The last days I have been thinking a lot about the topics of creativity and productivity and how they intertwine. I’m quite a pragmatic person myself, almost always feeling the need to do something “useful” or “productive” – regardless if related to my work or to my creative pursuits.
I tend to forget to just play.
And the sad thing about it is that I know that I really need it. That it opens up new perspectives, plainly feels good and makes me happy to do that from time to time. The thinking turned into doing and I have spent some time filling out a couple of coloring-sheets that I printed, with no further thought behind it than relaxing and letting my intuition choose the colors and shapes. There’s no set up goal of trying to create a specific design. I’m just letting it flow.
When I look upon my past, the times when I have allowed myself to just enter this flow state are the times when I have created some of my best work. Like the time when I decided to tell my perfectionism to fuck off (sorry, but that’s exactly what I did) and created some of my best pieces of music through improvising freely and not caring about the recording not turning out perfect. That was a coincidence. It could have become nothing. The important thing was that it didn’t matter if I created something good or bad. I just let it happen the way it wanted to.
Does everything need to be “useful”?
I truly believe that we humans need something more than just being productive and not only create things that are useful in every moment. We have a need to fulfil that longing in our hearts. To express ourselves before ourselves. To find outlets for our emotions.
Finding those outlets might help us to feel more balanced and take better decisions in our everyday lives, hence, the “useless” becomes “useful” after all. It’s sad that I even analyze and value it based on such terms… but today I let the words and thoughts flow. I’m just inviting you into my confusion surrounding these topics.
There’s a risk with only focusing on doing “useful” projects. We limit ourselves by putting our projects into a frame even before we start. I’m not saying that it’s all bad. Putting limitations to your creative projects can be a highly efficient tool for turning them real. A time limit, a limited medium or a limited budget can be used as a driving force for finishing something with what we have. But should we ONLY be doing those kinds of projects?
We tend to forget to play, try new things and experiment freely. We’re so often stuck at trying to learn the “right way” of doing things instead of following our inner voice & explore if there are other, new ways or expressions that come to us if we just dare to listen, dare to try. Always afraid of failing or making fools out of ourselves – even in front of ourselves.
A desperate show-off culture
Is this the symptom of a show-off culture? Humans have liked to create, document and share their creations for thousands of years, but it seems to be turning more and more desperate. There are more possibilities than ever to reach an audience, but you have to scream louder, be more extreme, be better than everyone else to count. I’m not (only) blaming social media or similar channels for this. They’re just the symptoms of something deeper. The yearning for being heard and seen, but we’re all feeling more and more disconnected. A spiral of having to produce and prove what you’re doing – or else you don’t exist. The fear of being nobody, because most are afraid to really connect. Connect with others. Connect with themselves.
When was the last time you spent time with yourself or a friend without having to post a picture or a notification about it? When did you do something just for fun to relax, without feeling like you had to produce a result? (Let’s leave TV and games out of this since most people use them mainly to numb themselves.) When did you draw just for fun or did some sports because it was fun, not because you felt you needed to reach a new and better result or to shape up your body?
Practice vs improvisation
There is a time for practice and a time for free improvisation and exploration. If you want to learn how to play an instrument, draw or even ride a horse you need to learn basic skills and techniques first. But there is also the need for play and free improvisation. Else it all turns mechanical and into something compulsory rather than something that inspires you.
The playtime and improvisations are what can show you how far you have really come and how far you can go if you allow it. Try to make up a new melody without planning the chord sequence in advance. Draw a new animal that you never tried before. Let go of the reins and see if you can control your horse with your weight and forceless communication.
Play without recording and let the sounds vanish out into space and your memory. Draw a mandala in the sand and let it be blown away by the wind. Just be there and experience what’s going on without having to show it to anybody.
It doesn’t matter which craft or skill – we should all dare to play more.
Even in our workplaces we should be encouraged to do more of this. There and then you might come up with the solution to a long-standing problem. See, I’m back at finding “useful” applications again, and it makes me sad to see that I find it hard to allow the creativity to have its own value. The experiences that don’t need to be measured from a perspective of productivity. Brainwashed to think that time is always money. That we need to present our mental budget to others in every moment.
How did this happen?
Yes, we need basic safety and food on our tables. But isn’t it ironic that in a time where we could let technology and our smart inventions work for us – we spend more and more time fighting to survive. We have everything we physically need but fight to be seen and heard. We have all the tools and knowledge needed to secure our livelihoods without having to work ourselves to death – something previous generations didn’t have, yet we don’t use it. We’re too scared to really connect and ask ourselves and others:
If you could do whatever you wanted – what would it be?