Saturday, March 13, 2010

Go Forth and Multiply

A person who has not made his greatest contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so.
Albert Einstein
Over the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to figure out why people seem to go stupid as they get older. Sure, we become more knowledgeable and adept at dealing with everyday situations. Some of us garner and dole out wisdom and insight.

Yet, it seems that most of become less creative. More and more of what we do is simply what we did the day before. A solution that worked once is applied over and again. Our new work becomes derivative of our previous work and then simply straight forward replaying of what's in the archives. We live lives of greatest hits and reunion tours.

Why is that?

Holding on Too Tight
In the movie Top Gun, an aircraft carrier's best pilot, Cougar, walks into his commanding officer's quarters after nearly killing himself and his navigator when he panicked losing all perspective including the differentiation of up and down.
CO: Cougar you should be in sickbay. What's on your mind?
Cougar: My wife and kids sir.
CO: We've seen this before...
Cougar: No sir, I'm holding on too tight, I've lost the edge.
Perhaps the reason we lose our creativity is because we start hanging on to what we have, we go into preservation mode. Being creative is much more than thought process. In fact, thinking is much more than a function of the brain. What I've been learning lately is that thinking creatively is a byproduct of brains that developed to control and coordinate complex muscle movement and balance. Our brains didn't evolve to support thinking, thinking is just a side effect.

Being creative is not so much a thought process as it is a side-effect of how we live each day. If we live in a way that is open to change, that goes wherever life will take us, that consistently brings new challenges and stimuli into our everyday situations, our brains develop (continually) one way. If we live in a way that is focused on consistency and stability, that resists new challenges and stimuli, and that clings steadfastly to the river bank, our brains develop in another way.

The brain that is open, flowing and constantly encountering new challenges remains (and perhaps becomes more) creative.

Dying to Think
And Jesus said...
I can guarantee this truth: A single grain of wheat doesn't produce anything unless it is planted in the ground and dies. If it dies, it will produce a lot of grain.
John 12:24, God's Word Translation
This statement enforces a great truth. The grain of wheat may remain in the granary for a thousand years and be preserved, but it is useless there. It neither reproduces, nor is food. It is when it falls into the ground and undergoes dissolution, that it brings forth fruit. It is fruitful by giving itself up.
Commentary from the People's New Testament
I've always found John 12:24 to be quite powerful. It's a great reminder of how limited we become when go into preservation mode.

Over the years, I known lots of people who, having made more money than they could ever spend, decided that they wanted to be remembered for more than that. After years of inactivity, they would try to engage the creative parts of their brains. Some CEO's would become interested in the actual content of the businesses they ran, not just the numbers. Some technologists would suddenly become interested in invention and creating something to benefit the world, not just being recognized for their position or work they'd conducted thirty years prior. Others would invest themselves in causes offering pro bono leadership and management skills to organizations that couldn't otherwise afford them.

The thing is that I've never seen this done well. The CEO's who hadn't been hands-on operators for years, had the authority to make changes, but the changes were not insightful or useful. The technologists, lacking that creative spark and ingenuity, would resort to "collaborating" with younger colleagues to whose work they could attach their names. The business leaders didn't know how to function without support staff, people to build their spreadsheets or create their presentations or print out their emails.

Years of hording and preserving had left them with little in the way of creativity and adaptability.

Willing to Lose
As I think about it, creativity is probably an artifact of adaption and proportional to adaptability. Essentially, adapting to new environments, challenges and stimuli build the thought muscle required to be creative. However, if we find ourselves in positions of preserving, maintaining stability, playing not to lose, then we spend little time adapting.

As for me, I think that in some ways I'm a lot like Mark K and my dad. One of my biggest motivators is not being bored. However, our approaches to not being bored are quite different. I think my dad's and Mark's solution to boredom is to be entertained by others. Mine is to move on to the next thing once I've got the current thing down.

At first I was thinking that I'm not afraid to lose everything, but I'm not sure that that's it. It's not the absence of fear, it's just that I'm so attracted to new challenges and learning, the thought of losing doesn't really occur to me.

I guess that for some people, that would make me stupid.

So What?
OK, so what? I'm not really sure. I just started writing this morning and here I am.

I guess what I'm saying is that letting go, embracing new challenges and opportunities, jumping into arenas where you have absolutely no clue, and forgetting about preservation are all key to staying and becoming more creative. I'm also coming to the conclusion that a word full of creative thinking people is one in which I prefer to live.

What do you think?

Happy Saturday, Teflon


  1. I used to think that germany was a grey contry where the only food you could get was sauer kraut and brochwursten - then one day I got of the highway...

    You do not get more studip as you get old, but some people has just grown their highways in the brain so solid that it is hard to escape them. If you have gotten used to entertain yourself by learning new stuff - you are likely to keep your brain - and your ability to learn fresh for ever. If you have gotten used to let other entertain you - you are building a strong one-way highway.

    We can all learn to change - it all starts with a decision - and if you find it difficult to be creative one of the best kick starters is learning a new language or a new instrument - those are some of the best ways to wake up the brain.

    Do you think that the attraction to learning new things are adhd related?

