Ever heard of slow-motion multi-tasking resulting in creativity? I was intrigued with that idea as presented in a TED talk by Tim Harford.
Harford’s essential idea? Highly creative people move among their creative projects to let one influence the other. Because, if you blur the boundaries between your projects, you’ll make it easier to relate one idea to another. Everything really is related in some way. More importantly, you’ll get unexpected combinations and perhaps some solutions! After all, we all know about connectedness.
But multi-tasking is not a brand new idea! We human beings have been multi-tasking [slow, fast or in between] for centuries.
So happens that I was reading a biography by Walter Isaacson, on Leonardo Da Vinci. [My own multi-tasking]. Isaacson takes you into the world of Florence and Milan of the fifteenth century. Da Vinci was born almost a century after the Bubonic plague [beginning in 1357 or so] which wiped out more than half the population of both cities in the 1400’s.
In Da Vinci’s lifetime [1452 to 1519], those cities flourished grandly! The population enjoyed liberty, wealth, good health, and education and this caused the whole society to prosper and thrive. Isaacson’s premise is that when these factors come together, creativity explodes. And so it did! If the people are well-fed and healthy, then society thrives and so do new ideas.
Isaacson also stresses the role of the individual. Da Vinci, he notes, was driven by a incurable curiosity. While we look to the artist’s environment [health and wealth], we must still account for the artist’s personal qualities such as Da Vinci’s innate curiosity. He filled thousands of pages of notebooks containing drawings of his observations of nature.
Today, many of us live in a society which flourishes because of such riches. But obviously, too few of us enjoy this. Those of us with “good” jobs and access to good, reliable health care live a pretty fine life. Add to that, education and freedom in a democracy to express oneself, then we have all we need to make ourselves and our creativity blossom. The benefits of the arts and invention cascade upon us, making the society prosper. Just look at Florence from the rooftops! As above [society], so below [individual].
But sadly, too few of us enjoy such advantages. If fewer people live such good lives, the rate of creativity and improvement plummets.
After all, why wouldn’t we want the society, as a whole, to prosper? Each individual should work toward benefits for all to create a healthy society. If society is our house, then why not strive to obtain the very finest house to live in? But sadly, the gap grows and wage inequality results in poverty and serious loss for so many.
These advantages enable us to have enough time and money to have projects to move among. Projects take time and money. Even better if you have a beautiful, relaxing place to work such as the library pictured below. How can you be researching a topic or just pursuing a hobby without those luxuries? If you are trying get enough money to eat or pay the bills, how can you even think of hobbies?
Let’s try jumping from one project to another. Sit down right now and make a list of some of the different projects you are working on. Here’s two of mine off the top of my head.
Poetry: For the past week I’ve been trying to create a poem. Why a poem? I’m a novelist. Ah yes…but I need my protagonist to express his feelings about the loss of his wife in a traffic accident. Only poetry will do for Alexander Wainwright to capture the mood.
Relaxation: [Learning how to…] For me, I needed to find something to make me relax and impress my friends over dinner tomorrow night. By chance, I come across an article on the web about baking bread. The image sticks in my mind. The delicious smell wafts about in my imagination! So, I decide to try baking. Through the oven door, I watch the dough gently rising and falling. Words creep into my mind.
Poetry: I pick up my pen and doodle. But wait! There it is. The words, “Just like a sweet sigh after a gentle kiss goodbye.” crept into my mind. Next day…back to the poem and there it is…just the right words to express that gentle sadness after a goodbye kiss. Sound corny? OK maybe so.
This reminds me of Tim Harford’s story of Archimedes in his talk. Stumped and frustrated trying to solve the puzzle of displacement, Archimedes took a bath. As soon as he did, he had his answer. He shouted “Eureka!” He could measure the displacement of water by the volume of what was put into it, and so began the study of hydrostatics.
What is the lesson to be learned? To foster creativity, relax and try to let things flow.
What else promotes creativity? I’ve often found that a good nap brings the answer. You slip into sleep and when you awake, there’s the answer staring you in the face. Why is this? The subconscious is the repository of all things jumbled up. If you can relax and put them together in a different way, you might just have a few answers. When relaxed, you interrelate those items which, previously, seemed irreconcilable. You have married items which, otherwise, in your logical mind, would seem ridiculous. If you can leave the logical behind, perhaps something can come of it.
For thirty years, I had plenty of projects on the go. I practised law, raised three children and began writing novels. It was easy, necessary and natural to move from one to another. Helpful connections lay everywhere! Even one very elderly client inspired a character in The Osgoode Trilogy. I was fortunate to live in a good society where I had time and sufficient money to explore these connections.
But what saved me from just plodding along day to day without inspiration? Tim Harford recommends putting the projects into boxes. But he knows one very simple thing is missing. If you want some creativity, you may need just one more thing. Create just a little bit of chaos! Mess it up!
I think we should involve ourselves in life and our projects as much as possible. Observe and think about them with as little rigidity as possible. And kick over a few of those boxes where we’ve stored our projects.
And as Tim Harford says, “if you want to be creative and resilient, you need a little more disorder in your world.” Some people actually argue that destruction precedes creativity. But that’s another blog post.
Have you noticed yet? Creativity is one of my favourite topics. Did you know that art and creativity can add meaning to life?
The protagonist of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Alexander Wainwright, has written a story for you about creativity.
PS: “As night follows day, creativity is born of destruction.” Is that true? It makes me think of the times we are now living in. If you are like me, you believe that the President is creating havoc and chaos to the country’s institutions. Is this the prelude to the arrival of something positive or negative? Your thoughts on this or any other creative matter?
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.
Coming soon! This trilogy has a fourth novel The Wondrous Apothecary which will be published 2019.
The novels of The Osgoode Trilogy and The Trilogy of Remembrance may be found almost anywhere online, including Amazon. Check the Amazon bookshelves right here.