Tag Archives | creativity

Make time to think

I had drinks last night with some old friends. It’s always nice to catch up, but one of the great benefits of this particular group is how much they make me contemplate ideas. We all worked together almost 10 years ago now at SmallBusiness.com, back when it was a different kind of site than it is today. [A site ahead of its time, as another sb.com alum and I discussed today.] That’s a fun topic all its own, but not what I sat down to say.

We started talking about social media, and the pace of work life today. The four of us have all spent our adult lives online for work — building, designing and writing websites, thinking up new ways for the web to work, creating stuff online. But we consider ourselves a step removed from Gen Y, say, or younger people, who have also grown up online. And we quickly fell into a tirade on how “kids today” aren’t learning critical thinking skills in school. About how in the working world, it’s about getting through your to-do list. We wondered how much the instantaneous nature of social media encourages this immediacy, and how much it’s simply a symptom of a more global attitude that today is too late, tomorrow you’re dead.

One thing we all agreed on: It’s very difficult to find time to think. About anything–either a specific topic or not. We don’t build downtime into our schedules anymore. Worse, every moment is up for grabs in our waking day.

I’ve talked before here about how time is necessary for your brain to consolidate information and make connections. Just as important to me is the time spent blue-skying, asking “What if?” If all your time is spent accomplishing tasks, certainly you’ve been productive, but how will you know if that’s actually what you should have been doing?

Thinking isn’t a step you can short-cut out of the system — not if you expect elegance and brilliance in your work.

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Business essential: Building time for creativity

I was working on a project the other day with a web application I hadn’t used much. And I spent a couple of hours really learning how it worked before I could actually approach the problem I was facing. In the end, I solved the problem and learned quite a lot. But perhaps even more importantly, today I had an epiphany about how I’d approached the work — about what I’d accidentally done very right.

As I read everything I could about the application, I began to feel overwhelmed by all of the information. I found it difficult to synthesize anything — all the facts started to swim before my eyes. Just when I felt most overwhelmed, I realized I had to go pick up my kids. I left the computer for about an hour, and though I thought about the problem off and on, I wasn’t concentrating on it.

But when I got back home, I sat down and methodically — and pretty quickly — worked right through to the solution. The strategy, and then the solution, just laid themselves out in front of me.

All three of those parts were very necessary, I realized today:

  • Gathering information
  • Working methodically
  • And the accidental part: Stepping away from the problem

Often my work includes multi-day projects. When it does, I’m often naturally taking time in between information gathering and actual problem-solving. However, when you’re trying to work very quickly — on a deadline — it may seem a luxury to stop, rest and possibly re-think your approach. But I’ve found again and again that giving your brain time to accept the information results in a better outcome.

A semi-related thought: I often hear people say, “Oh, I’m not creative.” Just like in our society, it’s acceptable to say, “I’m bad at math.” I recently read an article [I think on Slate, but for the life of me, I can't find the link now] talking about how ludicrous this is. Educated people would not sit around in business meetings and say, “Oh, I really can’t read.”

Well, same thing with creativity. Math? I’m great at math. I can read like a demon, too. Likewise, I’m creative. My creativity probably expresses itself in a different way than yours does. But there’s a way for all of us to be creative. Find your area and nuture it.

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