Does Routine Kill Innovation?

12 08 2011

If we really boil it down, there are basically three ways you can spend your day:

  1. Doing nothing in particular. Waking up late, lounging around, wasting time here and there.
  2. Following a routine. Wake up, eat, work, train, eat, sleep…etc.
  3. Spontaneous living. Trying new things. Doing whatever comes to mind – things you don’t usually do.

Now, my question is: what kind of day is the best for innovation? And which is the worse?

The last few days have been pretty quiet for me in terms of innovation (hence the lack of posts). I haven’t had many ‘ding!’ moments, nor any sudden ‘a-ha!’s. No insights, no urge to create, record, or express. I would walk around with my camera hoping to capture something dramatic, but everything would look bland and mundane.Why?

I think routine is to blame. How might routine kill innovation?

  • You start living in a bubble. You wake up with your mind already set on the first thing on your to do list. After you finish that, you go straight on to the next item with no stops in between and so on. Your mind is closed to everything that isn’t on your to do list – how are you supposed to find innovation like that?
  • Innovations are (positive) Black Swans. Routines aren’t. I’m reading Nassim Nichoals Taleb’s wonderful book The Black Swan at the moment.  Black Swans are basically things  you can’t predict, yet can have a huge impact. They can be positive or negative – in this case, an innovation will be a positive black swan. Since they’re so unpredictable, it’s hard to come across them when doing something as predictable as a routine.
  • Mental stimulation is zero. We become robots if all we do is follow a routine! We might as well be programmed to run as a simple line of code if we’re going to be boring, monotonous and routine. Routine = doing things without really thinking = lack of mental stimulation = no innovation.

What do you think? Does routine kill innovation? And if so, what kind of day is best for it – spontaneous living or doing nothing in particular (like staring at clouds)?

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Playing hide and seek with inspiration

27 06 2011

Finding inspiration is a bit like hide and seek.

Sometimes it’s staring at you right in the face, while other times you literally look everywhere and  search high and low, yet inspiration is nowhere to be seen!

Sometimes we’re just on fire, and it seems as if inspiration is boundless. Even on a mundane walk, we’ll find inspiration from the most banal of things. That tattered rubbish bin on the road? It’s probably giving off a lustrous purple colour which will later inspire you to create some groundbreaking piece of art. That old granny sitting on a bench staring into space? She’ll probably remind you of the transience of life, or prompt you to ponder some profound philosophical question.

Other times, though, we feel empty…it’s like we’re missing a magic ingredient. Everything just looks dull and plain. The bin looks like a bin. The old granny is just another old granny. There may be loads going on around you – interesting movements and interactions – but they all just seem to pass through you, undigested and glossed over.

I felt ‘on fire’ during my first photowalk one early morning, but subsequent photowalks just wouldn’t yield any good pictures! I couldn’t ‘see’ anything, probably because I’ve grown so used to my surroundings. It’s a bit like getting a fish to describe what water feels like.

So here are my ‘antidotes’ to that annoying feeling of being uninspired. It might help us win the game of hide and seek against that cheeky little thing called inspiration!

  • I go on Twitter…there’s always something going on. One link brings me to another, then another, then…inspiration (hopefully)
  • I look for something interesting in my RSS feeds
  • I pick up an old book. Flick to any page. Read it.
  • Read a poem (Poetry Foundation’s iPhone app is great for this)
  • Get out and walk! I try to absorb my surroundings, paying attention to everything that’s going around you. The colour of someone’s shoe. The book they’re holding. The adverts on buses.
  • Do something new. Anything. Just jump at any opportunity and go for it. I helped out at an inaugural scavenger hunt called the Airmazing race, organised by the Hong Kong Clean Air Network. Volunteering at the event was fun, but what was more awesome was meeting new people, chatting with them, looking at different viewpoints, and just generally finding new sources of inspiration and stimulation.