Our Best Work – Performed in Public, Un-Plugged in Private
Deep in thought this morning on the subway, I got off one stop later than usual. My walk to the office, therefore, was a few minutes longer, providing me a little extra time for my thoughts as I ambled along.
For many years, I have said that my hope is to have one good idea a day, just one. For me, and I am certain for others, these good ideas – whether small or big – come at unusual moments. Frequently, they arrive somewhat unexpectedly in the middle of a meeting, surrounded by people and triggered by a comment or by a drawing seen in a new light – a “Eureka!” moment. The intensity of design meetings cannot be understated, and for this reason, I find them incredibly enjoyable. This is the exhibitionist, performance side of my personality, in full display when deliberations and new ideas come fast. Projects have materially benefited from a single idea blurted out during a design meeting.
Yet, we also perform our best work at other times, at moments when we slow down, un-plug, and allow our minds to wander. On the subway, walking around the City, in the shower, or half-asleep at four in the morning – inspiration comes when our mental processors are running at half-speed or in background mode. With the constant barrage of emails, phone calls and meetings, daydreaming is no easy feat and takes discipline. Often, we can only accomplish this form of distracted focus by mistake, by skipping a stop on the subway, having our smart-phone battery die, or by insomnia. I’ve found it’s very challenging to schedule time to un-plug, unwind, and to let my mind wander, even though the benefits are so obvious to me.
Following on this concept, I have similar skepticism for computer-generated inspiration and creativity, even though our drawing production is now done entirely on computer, utilizing sophisticated CAD and rendering programs; and much of our sourcing and imagery is downloaded from the internet. When I work with my team or present to a client, however, I find I still rely on my pen (usually a Flair felt tip like we all used in junior high); and when the pen fails me, I use words to describe a design concept. The computer is indispensible for making and tracking changes and for the coordination of information. And while we also find computer-generated three-dimensional studies (renderings) extremely helpful, I am apt to learn much more, and to derive more pleasure from a physical model I can hold in my hands.
Soon after writing the above installment, a friend came to visit and brought me a book: Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman. After reading just a few pages of the first chapter, I was reminded of lessons learned many years ago; no ideas occur in a vacuum, and that insights come to people when unexpected free time appears. I am impressed that as a professional journalist he is able to continue on with his thoughts for 453 pages – I look forward to reading them all. As for this week’s Monday Morning Meeting, I very much enjoyed quoting from the early chapters. It sure beats tying my remarks to another sports or movie reference. Thanks, Bradley, for the gift and for being one of my many friends who have been so encouraging about my efforts to share my thoughts and stories with a wider audience. 7-17-2018