Creativity: be a slow-motion multi-tasker

Tim Harford: “"Different researchers, using different methods to study different highly creative people have found that very often they have multiple projects in progress at the same time, and they're also far more likely than most of us to have serious hobbies. Slow-motion multitasking among creative people is ubiquitous."

“...Slow-motion multitasking feels like a counterintuitive idea. What I'm describing here is having multiple projects on the go at the same time, and you move backwards and forwards between topics as the mood takes you, or as the situation demands. But the reason it seems counterintuitive is because we're used to lapsing into multitasking out of desperation. We're in a hurry, we want to do everything at once. If we were willing to slow multitasking down, we might find that it works quite brilliantly.”

Harford has a new Ted Talk address creativity. Harford’s recent FT article has already persuaded me to delete a few social media apps and partially take back control.

His arguments on creativity I find persuasive - because I essentially practise what he advises. I have multiple projects slowly on the go (short summary on 2019 in below picture) and they range across arts, investing and connecting. I have serious hobbies as well.

It is not multi-tasking in the sense of trying to - in the moment - do more than one thing, but it is switching between many projects over time. It also ties into my thoughts on breaking or working across silos of expertise.

Transcripts here:

He also references Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I have blogged about him before when speaking about Flow (and why you should turn email off and not check email so much as it breaks flow.

My blog on email management and why it’s important not to break Flow.

Why breaking silos is a good idea


Three examples of this research. First: Howard Gruber and Sara Davis emphasize how often highly creative artists and scientists maintain a "network of enterprises" -- different projects at different stages of maturity. Their examples include the novelist Dorothy Richardson and the scientist Charles Darwin.

Howard E. Gruber and Sara N. Davis. "Inching Our Way Up Mount Olympus: The Evolving-Systems Approach to Creative Thinking". The Nature of Creativity, 1995

R. Keith Sawyer. Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, pp. 75-76 and 376, 2012

Second: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his research assistants interviewed around a hundred highly creative people, including astronomer Vera Rubin, jazz legend Oscar Peterson and the activist and Nobel laureate for Literature, Nadine Gordimer. Among many tendencies discussed is the habit of keeping multiple projects going on simultaneously, letting some simmer on the back burner while others take priority. One of Csikszentmihalyi's research assistants, Keith Sawyer -- now a respected creativity researcher in his own right -- drew this to my attention.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, 2013

Third: Leading scientists are vastly more likely to have serious hobbies.

Root-Bernstein, R., Allen, L., et al. "Arts foster scientific success: Avocations of Nobel, National Academy, Royal Society, and Sigma Xi members". Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology, 2008

Forty-Five Things I Learned in the Gulag | Shalamov

The Paris Review | Forty-Five Things I Learned in the Gulag. Varlam Shalamov claimed not to have learned anything from the Gulag except how to wheel a loaded barrow. But one of his fragmentary writings, dated 1961, tells us more.

Me: Very sobering reading.

1. The extreme fragility of human culture, civilization. A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labor, cold, hunger, and beatings.

2. The main means for depraving the soul is the cold. Presumably in Central Asian camps people held out longer, for it was warmer there.

3. I realized that friendship, comradeship, would never arise in really difficult, life-threatening conditions. Friendship arises in difficult but bearable conditions (in the hospital, but not at the pit face).

4. I realized that the feeling a man preserves longest is anger. There is only enough flesh on a hungry man for anger: everything else leaves him indifferent….

…15. I realized that one can live on anger.

16. I realized that one can live on indifference.

17. I understood why people do not live on hope—there isn’t any hope. Nor can they survive by means of free will—what free will is there? They live by instinct, a feeling of self-preservation, on the same basis as a tree, a stone, an animal….

More here.

Sandberg on grief and gratitude. Me on Love and turning 40.

My Play Yellow Gentlemen

Oprah on Gratitude

The current Arts blog, cross-over, the current Investing blog.  Cross fertilise, some thoughts on autism.  Discover what the arts/business mingle… (sign up for invites to the next event in the list below).

My Op-Ed in the Financial Times  (My Financial Times opinion article) about asking long-term questions surrounding sustainability and ESG.

Current highlights:

A thought on how to die well and Mortality

Some writing tips and thoughts from Zadie Smith

How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man. On play and playing games.

A provoking read on how to raise a feminist child.

Some popular posts:  the commencement address;  by NassimTaleb (Black Swan author, risk management philosopher),  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes;  JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Charlie Munger on always inverting;  Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude.

