When I get an email informing me that the requested book has arrived, I stop on my way home for the Y. I find my book on the Hold for Pickup shelf easily because books are arranged by library ID number. I use the self-serve check out and I’m in and out of the library in five minutes.
I don’t drive to the main library only to discover the book I’m looking for is not on the shelf. I don’t have to drive to a branch on the other side of the metro to pick up a book my local branch doesn’t have. I don’t even have to wait in line to check out.
It’s an extremely efficient system.
Which is why I need to change it. As I’ve said before, creativity is not efficient and efficiency is not creative.
The Efficiency Trap
Efficiency can be a good thing, but I’ve “efficiencied” myself out valuable random input.
Because I no longer wander the stacks at the main library, I’ve lost the chance of stumbling on an unexpected book. I don’t see the spines of related books shelved next to the book I request, so I lose the opportunity to happen upon a book I didn’t know I needed, a book that could hold exactly the detail I need.
I don’t even talk to a librarian when I check out my books, so I lose the opportunity for that expert to tell me “You’re interested in X, have you read Y?”
It’s simple enough to solve this particular efficiency problem; I could just schedule a library field trip once a month.
When I’m in that frenzied mindset, I forget how essential it is for creative people to “waste time” to stay open to the random.
Don’t Just Stand There, Do Something!
It’s as if we terrified of life without a screen. When we’re waiting in line, we check email on our phone. When we stop for coffee, we open our laptop. When we’re exhausted after a day of rushing around, we collapse in front the TV or numb out with Pinterest.
There’s no need to talk to strangers. We have so much screen-time, we have less time to pay attention to the people we know, let alone people we don’t know. And it’s the people we don’t know who are most likely to drop the unfamiliar random bits that feed our creativity.
Stick With Who You Know
We spend that screen-time repeating what we’re already comfortable with. I’m certainly no expert on SEO, but I do know that social media like Facebook and Twitter are going to select what input I see based on who I “follow,” “friend” or “like” and what’s trending.
It’s possible that with a world-wide network of instant communication and hundreds of radio and TV channels to choose from, we could witness far more diversity of lifestyles and cultural, religious and political perspectives and opinions than we could pre-internet when three broadcast companies determined what was available on a handful of TV channels. But we don’t.
Our brains are hard-wired to seek the familiar. Our instinct is to associate with others who are like us. There is tremendous value in knowing your tribe (like the tribe of writers for example) and being with your tribe. But every tribe benefits from fair trade with other tribes.
Our tribe of writers has a high need for contact with “outsiders.” Creativity requires the unfamiliar. It requires variety, deviation from the norm and random input. Seeking that is not our brain’s default, so it requires conscious action. As old sources of random input fall away, we need to consciously seek out new sources.
Opportunities for random encounters with the unfamiliar is one of the prime benefits of travel. We can expand our creativity by challenging ourselves to be tourists in our own towns:
- eat a restaurant in a neighborhood you rarely visit
- go to a play or concert in a school your kids don’t attend
- tune into a radio station that you never listen to
- explore a store you’d never shop in and ask questions
- spend a half hour watching a channel selected by a random number generator
- go to a tourist attraction in your area that you haven’t visited in years
Where do you find random? Please comment — I really want to know because I know I need more random.