I recently uncovered a great quote that I had ripped out of one of the alt-weeklies here awhile back. Singer/songwriter Billy Bragg mentioned something in passing about journalists and songwriters that really says a lot about modern day journalism and songwriting. He said, “I think for songwriters it takes a bit more time to percolate ideas. Journalists write the first draft of history. Songwriters need more time to reflect.”
In other words, good ideas cannot be rushed. This is especially true at the personal level. Creativity requires time to concentrate and to become totally involved in the project at hand. Deadlines are crucial but timelines must be reasonable so as not to negate the process. As an HBR editorial last year wrote, “When creativity is under the gun, it usually ends up getting killed.” With technology hastening the pace, there is incredible pressure on human beings to keep up. However, human thinking is just as fast as it ever was. And it is important to remember that ideation, creation, innovation, inspiration, all of these things are the result of flesh and blood humans, not machines. Like it or not, the whole ideative-creative process rests on the fragility of the human mind.
Time is a crucial aspect of thoughtful projects. Speed kills truly thoughtful ideas. Immediacy – the bittersweet side-effect to technology – is a tyrant. It removes time to reflect, to ponder and to dream. So while it may be true that ideas themselves come in quick moments, reaching those surges can take some patience – and this is difficult to do with restless clients under as much pressure as they normally are. “[Ideation] depends both on having sufficient time to create the balls to juggle – exploring concepts and learning things that might somehow be useful – and having sufficient time to devote to the actual juggling.” (same HBR) Faster is slower; the optimal rate being far less than the fastest possible.
Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, put this point into clear perspective in an interview with Fast Company in 2000:
We’re used to thinking that if a problem can’t be solved within two years, it can’t be solved, and that’s a really bad way to live. The new economy is simultaneously more niche-oriented and more global, so we need to learn to perform effectively throughout that spectrum — to address not only the urgent and the local, but also the important and the vast.