Buy my play, Yellow Gentlemen, (amazon link) - all profits to charity

Learnings from a Welsh goalkeeper

A top flight goal keeper and (1) Learning from failure (2) the primary voice of stories not told (3) Mixing (mingle!) with people and views you otherwise would not.

This profile of former top flight Everton goalkeeper, Neville Southall, touches upon the 3 above ideas I am interested in. (It's also a good argument for why when I have time, I flick and read through all sections of a newspaper from News to Arts to Sport...)

On (1) he notes goal keepers often fail but it is how they react to that failure which will mark them out. He still remembers some painful goals scored against him and reflects on the Liverpool goal keeper's mistakes in the recent Champions League Final.

My Mum is a big Liverpool fan, my Dad supported Arsenal - I’ve always been fascinated about what sport and teams and fans tells us about what it means to be human.

This is currently also of note as my work team recently failed in two big pitches / proposals. How we improve from failure will be a mark of how good (or not) our processes and culture are. I hear a lot of talk about learning from failure but it is hard. It is also difficult to teach to children. What makes one child pick themselves up and throw themselves at a problem again and another to shy away....

On (2) Neville Southall talks about giving a platform to unheard voices and genuinely listen to what they say - I like this for several reasons  (i) I like to rely more on more on primary source voices not filtered too many times by tropes or media reporters - the primary voices are often more nuanced, complex and fascinating than the filtered reflection of such voices. Good journalism can bring those voices out (but the medium and long form art of that is under pressure)

This increasingly is how I do company research as well, constructive skepticism is practiced by all good business and company analysts - but how do you research what is really happening ? The famous fund manager Peter Lynch suggested you could learn a lot by observing the world. I concur but would also add speaking to people - experts or customers - can also add insights.

It intersects with a primary force behind why some are involved in theatre - to tell the stories / listen to the stories from the voices that are not often heard. And listening to those primary voices is important.

It is an important thread for why I share autistic voice narratives (see here for E Price and here for Naoki Higashida). It’s important to hear from the people themselves.

Finally this idea that twitter is a place where you can meet people you would not usually meet - while I think that’s true of social media I do believe that bringing it to a real life mingle is also useful. Hence the mingle event idea.

A thoughtful read you can find here

The current Arts blog, cross-over, the current Investing blog.  Cross fertilise, some thoughts on autism.  Discover what the last arts/business mingle was all about (sign up for invites to the next event in the list below).

My Op-Ed in the Financial Times  (My Financial Times opinion article) about asking long-term questions surrounding sustainability and ESG.

Some popular posts:   the commencement address;  by Nassim Taleb (Black Swan author, risk management philosopher),  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes;  JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Charlie Munger on always inverting;  Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude.

How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man. On play and playing games.

A provoking read on how to raise a feminist child.

Power of silence. Gun control advocate.

 Emma González, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, delivered the speech to the March For Our Lies rally on Saturday in Washington, USA. 

I cried.  The Power of silence.  Truncated sentences. Caesura.  Emma Gonzalez used the truncated “would never” and the gaps we had to fill in to lay a moving tribute to her friends.

Extending this further into over 4 minutes of silence, she held a powerful testimony.

The grief and anger is too much for words.

Imagine this time.  Place yourself there.

The timing of 6 minutes 20 seconds also the timing of the shooting. that it reminds me of Carly Churchill in the truncated loss of words (Here We Go, Blue Kettle, and a silence more complex, sad and defiant than what I’ve seen theatre with Pinter or Beckett. ... a crowd of hundreds of thousands would do that.... 

Michael Moore, Twitter

Michael Moore, Twitter

EMMA GONZALEZ: Six minutes and about 20 seconds. In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us. Fifteen were injured. And everyone - absolutely everyone - in the Douglas Community was forever altered. Everyone who was there understands. Everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands.

Six minutes and 20 seconds with an AR-15, and my friend Carmen would never complain to me about piano practice. Aaron Feis would never call Kyra, Miss Sunshine. Alex Schachter would never walk into school with his brother Ryan. Scott Beigel would never joke around with Cameron at camp. Helena Ramsay would never hang out after school with Max. Gina Montalto would never wave to her friend Liam at lunch. Joaquin Oliver would never play basketball with Sam or Dylan. Alaina Petty would never. Cara Loughran would never. Chris Hixon would never. Luke Hoyer would never. Martin Duque Anguiano would never. Peter Wang would never. Alyssa Alhadeff would never. Jamie Guttenberg would never. Meadow Pollack would never.

[Silence.  4 minutes]  

GONZALEZ: Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it's someone else's job.