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Creativity vs. Productivity?


Productivity vs. Creativity?

Have you ever considered the possibility that productivity is fundamentally at odds with creativity? A recent article in Wired by Clive Thompson looks at the intersection of getting things done and having big thoughts. His article comes largely out of the increasingly contentious discussion about working in an office vs. working from home. Likely you have heard about the memo that leaked from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banning all telecommuting for her employees. When she later spoke publicly about this policy at a conference she said “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”

This is the tension that Thompson is exploring in his article. This promises to be a topic we are hearing about for years to come as the economy moves more and more from industries that make products in a factory to those that process information with computers. The information age makes location and physical proximity to others something we have a lot of room to play with. As technology improves we might even find ways to make being at home feel a lot more like being together. For now we must decide whether to work alone or in an office with others.

First off, what do we mean by productivity? I can already hear a few of you saying that a burst of creativity feels incredibly productive and it is. What productivity means in this context is not coming up with the idea for this article I am writing, but sitting down and having laser like focus in order to complete it start to finish. Productivity is greatly improved when we have no distractions and can stay focused on the task at hand. Productivity is all about  FLOW. This is why learning to focus with meditation is such a HUGE boon to productivity, you become able to choose a single point of focus in any environment, but I digress.

Creativity, on the other hand, often thrives with disruption. The “water-cooler” effect is what we get when people wander around an office, looking and creating distraction. Two people collide unexpectedly, one lost in their own world of work, the other revolving in some seemingly disconnected sphere, when they casually collide…..synergy! (yes, that word has so much power-point presentation perfume on it that it is starting to feel gross to me too).

At the same time, I think we all know that the opposite is true.

Writing has long been my primary creative output. Some times I write music; other times words. Once in a while they both happen at once. When scoring a video or when trying to express a feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on being alone is often the best way to get in touch the very subtle thread of what I am trying to manifest. I often spend an entire day romancing myself into the state from which a song or words will arise. For hours nothing and then suddenly I get completely inspired and simply FLOW. This is what I require to still the currents of others energy and get in touch with something that is still very subtle within myself. But then there are those incredibly special moments when I find myself with someone else and we are writing together. True, this can’t happen with anyone, but when working with a songwriting partner it is primarily the space between us that resonates and calls forth sounds neither of us would have discovered on our own. This too is an incredibly creative way to work. I am sure that you can see the parallels to this in any endeavor. Some times being alone is needed, other times we need some complimentary energy.

So where does that leave us?

This leaves us in my favorite place. There are no hard rules to go by. The solution is awareness. We must each be able to know what our goals are, to witness the process we are using and be ready to change things up when we are stuck. Experiencing writers block at home? Go to a coffee shop! Can’t keep a thought in your head at the office…..go to a coffe shop! Hmmm…..might this be the perfect middle ground? Not only do we get the creative/productive caffeine injection, we get a world of sensory input from being in the café vortex of modern life. We get to be with other people and ignore them as much as we want! Perhaps there is something to working with strangers. Co-working anyone?

  1. The subtitle of my work is – How You Can Save America from Ridicule and Ruin. With regard to this short article or blog let me indicate that when creativity coalesces with a natural production rhythm there you have ‘synergy’ or a convergence of truth the result of which is an item, a work of art, a useful utensil, or other positive creation and this whether in quantity or not. My book does veer of into this area with an eye toward tuning into the one True Creator.