  2. Could be Joy. All I can relate to is the pleasure of accomplishing many things, and multi-tasking seems to be my norm.....Its like a continual rush, and at the end of the day, a pleasant experience reflecting on how active, involved, relating with life I've managed to be.....valuing and loving it all, recognizing it all useful stimuli from a loving universe for the purpose of fascilitating my growth. Personally a part of my wiring comes from growing up a single child, and learning to get to know myself, and to enjoy my own company.

    Someone might label me adhd, it means nothing. Just because i get myself involved with many distractions at a time, and carry around a lot of scattered interests continually, if I'm ok, (not in the least distressed, and no one is noticeably confused or distressed about my choices,....everyone just does their own thing) if it developes that whomever i'm in relationship with online, or in person, takes issue, that again is a wonderful stimulation for me to explore, if I choose to. It may seem to some that I have a lot of time on my hands, but yes if learning and the quite useless label of adhd, as an sort of excusing explanation of our freedom of choice, are related.....i'd ask related to what?
    Possibly it is related to having 'a beautifully active mind.' "Others," (possibly jealous,envious,frightened) perhaps want to take that away with drugs to make us all like others, more controlable, less 'disruptive.' ha bw

  3. Teflon: you write: "I guess what I'm saying is that letting go, embracing new challenges and opportunities, jumping into arenas where you have absolutely no clue, and forgetting about preservation are all key to staying and becoming more creative."

    Among the several aspects that that involves, a key one, in my opinion, is the "forgetting about preservation" bit. When somebody feels they are in danger of death - mortal danger is obvious, but one can also feel viscerally threatened by a very public failure, criticism by someone dear, loss of job/home, etc - then their first priority is usually self-preservation. One feels confident enough to 'let go' or jump into new & unfamiliar arenas only when one detaches the sense of self from those external supports, or knows they can rebuild fresh supports after a loss.

  4. Sree, I remember a boss telling me once that 90% of what we do is motivated by fear of embarrassment. I'm not sure I would agree with his stats, but I think that fear of embarrassment can be as big a motivator as fear of death. It may be that some people in some instances would rather die than be embarrassed. Pretty amazing huh?

    I agree it's the hanging on to and preserving bit that really gets us (independent of the 'what' that we're hanging on to). Now the curious question would be, does 'forgetting about preservation' precede 'jumping in', or, does a pattern of 'jumping in' cause us to 'forget preservation'?

  5. right on, its like being controlled by fear, of what others might be thinking, saying, doing......Someone stimulated me years ago about the wisdom of embracing that all that is simply 'none of my business,' and to focus on whatever I really want 'my business' (to be about), and my flavor of life to be, in the moment~~~ hugs without strings ;) , bw

  6. I'm not sure if anybody ever "forgets about preservation". It's a good topic to explore; it seems plausible to hypothesise that all organisms are programmed to survive. I think what happens is we reduce the number of things that make us feel like we're in mortal danger; in other words, we increase our mental/emotional/spiritual fitness. That plus accumulating experiences of jumping in and surviving to tell the tale. I think it's Nietzche's famous quote: that which does not kill me strengthens me.

  7. Isn't that about the value of positive attitudinal beliefs? ie useful, positively? bw

  8. Sree, I don't think that we can "forget" preservation per se. However, I think that we can displace it.

    I used to do a lot of mountain biking and cross country mountain bike racing. I remember taking people down some fairly gnarly stretches that I really enjoyed. In those instances, thinking about preservation could really get in the way of preservation.

    To take a really treacherous run, you wrapped your fingers around the handle bar grips in a way that you were just barely touching them, they floated between your palm and fingers. Then you relaxed your legs and let them behave as shock absorbers.

    Approaching the downhill with literally a loose grip made the run easy. Yet, I'd often get to the bottom and see friends who's hands were bleeding from hanging on so tightly.

    Anyway, I think the key was focusing on making a great run. The more you focused, the less room there was for thoughts of preservation.

  9. LOL, wasn't that just an example of how you were very aware of preservation: before the downhill you would decide on what would be the safest way to get down: to make the run easy!

    Can you talk about preservation when you take risks (= wanting to do the mountainbiking in the first place): absolutely!

    You will practice your surveival instincts and you will feel energized. - you will be more prepared to survive an unexpected hole in the road etc..

    Big love


  10. I believe that "preservation" is attached to our beliefs. For example: I grew up in what most people would call these days an unstable family life. But I didn't know that and I choose to be a happy positive kid. As a kid I believed this worked best for me. Then in my teenage years, I wanted more attention and support. not getting that being happy, I took on the role of unhappiness and was able to turn my life around to being unhappy enough to get what I believed I needed. In my twenties, growing out of this era of manipulation, I concluded that there are different steps I could take to take care of myself. One is not better then the other, but it has to do with the goals and wishes that we have. When I let go of my want to buy love and attention (I decided that there are always people in the world that would love me) I was able to go back to the focus of creating more happiness in my life.

    Writing this response I think I come to the conclusion for myself that preservation seems to be the core of beliefs that we are least willing to question. Hmmm...


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