you. This is my adopted country now, but I spent most of my life in Britain.

Sadly, obedience is still far too highly valued — though it's usually called "being a good team player" or "commitment" nowadays. The essence of creativity is being different in some way, so it's no surprise that creativity is rarest in organizations that most value fitting in and following the corporate line.

Hamburger Management is also greatly to blame, with its obsession with speed, superficial flashiness, limiting costs, and being right first time (even if you aren't). Macho managers don't have the humility or ability to reflect needed to be creative.

Keep reading, my friend.

9:03 AM  
JoAnn Braheny said...

Loved this article...so timely. I never fully realized just how fast my work/life racing-around pace is until I go to spend a few days in a small town. (I live in Los Angeles.) You're absolutely right about the value of slowing down...allowing ideas to and incubate and percolate. Almost always, they "pop out" when we're doing something else, like taking a nice walk. Thank you for the reminder! Hope you don't mind if I quote you on my blog, Goosing Your Muse.

3:31 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment and kind words. Joann.

I would be delighted if you quote this article on your blog.

Living in LA must be a heavy stress load in itself! I don't go there so often, but the traffic always terrifies me when I do.

Keep reading, my friend.

4:39 PM  
Ellen Weber said...

Great post and what an inspiration to sustain the time it takes to create. No wonder Google offers time daily for its workers to create! This post shows the kind of results that can follow:-) Thanks

9:26 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your kind words, Ellen.

I'm glad that you enjoyed the post.

Keep reading, my friend.

9:30 PM  
Howie said...

I agree. We can't easily bring back something after a long pause. I am sure that all of us who gets sick suffer the same situation wherein it is hard to cope up with the same pace as before we left. Creativity definitely needs time.

12:24 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Howie.

I'm glad that you found the post useful.

Keep reading, my friend.

9:01 AM  
Charlie said...

You are so right about that. Probably the reason why others quit their job. They are more concerned on doing things fast. If they can't generate an idea, they think that it's not suited for them.

8:37 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Yes, Charlie, I agree. Too many people think that if they can't instantly come up with a creative idea, they never will.

Sometimes things don't happen to our schedule!

Keep reading, my friend.

9:35 PM  
Bryan Hinton said...

Great stuff - you are right on target with this as usual.

3:42 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Bryan. Glad you liked it.

Keep reading, my friend.

4:01 PM  
Siji said...

you r soooooooooo right there!!!!
finally some good inspiration comin my wayyy!!!

4:55 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks, Siji.

Glad you found the article useful.

Keep reading, my friend.

6:56 AM  

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