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Making room for creativity when busy is your enemy


A short time ago I read a piece by Australian GQ Editor Nick Smith. He lamented the fact that many people are answering “busy” when asked “How are you?”

He imagined a situation at a trendy party (which GQ editors often attend):

Me: Hi, how are you?
Them: Soooo busy.
Me: Oh really? Then why are you here?
Them: Oh, I thought I’d just pop in for a few.
Me: So you can’t be that busy then?
Them: I ... I beg your pardon?
Me: So you’re not really busy then.
Them: What do you mean?
Me: You’re at a party. Why would you say you were busy?
Them: Well ...
Me: Well what? If you were soooo busy, you wouldn’t be here.
Them: F#*k off.

I, too, have noticed that people have been using “busy” to answer the question “How are you?” instead of “fine,” “OK,” or “Great. And you?”

Why is that? Some people do it out of fear. Let’s face it, when the world is in economic crisis, you don’t want to say “I’m great! Work is easy and laid back. I don’t have to work too hard and I have heaps of time to check Facebook and Twitter.” That’s an answer that leads to unemployment.

But another reason is that people are busy. As budgets and people are cut from businesses, those remaining pick up the slack. Meetings multiply. E-mail in-boxes strain to hold the daily invasion. Your “To Do” list seems never-ending. And when you leave work your smartphone continues to remind you of everything you still have to do.

Busy is the enemy of creativity.

When are you most creative? If you’re like most, you’ll say something like, “on my drive in to work,” “just before I fall asleep,” or “in the shower” (the shower over-indexes on creative places). But it’s not the warm water that makes you creative. It’s the fact that you can’t read your e-mail in the shower (yet).

Creativity flourishes in empty spaces. Perhaps it is because our brains are able to roam free when they are not busy checking e-mail, Facebook or voice mail. If we want to be more creative, we have to create the space. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Scott Adams artfully connects boredom with creativity.

Apple famously delivered advertising that promised, “There’s an app for that.” Just push a button and you can locate your car, get ski conditions, find the right word or check the news.

So, what button do you push to inspire creativity?

The “off” button.

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