Creativity is serendipitous, but that doesn’t make it magic.
“Thinking harder” is not a recipe for creativity. More effort won’t necessarily lead to better ideas. Instead, creativity tends to arise in states of relaxation which are preceded by a long period of focused thinking. Although you can’t will yourself into creativity, you can create the conditions for it by following the Three B’s of Creativity: bed, bath, and bus.
Bed represents sleep. It’s a chance to put your subconscious mind in control of your thoughts. Closing your eyes is like restarting an overloaded computer. By the time you wake up, you’ve synthesized the ideas you’ve been thinking about and cleaned the windows of your mind. The artist Salvador Dali used to fall asleep after long spurts of work with a ball in his hand, hoping that it’d fall and wake him up just as he was entering a dream state. By falling asleep, his mind left the logical realm and entered an imaginative one.
Bath represents leisure. My roommate is a mathematician and whenever he’s stuck on a problem, he cracks open a beer and watches a TV show. The context switch calms his mind and within 30 minutes, he’s usually writing down solutions he wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Baths are one of the few places in the world where people aren’t absorbed by the drama of entertainment or the pings of technology, and only once those disappear can they hear themselves think.
Bus represents movement. It’s why Jack Kerouac spent so much time driving between American coasts that it looked like he was playing ping pong with his car. It’s why, when I was living in New York, I insisted on working from a new neighborhood every day. Bus is also why so many people write while they walk. As Morgan Housel said in my interview with him: “I walk a lot. Several times a day, just around my block. My neighbors probably think I’m crazy. But I think so much clearer when I’m walking. It’s where I ‘write’ most of my stuff.”
Together, the trinity of bed, bath, and bus reveals that creativity favors the unfocused and unconcentrated mind. When you follow them, creativity goes from being a mystical talent to a conscious way of being.
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