What’s the new balance? and what creativity has to do with it?
A year ago, when we widely introduced remote working, productivity was one of the biggest concerns.
Before the pandemic, many companies had opposed to WFH fearing the drop in productivity this would have caused. Yet, the data confirms what many pro-remote working had been advocating for years: an increase in productivity.
A Harvard study even reports an increase by 10-20% of hours worked in the pandemic.
Our brains love productivity and the feeling of completing our to-do list. Have you ever written a task down just to immediately check it off? 🙋🏽
That’s because our brain releases a small amount of dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure, learning and motivation.
We are obsessed with getting things done. The longer the to-do list we manage to cross out, the more accomplished we feel.
We have pushed the concept so far that we strive to unrealistic Tim-Ferris’s lifestyle of cramping it all in a-4 hours-week.
We create “body-by-science” training routines.
We hack everything including our own bodies.
Keep the ineffective multi-tasking claim on job descriptions.
We have 4-am morning clubs, learn how to super-read, super-breath, super-be.
Productivity, originally relegated to industrial settings, has polluted even our mind and spirit.
Body, mind & spirit by efficiency. We want the best version of ourselves, faster.
Is it striving mindlessly, truly efficient?
Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University, told the Financial Times that “creativity is the biggest single issue”, not productivity.
In my view, it is the lack of balance between the two.
The more we get into the productivity rat, the less we take time to allow space in our mind. That space necessary to rebalance our mental health and allow creativity to nourish. To build resilience and cognitive flexibility.
Why creativity is opposed to productivity?
The act of creating requires sharp focus and concentration. Multitasking doesn’t work.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state “flow” (his TED talk).
The Flow Genome Project, an organization that research human performance, defines the state of flows as a “peak performance state where we feel our best and perform our best”.
The state of creative flow “is the product of profound changes in standard brain function”.
[skip this para if you are not interested in neuroscience]
Brainwaves slow down (between alpha and theta waves) allowing original ideas to generate. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex temporarily deactivates, shutting down our critical self; this is the inner critic responsible for disputing our ideas. Lastly, during a flow state, our brain releases “an enormous cascade of neurochemicals, including large quantities of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. These are pleasure-and satisfaction-inducing chemicals that affect creativity and well-being.”
“Most importantly, Harvard’s Teresa Amiable discovered that not only are people more creative in flow, they also report being more creative the day after a flow state—suggesting that flow doesn’t just heighten creativity in the moment, it heightens it over the long haul. In other words, being in flow actually trains us to be more creative.” (Psycology Today)
We have now the opportunity to redefine balance. A balanced act between creativity & productivity.
To work on our wellbeing and increase potential, we can redefine balance. A balanced act between creativity & productivity.
A type of creativity that comes from a place of emotional health and mental wellbeing, not one forced by the impulse of being productive.
The best performer is not the most productive. The best results don’t come from us being on the run all the times, even if we cross everything off our to-do list.
The most innovative and breakthrough results come when we allow space. Those are the opportunities we need to value. The moments that take us to a flow state.
The best performer is not the most productive. The best performer is the one who can balance between creativity and productivity.
In 2019, I joined my first Vipassana experience.
The word literally stands for special, super seeing, seeing things as they truly are.
How do you achieve this super-seeing state? Accordingly, to Vipassana doing the opposite of being productive… at least in the way western society classifies productivity. A 10-days-living-as-a-monk kind of retreat rooted in non-reaction and no communication – of any kind.
The notion of productivity is erased and replaced with long days of solitary confinement to meditate.
A regular 4 am wake-up call drags you to an entire day of meditation. Nothing else is allowed during the 10 days.
No writing, no phone, no physical exercise, no looking in the eyes of your fellow meditators. Literally, nothing.
A part of sitting all day meditating, eating only breakfast and lunch, followed by fasting.
There is no escape from your own mind. I’m often asked if the experience was life-changing.
The most profound was the realization that my productivity was shut down just to allow the most productive version of myself to be born. The mind had to be entirely cleared to allow creativity to flourish.
The writer Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens, says that “the most important investment that people can make is not to learn a particular skill. The most important investment is in building a more flexible mind or personality.” He believes that Vipassana meditation, which he has been practising for years, is the key factor that allowed him to achieve this state of being.
Some people meditate others make art. They are all valuable ways to train ourselves to a flexible and resilient mind. In fact, it has been proven that the way our brain acts during creative activities is similar to the experience we have during meditation and mindfulness.
The way our brain acts during creative activities is like the experience we have during meditation
In 2015, psychologist and art therapist Dr. Cathy Malchiodi cited multiple studies confirming that being creative can increase positive emotions, lessen depressive symptoms, reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and even improve immune system functioning. A 2016 study in The Journal of Positive Psychology supported these earlier findings.
Why is it important for organisations?
Our society has prided itself since the 19th century on productivity alone. Now, we are facing some of the biggest risks to our mental health. Amid this, we are also required to constantly reinvent ourselves while also contributing to the reinvention of the place we work for. This is biologically not possible if we are in a persistent race to be productive. We have now the opportunity to redefine how we measure efficiency.
This is biologically not possible if we are in a persistent race to be productive.
A famous 2010 IBM study of 1500 global CEOs found that the organizations that navigate change best and are those with creative leaders. For these CEOs, creativity was “noted as the single most important trait for navigating through the complexity”. The study recommended that entire organizations, not just CEOs, should “be equipped to be a catalyst for creativity.”
Companies can drive exponential growth by introducing fresh ways of measuring performance. Ways that promote a balance between productivity and creativity. We already are productivity experts, we need help in boosting our creativity. The untapped human potential.
We already are productivity experts, we need help in boosting and promoting our creativity. The untapped human potential.
It’s easier than we imagine. We don’t need to teach people to be creative. Rather teaching people how to get into flow and leaving our neurobiology to take care of the rest.