Leonardo da Vinci wrote backward (mirror writing) because he didn’t want others stealing his ideas. Writes Da Vinci biographer Rachel A. Koestler-Grack:
“The observations in his notebooks were written in such a way that they could be read only by holding the books up to a mirror.”
But did a genius who combined art and science so brilliantly really need to hide his work? Perhaps it was practical: as a lefty, he didn’t want to smudge the link. As a contrarian, Da Vinci also strived to be different. As blogger Walker’s Chapters writes:
“Do you really think that a man as clever as Leonardo thought it was a good way to prevent people from reading his notes? This man, this genius, if he truly wanted to make his notes readable only to himself, he would’ve invented an entirely new language for this purpose. We’re talking about a dude who conceptualized parachutes even before helicopters were a thing.”
Success bears responsibility. All of a sudden, your work and words mean something because the first time in your life people who you’ve never met are listening to you.
“It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found.”– D.W. Winnicott
The alternative to fame is anonymity. Van Gogh gained recognition after he died. Before that, he had only sold one painting to his brother.
For some, success turns people into leaders. For others, it causes them to curl back into their shell and their echoes to faint. The spotlight curbs their creative freedom.
For the rare few, they keep on trucking and stick to the person they’ve always been. When it comes to any notoriety, self-expression should always trump impression. The latter is never the point of doing good work.
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Our mind never turns off, even when we’re doing nothing. It is always active, processing, remixing, and imagining in what neuroscientist Marcus Raichle calls a ‘default mode network.’ Writes Manoush Zomorodi in “What Boredom Does to You:”
The default mode, a term also coined by Raichle, is used to describe the brain “at rest”; that is, when we’re not focused on an external, goal-oriented task. So, contrary to the popular view, when we space out, our minds aren’t switched off.
Boredom prompts daydreaming. When we let our mind wander, we’re giving it permission to chew on past, present, and future events; all real, imaginary, or blended.
It turns out that in the default mode, we’re still tapping about 95 percent of the energy we use when our brains are engaged in hardcore, focused thinking. Despite being in an inattentive state, our brains are still doing a remarkable amount of work.
Mulling over possibilities makes ‘boredom an incubator lab for brilliance.’ There is no reason to rush to a stimulation of dopamine when creativity begs us to take our time and let the hard egg boil into ‘the winning equation or formula.’
We suffer from closeupness which is often disguised as mindlessness. Some of our best thinking happens when we think we’re not thinking at all, instead disconnecting to the spontaneity of mind-wandering.
The rules are, There are no rules,
We are putty,
Asking to be reshaped,
Mushy in the middle,
Wobbly at the sides,
Recorrecting at the ends,
The mystery universe.
Photographer Eiji Ohashi spent nine years capturing images of Japan’s vending machines on his late-night commutes home from work.
“At the time, I was living in a town in the north of Japan that would get hit by terrible blizzards during the winter months. I’d drive my car in (these) conditions and use the light of the vending machines to guide me.”
Well-maintained even in harsh winter conditions, the machines stand out in Japan’s remote towns like ‘roadside lights’, the eponymous title of Ohashi’s photography book.
For a country that produces “300-plus flavors of KitKat,” the vending machines not only look the same, they all sell the same items. Said Ohashi: “I wanted to capture the standardized form of the vending machines. I thought you could see the differences between the regions through the scenery around them.”
Like the cubicle before it, which intended to be the ‘action office’ and instead resembled prisons where no one ran into each other, the open floor layout encourages serendipity but has come to resemble a chaotic classroom. External conversations crimp the thinking voice inside a person’s head.
Focus is already scarce in a digital world. Deep work needs time to bloom. Perhaps that’s why working from home is still the best option of all.
Steve Jobs died six years ago today. He was 56 years old. His uniqueness, unconventional leadership, and big-picture thinking will never be forgotten.
Jobs made tech fashionable. He made sure to remind us that we are the creators.
Below are some of my favorite Jobs’ quotes.
“Make something wonderful, and put it out there.”
“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.’
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
Creativity isn’t a faucet; you can’t just turn it on at a moment’s notice and expect genius to flow out.
So what should you do in a creative rut?
The comedian Aziz Ansari takes the lack of inspiration as a sign to do nothing at all.
“I’m not gonna make stuff just for the sake of making stuff. I want to make stuff ’cause I’m inspired. Right now I don’t really feel inspired.”
Creativity comes in waves; it ebbs and flows but finds its way back to people that are “open to detours.” Taking a walk or going on travel never fail to reignite the curious mind.
However, some artists like painter Chuck Close and writer Steven Pressfield encourage their colleagues to get to work daily. Said Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Making stuff is a habit; whether you’re having a good or bad day, feeling inspired or out of gas, there’s no excuse not to sit your ass down and get to work.
Everything is practice.
Whether you let creativity happen or you force it out, keep the faucet on so it can at least drip. All creative slumps are merely temporary.