Innefficiency Required: Innovation and Serendipity
The demands on me in my life as writer, a mom, an artist and a teacher amongst many other things are enormous. And, I am always seeking ways to make things more efficient and sustainable. I also wish to contribute during my lifetime to the best and truest of my ability.
And, in the mix, I like to consider myself to be an innovator and a cultural creative. I know full well that the world needs more of us too. There is a need for imaginal intelligence and creativity like never before. We need to be spaces through which ideas and intelligence arise. We need to be as interested or more interested in the spaces in between. We probably have enough bankers for the moment. (No offense to bankers per se. But you know what I mean!) And I know more and more that two things are efficient and essential to support this: serendipity and exposure to diverse people, places and ideas. If I am feeling stuck or in need of inspiration I know for sure that even something as simple as a change of scene, like a 10 minute walk or a 3 minute dance, will give me a new perspective or clarify an idea. By the same token, if I get together a group of trusted diverse colleagues to brainstorm an idea for say 30 minutes, the efficiency goes up 10 fold. This is not rocket science. I think it’s more reliable.
And to get outside of my familiar box and patterns, paradoxically, gets me more inside my deep self, deep presence and a connection to the wholeness of life. It seems to give rise to natural intelligence that is lost in getting into a predictable pattern or rut.
I recently stayed in a hotel in London on my way to be a part of Jamie Catto’s brilliant “What about You?” weekend (full of diversity and innovation in and of itself. Excellent!) Due to this simple synchronicity, I came across an article in a Magazine in the room I would not normally read called Intelligent Life (Jan/Feb 2012). It was called ‘Staging Serendipity’ by Ian Leslie and it affirmed my appreciation for both synchronicity and diversity in such an unlikely place.
“Creativity is the practice of awe.” My dear friend MC Richards once said. And this practice of taking the time for awe is considered by many to be a waste of time. Don’t be fooled. Often, in the name of being efficient, we lose our capacity for innovation. Put another way, Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civil Media at MIT says, “Serendipity is necessarily inefficient”. Something inside of me feels relieved when I read these words. As a creative, I know the need to sketch, feel awe, daydream and write ‘nonsense’ in order to arrive at what needs unwrapping inside myself. “
Mr. Zuckerman also asserts that, “Innovation thrives on the serendipitous collision of ideas.” Yes! Ideas, people, food combinations, new turns of phrase, fresh images, unusual streets and sounds. These all collide to form what will become the next work of art, the next set of images for the multi-media project or something in the next chapter of the book I am working on. We NEED fresh input to see where we are and stay awake. This can also be a fresh combination of things in one square foot of our front garden by the way!
And then there is the term “value homophile” which is a social term for our tendency to associate with others who think in similar ways to us. We think our worlds are full of diverse input because we use, say, Google search engines. But in fact, even with all the information available to us on the Internet, we will tend to stick to the same 1st page references. We tend to take the same way home and walk in the same small area of the places we live. We can be very easily and unknowingly creating our own rat run. Same routes, same people, same ideas. Have a look at how your drive, cycle or walk home over the next weeks. How much does your route vary?
We tend to orbit in the same way around people, places, social issues and friends. Ethan Zuckerman gave a speech to investment managers on Serendipity. He was nervous that they would not relate to the material. But on the contrary, they loved it. He says it was because “What they are looking for are strategies for finding inspiration outside their information orbit.” Yes. We hunger for fresh perspectives to increase our natural awakeness. Even if you work from home, like I often do, you can ‘walk to work’ by going out into the hills above your office for an hours walk to clear your head and prepare for the day with much better oxygen flow to body and mind. When we get outside our own boxes we can operate more from the inside out.
In the Psychology of Happiness, it is a known fact that a great way to create a more connected and caring society is to make friends with people who are very different from us. Action for Happiness recently posted a lovely interview with Jon Yates from The Challenge Network explaining how greater diversity in our friendships has a positive impact on well being, responsibility, and the contribution young people can make in society.
This, in a similar vein, keeps us from complacency. This keeps us from ‘us and them’ and all manner of dualism. This keeps us sane and connected and awake as well. So here is to innovation and serendipity. All hail inefficiency, page 10 on the Google search, and discovering new friends and a new way home.