I spent the last twenty minutes searching for inspiration to write something worth sharing today. I went through a list of ideas and links on my OneNote, started and stopped two drafts, and thought about a few lessons from the past few days. Still, nothing. Today is the day off for Labor Day (venture capitalist Albert Wenger has a thoughtful post up on the subject – thanks as always, Albert). It occurred to me that I would have finished writing the post by now if this was any other weekday. The difference is the absence of time pressure. I know I have longer than the usual twenty minutes.
I have come to realize that you don’t just learn important life lessons. No, the important ones are re-learned again and again and again. You may learn once that gratitude greatly contributes to happiness. But, it isn’t a one and done thing. To make it a part of who you are, you commit to re-learning it regularly. And, once it is a part of how you operate, you just re-learn its importance every single day. In some ways, a good life is just a collection of integrative principles that you learn and re-learn and then re-learn again.
The power of time pressure is one of those ideas. We all know constraints build creativity. I certainly have written about that at least once every year in the past 8 years or so. But, it still isn’t a part of how I operate. Yes, I remember it every once a while. But, I can think of at least three times in the past two weeks when I’ve wished for no constraints. Wouldn’t it be better if there was no time pressure to finish this? Wouldn’t it be better to not have financial constraints?
No, it wouldn’t be. The tension of time pressure is a beautiful tension that pushes us to be efficient and creative. I always remember my time at a client project a few years ago when the shuttle to the train station left at 530pm. As it was a long commute back to the city, most folks left then. And, the afternoons were always very productive because you knew you couldn’t stay in the office any longer. I still imitate a “get out at 530pm” schedule to this day thanks to that experience. I thought I’d learnt it. But, not really. I still don’t appreciate constraints as much as I should.
Maybe a first step would be to stop whining about time pressure. Writing here under time pressure on most days ought to be a daily reminder of that idea. So, here’s to more appreciation of constraints..
And, of course, here’s to time pressure.
Let’s say you own a store. Let’s now use Fred Kofman’s definition of consciousness – it is the ability to be aware and to choose.
As you are conscious within your store, you become acutely aware of the process you use to check customers out. It could be faster, much faster. But, you’re not able to think of a better solution now.
However, you’ve planted the seeds for subconscious processing. As you take a walk a few days later, you suddenly remember the checkout at process at a tourist spot the other day that you thought was incredibly efficient. What was the principle at place? Ah – they had a single queue instead of multiple queues. It just worked a lot better and seemed to eliminate customer frustration. You had some space constraints in your store. So, a single queue isn’t probably all that practical.But, wait – you could do 2 queues instead.
You try it out. It works much better already. But, you soon realize that you’ve now found the next bottleneck. The process thus continues.
The ability to make those disparate links is creativity. However, creativity wouldn’t be possible if you weren’t acutely conscious in the first place. To know what to change, you must know what is. And, to allow yourself to make those connections, you must allow for your subconscious to kick in. That can only come after consciousness.
A Buddhist monk once described the essence of zen to be the ability to focus on one thing at a time. That is the principle of consciousness at play.
With consciousness comes creativity…
Two artists, Ted Orland and David Waylon, relate the story of a ceramics teacher who found herself teaching a class on two separate days, neatly divided in half. She decided to try an A/B experiment. To the first half of the class she said what she’d been saying for years – “You’ll be graded based on the quality of your work. At the end of the semester, turn in the single best piece of pottery you created.” To the other half of the class, she said something very different. She explained to them that they would be graded purely on quantity – “Crank out as many pots as you can this semester.”
At the end of the term, she noticed that the best pots – both technically and artistically – didn’t come from the quality group, they came from the quantity group. By making pot after pot after pot, they were learning, and adapting. They didn’t set out to make the best pots, yet they did. Meanwhile, the other half spent the semester aiming for perfection and falling short.
We succeed by trying and failing, not by striving for perfection. Perhaps persistence isn’t so much sticking with something as it is persistently improving.
“What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. – David Bayles & Ted Orland
Source and thanks to: Ken Norton’s essay – 10x, not 10%, Art & Fear by David Bayles, Ted Orland
I’ve regularly conversed with people who’ve somehow been led to believe that organization stifles creativity. They feel that being planned and organized means you never get to enjoy the moment.
The opposite is true.
When you are planned and organized, you can actually take time off on a whim and let welcome interruptions get in the way because you know you have the situation under control. So, interruptions don’t stress you out because you have time to make it up. And, welcome interruptions (e.g. a close friend drops in to talk to you about something important) actually remain welcome.
That’s not to say you’ll avoid stress. I’d even argue a little bit of stress and pain is good. But, organization helps you avoid panic – the biggest enemy of productivity – and actually manages to free your mind.
And, it should come as no surprise that it takes a free mind to make interesting associations, i.e., to be creative.