Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Creativity, Leisure and the Slow Life: How Disruptive Thinking Happens

Today's Seattle Times has a great front page carrying translations of a warning about using charcoal grills and gas generators indoors. Our region has been hit by a spate of tragedies, including 12 deaths, from a terrible windstorm that left hundreds of thousands without power. A family of four was found dead from using a generator in their garage. The primary problem may be that warnings on the devices are not translated into enough foreign languages for the terrible danger to be understood.

There's an interesting story behind the front page having to do with leisure, the slow life and creative, disruptive thinking.

What is leisure? Maybe the easiest way to describe it is "time away from work." For some it might be video games, for others a visit to the art museum. Certainly there are huge variations in the level of fullfillment gained from leisure: surely painting a picture is more fulfilling than watching television. (Although there is the same variation in watching television: Watching Masterpiece Theater is a much different experience than watching Bachelor or Elimidate.)

But leisure has been referred to as "the basis of culture" because it is the core of creativity. All the creativity literature asserts that good ideas come when your mind is far away from the details of work.

And so it happened for Seattle Times executive editor Dave Boardman who came up with a breathtaking front page. It came to him, he said, when he woke up at 5 a.m. to go to work. Like a flash. Almost like a religious experience. He saw it in his mind's eye as he showered. In his excitement he started sketching it out in the mist on the shower door.

The night before he had been thinking, as so many of us had, about the tragedy of the families who had lost power and had died from carbon monoxide poisoning because they used their outdoor barbecues and gas generators indoors. He spent the evening writing Christmas Card notes.... it was a calm and peaceful evening, even though in the back of his mind he kept coming back to the families.

The next morning the breakthrough came to him, and he suddenly knew what to do.

Thank you, Dave Boardman!

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