Thinking yesterday about what I might write today, I ran across a couple of posts, one from Daniel Goleman and the other from Jonah Lehrer -- Lehrer participated in IdeaFestival 2008, by the way -- about "a-ha" moments, a specialty of the IdeaFestival. If you have a curious mind and have been to the festival, you know what I mean: even if you don't smoke, your post-coupled brain may require a cigarette.
In a video, Goleman describes a process that begins with the right question, continues into a period of information gathering and culminates, counterintuitively, in period of relaxed, rather than focused, attention, a lingering he believes that precedes insight.
For his part Lehrer writes about anger and creativity, saying, surprisingly, that it may be a contributor to the creative act, and uses Apple's "brutally critical" culture for his example. I guess Steve Jobs' famous temper has moved more than one person to action. The problem is that that sort of creative thinking tends to decline rapidly, according to Lehrer, and it's not hard to imagine why.
One can easily hear team members furtively asking, "Is he gone? Good."
The two blog posts resonated with me because I've always believed if we all could just forget the answers we've memorized, the world would be a better place. The questions we might ask about experience would be less rhetorical, more original and interested in what the other person is saying. Given our poisoned political atmosphere and the faux-reporting of cable news networks, this time and place desperately needs better questions. The other person may actually have something to say.
Goleman's and Lehrer's posts also reminded me of something I had written earlier this year, "A Ceasing," about insight and stage-setting. It's reproduced below.
All-access and single event passes are now available through the IdeaFestival web site. I hope to see you there.
Linked recently via the IdeaFestival Facebook page, Paddy Harrington pointed out that "No process guarantees insight, but plenty set the stage for its arrival." I think this is true in a couple of ways.
If the creative stage is pre-verbal, intuitive and emotional, then obligations that require our calculated attention pull us away from the possibilities coded in limb and experience. In the IdeaFestival Conversation posted earlier this week, Stefan Sagmeister talked about the need to regularly put aside the helter skelter, not to escape but to recharge. While most of us, me included unless something truly extraordinary happens, won't have the opportunity to spend years away from work and the family obligation to turn that work into pay, his point remains.
The word "sabbatical" comes from the Latin sabbaticus, from the Greek sabbatikos and from the Hebrew word shabbat, which means "a ceasing." Observation, empathy, imaging - these creative acts depend on a ceasing from mere ogling, from self-preoccupation, from the bottom line logic of the family or business bank account so that we may fully say what it is in each of us to say.
So when I send see-through ribbons of sycamore above a finely tuned jack plane, or listen to a nearby pond throb with the rosined vibrato of frogs, or read contentedly late into the night when my family is sleeping, I'm not just doing those things. I'm stage-setting. I'm reveling in the fact that there is more to my life then deadlines and torrents of email.
In that quiescence, everything is possible. The manic self that answers the phone (and sometimes doesn't) no longer has first chair in the dirge happening in my pre-frontal cortex. And invariably, that expansiveness makes its way to my body. The heart and chest respire, attending in their own way to heaven knows what, and once in a while I unexpectedly catch my breath, sitting a little straighter.
Oh, so that's it.