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.
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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.