The secret to creativity: slow down

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You'd think promoting counter-urgency in business would be as popular as a 3 am-car-alarm-wake-up-call. Do a news search on "slow and business" and you get nothing but misery, pain and frustration. Don't we associate "slow" with failure, inefficiency and perhaps worse -- laziness?

Speed worship
We love speed. We have speed dating, speed networking and fast food. Microsoft tells us to "Do more, faster." And who would want to argue? When it comes to connectivity or processing speed, I wouldn't.

We want our products to get to market faster. After all, competition is fierce. We'd better be efficient, get there first -- be a winner. How do we do this? We forge ahead. We speed up.

The less time we have, the more we try to cram into it. Time is a non-renewable resource.

The defining realization of time-compression for Carl Honoré, author of "In Praise of Slowness," came when he discovered the one-minute bedtime story for children. Honoré, a self-confessed rushaholic, paused to think about the impact of continual accelerated time. Honoré's book brought an awareness of "slow" to thousands as it flew off shelves. The irony is Honoré still rushes around the world speaking about the benefits of slowing down. He says he is a victim of his own success. But at least he aspires to slowness.

Time poverty
Many of us complain of not having enough time. Civility suffers. Attention spans decrease. Patience vanishes. Mistakes mount.

Efforts to speed up often backfire. If you're like me, you waste hours trying to figure out your latest gadget's instructions written by someone with less mastery of English than a baboon. I really want to save milliseconds promised me by the speed-dial function. I've got plans for that time. A millisecond here, a millisecond there, it adds up.

Seth Godin wrote on his blog recently that inbound customer service agents are rewarded for getting rid of customers fast. An agent who slowed down enough to spend time and respond appropriately to a complex call wouldn't be thought of as successful. Complexity needs time and patience.

And when we can't speed up anymore, we work longer hours. We'll outwork the competition. Brilliant thinking!

James Glick, author of "Faster, The Acceleration of Just About Everything" says time is used as a status symbol. Working long hours is a badge of honor. It shows our commitment. Busy-ness is good. Increasingly, the pressure is on for employees to be seen to come in early and stay late. But are we more effective by working longer hours?

Economist Juliet Schor ("The Overworked American," 1991) calculated that Americans had worked a full month more than they did two decades earlier. New studies show Americans now work 350 hours a year more than their European counterparts. Are those Europeans lazily wasting their time with long vacations and family life?

Question: Where do all these extra hours come from?
Answer: sleep.

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Tim Bottiglieri
Tim Bottiglieri May 27, 2008 at 10:55 AM

very good Mr. Richards, creativity is born through patience, haste makes waste, think of something, anything, sit down and write a sentence from that thought, now sit back and relax, you will be very surprised where your mind takes you from that simple sentence, think.

ATONYESIA DIM-PETERSIDE December 28, 2007 at 12:28 PM

This article has opened a new, yet interesting, angle to man's quest for success and expansion. In our desire to succeed and expand our horizon, we tend to, as it were, want to quicken the hands of the clock. Yet, most great ideas come about in our quiet and slow moments.

This is indeed an irony of fate. While it is posited that slow moments draw out the creative angle of man, we need to be fast in pushing our ideas to save humanity from imminent dangers, and get them informed about the varying opportunities that abound in society.

Lauren Copley
Lauren Copley December 27, 2007 at 1:19 AM

Thanks for a really thought-provoking article! As a creative business entrepreneur with a new business venture, I could relate to many of your comments.
I also know that it's virtually impossible to be optimally creative if you are overworked, overtired and close to burn-out.
So my advice is when you feel your creative energies are fumbling, not flowing, it's time to blast away the busyness and take a break!
Get away for a day or two if you can. Escape into the countryside and allow nature to replenish and rejuvenate you.
If that's not possible, try to "escape" from life for at least an hour every day and do something you find enjoyable or relaxing - it could be anything!
Take your dog for a walk, go for coffee, discover something or someone new. browse the new titles at a CD or bookshop...
We all have creativity within us. Finding and using it is one thing. Nurturing and keeping it fresh and new is another!