Deadlines and Daydreams

Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, What the Dog Saw, I was struck by his descriptions of infomercial king Ron Popeil and the famous copywriter, Shirley Polykoff, who made hair coloring acceptable, and changed women’s looks for half a century. These were not middle-of-the-night inspiration people—they were hard workers who kept looking for new ideas and perfecting them for years. Or, as legendary dancer Paul Taylor says, in a profile in the New York Times, ”People think some muse comes down and strikes. Well, making a dance is just plain work like anything else. The inspiration is the deadline.” So which is it, deadlines or daydreams? Research is mixed. Real deadlines are important incentives, but too little time can stifle creative solutions. This weekend I scratched my cornea and couldn’t read. Without my daily fix of five newspapers, internet sites, weekly newsmagazines, professional journals and business books, I found myself full of ideas that had been rumbling around the back of my brain but hadn’t fully formed. Suddenly I knew how to tackle that weird transition in class, that emotional hitch in a consulting assignment, that tricky patch in a report. And then this morning in the Wall Street Journal, business book writer Pat Lencioni addressed the same issue. According to him, you need to block out creative time in every day. Even with deadlines, you’ll have better solutions if you let your mind drift, enjoying that walk or a long shower or staring out the window, instead of staring at your computer forcing yourself to THINK, DAMMIT. The truth, of course, like all things in life, is not simple. You need deadlines and daydreams, perspiration and inspiration, and the trick is finding the right balance.



Sean Gully said:

If I had a nickel for every time that I hit a wall, get the idea.  Anyway, I couldn't agree more with the idea of letting the mind drift in order to overcome a lack of ideas.  For me, it seems, that the best ideas tend to just pop-up in my mind when I least expect it.  That said, I was not aware of this concept until now.  In the past, when I hit a wall, I'd keep trying until either an idea (usually a poor one) popped up or I just gave up until a later date.  However, an idea would more often than not pop up while doing something completely different.  Going forward, I will proactively employ this approach rather than simply stumbling upon it.

October 30, 2009 11:52 AM

Dan Goldie said:

So many people have excessive deadlines and distractions these days, which is especially the case among high-end knowledge workers, that our innovative strength as a country could be at risk. Companies that encourage innovation and creativity-- and allow their employees to have "creative" time in a proper environment (i.e., Google)-- should have a long-term competitive advantage.

Regarding the issue of deadlines vs. daydreams, I think deadlines are the driver behind getting things done, and daydreams allow us to get things done in new and better ways.

Gladwell's earlier book, Outliers: The Story of Success, is excellent as well.

November 9, 2009 3:18 PM

Forrest Graves said:

Block out creative time daily...Interesting

Good post, Thanks,

Forrest Graves

February 9, 2010 12:18 PM
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About Lynda Lawrence

Lynda Lawrence is an innovation consultant with Ideaworks Consulting. She teaches Strategic Innovation and Design Management at the Merage School at UCI, and is an advisor to the Beall Center.