Play as Background Processing
I’ve always been a big fan of background processing. You know, when you’re struggling with a knotty problem that you just can’t find your way through solving, but you take a break — take a nap or go for a run — and suddenly and without even trying, the solution just pops into your head, fully formed.
Ever happen to you?
We Need Creativity to Get Work Done
There’s a cultural bias in our country, indeed in most Western cultures, that says that the only way to get work done is to keep at it, come what may. It seems counter-intuitive to us to consider doing otherwise. Worse, we are seen (or see ourselves) as slackers, as uncommitted, unfocused, or simply lazy if we take time off to rest our brains.
We might make an exception for exercise, because we see that sort of activity as goal-driven as well. We are accomplishing something by exercising. Also, few people really stick to it, so we are also displaying persistence and determination, two values that also support the “keep at it, come what may” mindset.
But what about making time for creativity?
We Know It Works
Think about it: How often have you thought that you do your best thinking while gardening, that a sparkling new idea came to you while you were fingerpainting with your kid, or even that you do your best thinking while in the shower?
(I’m going to go ahead and claim the shower as a creative space, since so many of us perform our greatest arias in that particular concert hall.)
You know perfectly well that switching off your analytical mind for a while and switching on your creativity and sense of play tends to unleash tremendous problem-solving capabilties in yourself. But how often do you make this a conscious part of your workflow? How often have you deliberately scheduled an hour for yourself to open up the watercolor kit, pick up the threads of that short story, or break out the legos — as a way to help you think and work and problem-solve better?
Work is creativity. Work is creation. Otherwise, it is nothing but robotic task completion.
It’s really hard to overcome this bias, because it is everywhere. The other day, a consultant I know mentioned that he thinks the best consultants have the worst websites, because they are always too busy to be working on other people’s (paid) projects to be working on their own.
I think he was wrong.
I think the best workers make a super-human effort to incorporate periods of unstructured play and creative endeavor in their daily lives, because they know that this not only makes them happier people, it makes them more effective and productive people.
Personally, I’ve been working on a number of creative projects lately, some that might seem downright frivolous. But the weird thing is, they refresh me like a good nap on a rainy day. After I’m done with one of these projects, I return to my “real” work with a more nimble and supple mind, loads more energy, and a smile.
And I usually find myself stopping (briefly) in the midst of these “play” sessions to scribble down a sudden thought I’ve had about work, a revelation about something I’ve been missing, a new way of looking at an intractible problem. A solution.
Here’s my latest “play” project, a collaboration with my friend Melissa Averinos, an artist, fabric designer, and entrepreneur here on Cape Cod.
First in a series. Unicorn Stories: Episode One — Seaweed.