Monday, March 17, 2014

Walking the Factory Floor

In the early stages of creation, the goal is to get your ideas to ground zero.

To offload all of the raw materials so they can be processed to their rightful inventory location. Cognitively, this closes the open loops in your mind and keeps your brain from nagging and freaking out about losing or forgetting them.

But once that phase is done, let the production begin.

What’s interesting is, the next stage of creation is the opposite. Production, the ongoing activity of crafting new ideas, is fluid experience. It’s a living, breathing, evolving organism that exists on neverending artistic continuum, with no finish line in site and no constraint of completion.
But like any good foreman, you still have to walk the factory floor. On a routine basis, you have to take a casual, curious and thoughtful sweep of every idea you’ve recently accumulated. Otherwise you lose track and overlook the quality of your inventory.

In my inventory system, all of my ideas are organized into several different categories, aka, compartments of life that are meaningful to me:

1.     Creativity, Innovation & Art
2.     Culture, Humanity & Society
3.     Identity, Self & Soul
4.     Lyrics, Poetry & Passages
5.     Meaning, Mystery & Being
6.     Media, Technology & Design
7.     Nature, Health & Science
8.     People, Relationships & Love
9.     Psychology, Thinking & Feeling
10.  Success, Life & Career
11.  Work, Business & Organizations

Inside each folder are hundreds and sometimes thousands of ideas that I’ve inhaled from a multitude of inspiration sources. Most of the documents are nothing but a single sentence, although some ideas are more fleshed out than others.

The ideas are sorted in a couple of ways:

First, chronologically, which allows me see which ideas were created on which day. This organizing principle allows me to see fluctuations in my inspiration. For example, if I notice twenty ideas from one day but only six on another, I can reverse engineer my inhaling process to find patterns in my life that produced such results.

Second, alphabetically, which allows an arbitrary overview of my ideas. This organizing principle allows me to see patterns in my inspiration. For example, if I notice a collection of eight ideas that start with the same word or phrase, I can use that as inspiration for a larger module.

Thanks to these sorting mechanisms, each time I walk the factory floor­­, I open the various folders of ideas and just let the language wash over me as the serendipitous construction and collection of words massage my brain.

And something magical happens.

It’s called distributed cognition.

Creativity researchers discovered this psychological process, whereby new ideas arise from combining many disparate pieces of information or concepts over an extended period of time. Turns out, visualizing a large volume of content creates a mechanism to hold your ideas and continually reflect them back to you in an objective, reviewable format. Which, in turn, helps you generate new ideas that may not have occurred to you otherwise.

Like iron filling drawn to a magnet.

George Carlin was a master of distributed cognition. Not just because he took a lot of acid in the sixties, but also because he made a habit of walking the factory floor. He once remarked that he was "blessed with some pretty deep files. His creative inventory was clearly a deep source of pride for him.

During one of his longer interviews, he painted a vivid picture of how distributed cognition worked in his process:

“With my files, every time you see it, touch it, look at it or think about it, it gets deeper in the brain, the network gets deeper, and at some point, it gets to be a telling mass that says to you, okay you’ve got enough data, take a look at this now.”

He’s not writing, he’s listening for what wants to be written.

Carlin proves that production truly is an open loop. Unlike processing, where the goal is to close the loop and finish the task and get the idea out of your head and into a folder, production is neverending. These ideas, these uncompleted tasks and unmet goals, tend to pop in your mind. And because they’re always growing,your brain treats them as unfinished business, as if to keep reminding you that there is a job to be done. That’s why your mind keeps inserting bits of the idea into your stream of thought.

You’re not working on material, the material is working on you.

If you want to become a more prolific creator, I challenge you to create this kind of ritual. Casually, curiously and thoughtfully sweeping every idea you’ve recently accumulated.

You'll find that walking the factory floor has a profound effect on production.