First things first: If you read these posts through email or an RSS feed (thank you for subscribing!) and haven’t seen the new background photo on the blog’s website, please take a moment at some point to check it out. The photo was taken by my very good friend Caroline who has an excellent eye for composition and has generously allowed me to use her work on my site. I hope you find the photo as peaceful and beautiful as I do.
Given our recent discussion of distractions and interruptions, I want to be sure to alert you to Jonah Lehrer’s recent Wall Street Journal article, “Bother Me, I’m Thinking,” which suggests that, for some creative types, inattention may not be such a bad thing after all:
“[L]apses in attention turn out to be a crucial creative skill. When we’re faced with a difficult problem, the most obvious solution—that first idea we focus on—is probably wrong. At such moments, it often helps to consider far-fetched possibilities, to approach the task from an unconventional perspective. And this is why distraction is helpful: People unable to focus are more likely to consider information that might seem irrelevant but will later inspire the breakthrough. When we don’t know where to look, we need to look everywhere.” Read More
How many times have you come up with your best ideas when you are multi-tasking like crazy, often with tasks that aren’t at the top of your to-do list? Or do you ever find that you do your best creative work when you get distracted by something else–and all the while your mind continues to hone your primary project or idea?
Lehrer’s article gibes with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of creative complexity, which states that successful creative people have seemingly opposite traits and tendencies, such as discipline and playfulness: “Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals.”
At the same time, both Lehrer and Csikszentmihalyi remind us that the ability to focus is still necessary. When I feel a morning slip away from me as I “refresh” and putz and sit too long in my virtual sitting room, I can usually tell that I’ve crossed a line between creative distractability and plain old wasting time. I also find that some ways of putting things off are more creatively productive (and less mentally draining) than others.
Lehrer’s piece is a good reminder that occasional lapses of attention may be not only acceptable, but even, for some creative work and some creative individuals, necessary. We certainly needn’t beat ourselves up each time we daydream or allow our minds to wander.
How do you find the balance?