Efficiency should never be a goal in itself.
I’ve always been fascinated by the “how” of creativity. How people get ideas is, at times, more interesting than the things they wind up creating.
When I’ve interviewed inventors at the Minnesota Inventors Congress, a surprisingly large percentage said they get their best ideas when they’re half or fully asleep.
Art Fry, the inventor of Post-it notes, said, “One thing that works for me is to go to bed, and tell my mind to work on it.”
Jim Nesburg said, “I used to work as a design draftsman. Sometimes I’d wake up at three or four in the morning, and the idea is there.”
Harold Fratzke, who’s patented several dozen inventions, said, “Sometimes I’ve gone to bed not knowing how to solve something, and when I woke up, I knew.”
Fratzke also added that he’s a farmer, “so when you’re sitting in a cab all day, you’ve got a lot of time to think.”
Carol Ford, who invented a ring laser gyroscope that helps airplanes and spaceships navigate, said she gets her best ideas when she’s in the shower.
The thing all their flashes of insight had in common was, they were “doing nothing” at the time.
I’ve noticed I”m often at my most creative when I give myself permission to just sit, drink a warm beverage, stare at a blank wall, and let my mind wander for half an hour.
The key words there are, “give myself permission.”
In our efficiency-obsessed culture, giving yourself time to sit and let your mind wander is something you have to give yourself permission to do.
Christopher Robin, the little boy in the Winnie-the-Pooh books, was based on a real little boy. When he grew up, he wrote several books of his own.
In one essay he mentioned he did some of his best thinking while he was cleaning up the dishes after dinner.
Christopher Milne said he used to obsess over trying to find the best, most efficient way to carry the dishes from the table to the sink.
Should he try balancing four dishes at once? Could he carry a coffee cup on the end of his thumb? Maybe he could put the silverware in a bowl, and one less trip....
Then one day he realized he was getting himself more stressed out trying to be “efficient” than he would have just making a few more trips. Who does it hurt if you end up making seven trips back and forth to the sink instead of four?
And during those stress-free seven or eight trips, when his body was on automatic pilot doing a menial task, he did some of his best thinking of the day.
The other side of giving yourself permission to do “nothing” is turning off all the distractions.
With the Internet, computer games, TV, etc., etc., ETC., our culture seems more and more designed to give people any excuse they can find not to have any genuine peace and quiet.
What are they afraid they might find?