The other day I read an excellent post by L. L. Barkat entitled “ How to Work Like a Genius.” I was especially intrigued by the following observation about Albert Einstein.
Einstein, who developed some of the best ideas, also understood the power of space. Rather than spend his days solely dedicated to physics, he actively made space in his life for other ways of being and thinking. Ken Robinson, in his book on creativity, notes that it wasn’t unusual for Einstein to put aside his theorizing to play the violin or interview poets (Einstein was fascinated by how imagination works and thought that poets could lead him to understand it better).
Maybe we’re afraid to give ourselves a little space. It can get messy, like my daughter’s dining-room web. It doesn’t always seem “applicable,” like Einstein’s violin or his fascination with the poetic mind. Perhaps space seems wasteful or indulgent.
As one who speaks and writes regularly, I find it critical to find space to think and create. When I am not doing this, I see and feel the difference.
I learned this through trial and error during the summer months. Every July, I am away from our church (two weeks vacation and two weeks study leave). The first few years I did this, the study time was most difficult for me. I kept thinking that I get the most done during this time when I do something applicable. Consequently, I would spend most of my study break inside a library, pouring through journal articles and books that were directly related to an upcoming sermon series or class I intended to teach.
I noticed, however, that something interesting happened when I would approach this differently. For example, for several years, during July I audited a class at Regent College. What I audited was totally unrelated to what I intended to preach in the fall. After the lectures, I would go to the market, experience a new coffee shop or walk through a part of the city. When I returned to my room, my mind would be filled with ideas, insights, observations, stories, etc. I then began to read journal articles and books related to an upcoming series of messages. I often felt energized and creative at that point. Consequently, for the last ten years, I have been particularly deliberate about creating space during this month.
- Reading materials totally unrelated to what I am studying.
- Visiting art museums.
- Spending time in coffee shops and cafes that I have never visited.
- Walking down city streets.
- Spending time alone in a cabin.
- Auditing a short course in a subject that is not related to anything I plan to teach or preach.
- Carefully watching advertisements on billboards, in magazines, and on television to understand the messages.
- Sitting in a park and writing in my journal whatever I happen to be observing.
- Spending time in Barnes & Noble, looking for common themes in book titles in the fiction and non-fiction shelves.
- Watching TED talks or listening to podcasts (particularly interviews of thought leaders).
These practices have been helpful.
The big challenge for me is to carry these kinds of disciplines into my normal workweek.
What do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? When do you usually have your best thoughts?