Cultivating creativity: a 21st century industrial revolution

In this post I'll try to make connections between quiet, creativity, productivity, and marketing, and I'll propose a solution. Buckle your seatbelts!

Elsewhere, RossinDetroit has a pretty interesting point about cultivating creativity. To paraphrase him, the work he's currently doing is not mentally taxing, so he occupies his mind working out the details of his own projects. I responded, in part:
I know sometimes when I'm having trouble building something, I hit a wall just staring at the parts. I have to go do something else. But I have the sense that during that time I'm not actively working on it in my head, I'm just allowing all my assumptions to reset themselves. This allows me to re-ask important questions.
I suspect that these are two kinds of mental work - mine behind the scenes and Ross's more conscious. They each require their own kind of quiet. I mean quiet in a general sense - any distraction, not just noise, disturbs quiet.

So, freedom from distractions cultivates creativity. On the other hand, marketing is a branch of psychology that constantly evolves to capture the attention of the members of society. It is a science of distraction.

My next thought is that what you can measure, you can manage. I firmly believe that one's energy and drive is not a fixed resource: if you're doing the right things, you can do more of everything. This applies in both personal and professional spheres.

So I propose an industrial revolution for the early 21st century, to parallel the one of the late 19th. This new industrial revolution will measure, and manage, distraction (including marketing) for the benefit of productivity. As new tools for measuring productivity become available, the power of undistracted people will become irrefutable. This will rein in marketing, and personal creativity will flourish. When someone brings no passion to their job, it will be obvious, and there will be tools to help them find a way to make a living doing something they love. Since money will no longer be the only thing we get out of our jobs, it will be socially acceptable to choose to earn less. The year 2100 will look back on the gray bureaucrats of 2000 with the same sorrow that we now feel towards the poisoned and disease-ridden laborers of the Civil War.

It'll be a better world.


  1. For me the parts of a complex thing are detrimental to understanding it as a whole. I have to get the bits out of view and work on it as a mental construction where I can concentrate on the parameters one at a time without being overwhelmed.

    Regarding the reduction of distraction, that's a very difficult thing to achieve. As you noted, marketers have perfected ways to keep our attention on things which have no function or purpose for us. There's huge money in passive attention. When I imagine an ideal world where I'm rich and/or have more control I think not about what I'd have but what I'd eliminate from my environment: TVs, phones, environmental noise, visual clutter, arbitrary schedules, clocks, etc.

    25 years ago when I was learning mainframe computer programming at Auto Owners we had an assistance department that did training and helped with tech issues. They were all the way at the opposite end of the building from the rest of the programming area, down a 200 yard hallway. I complained about this once and was told they did it on purpose to make people with stuck brains take a walk. After that I can't tell you how many programmers I saw walk halfway down that hall, snap their fingers, turn around and march smartly back to their desks with a solution worked out just by getting up and walking. Also it may have helped that they were thinking of the problem in terms of how to explain it to someone else, which always aids clarity.

  2. Do you believe people of today are choosing jobs they don't like so they can impress their friends with their financial success?

    If that corner ever existed, I think we turned it some years ago.

    If there is still the chase for the almighty buck, I believe it's only because of the harsh realities of our every-man-for-himself culture.

    Got to put away for your kids' college, your own retirement. Better make sure you are working in a job that has good health insurance or you could be wiped out.

    Supportive care living, for some that final frontier before the graveyard, costs between $5,000 and $8,000 a month.

    Creativity can happen within the workplace - and I agree it works best in a relaxed setting. But I'd love to see the work setting without distractions.

    When I really need to think or write an important report, I work from home.

    I also find that many great ideas are born during discussions between colleagues.

  3. Donna: I think most people choose a job by looking at all the ones they could be hired to do, and choosing the one that offers the best pay without too much compromise of things like location and quality of work.

    Money - earning it, displaying it - is what we as a society have learned to measure the best. We have only vague ways of expressing or appreciating the joy of our work. I'm looking forward to that changing.

    Creativity is one expression of it; more to the point, freedom from distractions is necessary to take the first step, which is being aware of what you love to do.

  4. I realize that I am reading this at work with Steve Hunter in the background. Two distractions! And yet, this is part of what makes my work more satisfying, this freedom to goof off for a few minutes when necessary.

    I am constantly amazed by the number of Facebook posts related to TGIF and Thirsty Thursday. I fear that many (most?) people endure work. Few of us celebrate our careers. I think the goal of getting more people to WANT to go to work and BE productive would be a good first step.

  5. Not everyone has a job that can be enjoyable in its own right. I have to keep people motivated to empty trash cans and disinfect bathrooms. Mopping floors, vacuuming carpets, hauling trash, etc. Without a lot of tedious, menial jobs there wouldn't be an environment for creativity to take place.
    The best that can be done in those cases is to make it suck no more than necessary. Nobody's going to approach plowing snow or towing cars with energy and passion. The best will be proud of their work and take pleasure in that, but they'll be aware that it's pretty insignificant.
    I think that's where leisure time is so critical. People with jobs that don't provide satisfaction from productivity need fulfillment from other sources such as family, socializing, sports, entertainment, clubs, travel and recreation. I'm frequently asked to offer my people overtime work for extra pay but seriously, they don't like the work so why should they want more of it?

  6. OK. David L. Cunix is provoking me. But I still like him anyhow. ;)

    I really love my job. It's very creative. My team is the creative energy behind a web site that wins tons of accolades. But I am a person of many interests. I LOVE to read, I LOVE to write, I LOVE to spend time with my friends, I LOVE to be outdoors. So when I say TGIF, it is an acknowledgement that I am now going to be free to pursue the many passions that nobody pays me to do.