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The Primary Sources of Creativity
Margaret J. Wheatley | Why Keep A Journal | Factoids | Elsewhere on Creativity
Quote of the Moment
The things we fear most in organisations – fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances – are the primary sources of creativity.
| Margaret J. Wheatley
Why Keep A Journal
I was reading Joseph Grenny’s How to Be Creative on Demand recently, and he makes a number of good points about increasing the likelihood of creativity in your work. For example, he makes a good case for laying out a problem or thesis in detail, and then allowing your unconscious mind to noodle on it for a while:
Frame the problem, then step back. Like a grain of sand in an oyster, cognitive irritation stimulates creativity. When you give yourself a compelling, complex, unsolved problem — and make sure to clearly, concisely, and vividly articulate it — your brain becomes irritated.
One way to further amp up the cognitive irritation, is by slogging through a first, unsatisfying round of generating solutions. This effort is more about priming the pump than solving the problem. Then, walk away for a bit, and allow the unconscious work — that which draws from a fuller complement of mental resources, experiences, and creative connections — to begin.
I exploit that ‘trick’ quite frequently, slowly building up sources that inform my thinking on an issue, until on returning to it, once again, some new insight occurs, like a nugget that the deep subconscious streams reveal.
Grenny also makes a case — without actually saying so — for keeping a hypertext journal. I have been an avid user of many journaling systems for years, and for the past several years I’ve settled on Obsidian.
This will not be a description of Obsidian features or a wonkish explanation of how I use it. But to do digital journaling you have to use a tool, and I have settled into Obsidian, and I have near-daily notes going back to 2013 and in some cases earlier, since I have exported materials from more tools than I can easily remember. (For those interested in the sordid details, check out my musing on Obsidian at Workings.)
The reason to mention this at all is that I believe that an inquisitive life, driven by curiosity, requires journaling. And in a digital age, it has to be a digital journal, and one that is hypertexted, hopefully.
Grenny quotes Steve Jobs, saying ‘creativity is just connecting things’, and he builds on that:
If you want to be more creative, you need to have more things to connect. The best way to build a rich mental database that will help you solve problems later is to honor passing curiosities. If something tickles your brain, spend a moment with it. Follow paths that have no obvious purpose other than to satisfy a whim. It could be an article or a conference session that intrigues you; a book that you inexplicably notice; a person to whom you are introduced. It’s tempting to let these opportunities pass, but you do so at your creative peril. They become the Lego bricks, tinker toys, and pipe cleaners from which your creative masterpieces emerge.
Yes, but in my case there’s too much for me to rely on a ‘mental database’ (which is an oxymoron, anyway). But Grenny adds that we should ‘keep a shoebox’, although in his case it sounds like he’s cutting and pasting excerpts into Google Docs:
Find a way to collect and organize your experiences. For example, when I read, I fanatically highlight. I then go back and re-read the highlighted passages. And then I cut and paste the best of them into a document so I can easily find them later. This three-step process (highlight, review, organize) increases the likelihood that I retain the information and, eventually, am able to conjure fertile connections between all the tidbits.
But a digital, hypertext journal is a much better vehicle for that. In my case, I drag in excerpts, PDFs, entire essays, or at least links back to them, online. I make cross-connections through tags, links, and search queries. This ever-growing corpus of thousands of documents, daily notes, plans, insights, and conjectures is the wellspring of my creativity, and the backstop for my curiosity.
And I never know when some combination of ideas, some sequence of reading a few apparently unrelated — but in fact improbably related — ideas, become juxtaposed and yield some new bridging across disciplines, some unforeseen union of formerly disconnected thoughts leads to a new insight or deepens understanding.
That’s why I could never stop journaling, or walk away from the bursting-at-the-seams monster notebook I’ve been feeding for over a decade.
In there lies my curiosity, just as much as it resides in my genes, or my education. And it’s a groundfire of creativity, burning below the surface, out of sight until an unexpected ignition.
New data from eLearning Industry found that over 75% of workers believe their leaders show bias in promotion decisions. What’s more, 60% said their leaders only promote people who share their same opinions.
26%: The percentage of office workers looking to change jobs in the next year, according to a global study by consulting firm PwC.
China added 649,000 public chargers last year, more than 70% of what was installed globally. | Bloomberg
40 percent of annual global carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings and construction, and commercial buildings, which have an average life span of 50 to 60 years, account for around 20 percent of U.S. energy use. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that on average, 30 percent of the energy used in these commercial buildings is wasted. | Carlos Gamarra
Days WFH rose from 5% pre-pandemic to 28% today. Given an average US commute of 16 miles each way this saves Americans about 6 billion commuting miles a year, the same as 25 journeys to the moon. It also saves about 12 billion hours commuting and 0.5 billion gallons of gas :-) | Nick Bloom
Elsewhere on Creativity
Why Is Productivity Such a Mystery? | Stowe Boyd (2017)
Maybe we aren’t measuring the right things, or we’re not measuring things right. Or maybe we have the wrong ruler.
The Hidden Economics of Ideas | Stowe Boyd (2018)
Ideas are getting harder and harder to find
We Have a Creativity Problem | Matt Richtel (2022)
Outwardly, we praise innovation. Inwardly, we harbor a visceral aversion to it, studies have found.
The Problem With Creativity | Stowe Boyd (2023)
The creative brain is “wired” differently and creative people are better able to engage brain systems that don’t typically work together.
How To Be More Creative | Stowe Boyd (2023)
The short answer: take risks.