Reflecting on reflection, and creativity

Reflecting on reflection, and creativity

These past 10 days, I have been on the road in Miami and Boston, a bit too busy to write a blog, but I wanted to post something short nonetheless. In fact, I have been thinking a lot recently about two of my favorite topics: creativity and reflection. And, I am more and more convinced that the two are connected.

When I read about the most creative, inventive and productive people throughout history, I note an interesting phenomenon: Many of them have unique and unusual routines or practices, but they all seem to need significant blocks of undistracted, reflective time.

Here are some examples:

Inventor Thomas Edison used to sit in a “thinking chair” holding a ball bearing in each hand. He would close his eyes and relax. As he fell toward sleep, the balls would crash to the floor and awaken him. Immediately, he would transcribe his thoughts, just writing automatically, without thinking.

Surrealist master Salvador Dali, used a strikingly similar technique. The painter would slouch in his armchair, holding a key in his right hand. On the ground beneath the hand sat an upside-down plate. As Dali began to sleep, his hand would release the key, and the clang on the plate would wake him with a start. In “50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship” Dali would write that these “fugitive moments” of barely lost consciousness were the instants that refreshed him and fueled each of his days with innovative thoughts.

Le Corbusier, the great, prolific French architect and urban planner (1887-1965) began each morning at 6:00 with a combination of gymnastics and painting, a sort of “fine arts calisthenics” where he let his mind go completely blank. At 8:00, he would eat breakfast and then enter into what he described as the most creative part of his day.

Modern best-selling Japanese author Haruki Murakami attributes his creativity to a regimented daily routine: “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

What do the four behaviors above have in common? These creative geniuses find ways to put themselves into a sort of creative trance, mesmerizing themselves into a deeper state.

Here is what I see as one of the paradoxes and great challenges of modern life: We talk and write more each day about the importance of creativity and innovation, not only in the arts but also in business, science and design. At the same time, we invent technology tools that seem to take us away from the creative states described above.

A recent Fast Company article carried the provocative title, “Why your iPhone addiction is snuffing your creativity.” Surely, if we consider the practices of history’s creative geniuses, should we not wonder if our hyperactive, “always on” world of smart phone connectivity is taking us every day further away from anything resembling a relaxed and reflective state of mind?

More and more these days, I observe behavior that causes me to wonder: Is having a constant stimulation fix in your pocket a good thing for your mind, and in particular for your creative mind?

Some further thoughts on this, and how it applies to our business and organizational lives, in the weeks to come…

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