Which is more important to the creative person, solitary contemplation or interaction with others? My previous post about introversion vs. extroversion kind of dealt with this, in that certain personality types tend to favor one or the other, and that both types are important to innovation.
In the video above, Steven Johnson makes the case for connectivity and interaction in a talk based on his book Where Good Ideas Come From. Creativity, he says, isn’t so much about conjuring things up out of nothing as it is about connecting other people’s ideas in new ways. Historically, cities that are culturally diverse have been the greatest incubators of innovation. These days technology is allowing us to create the greatest, most diverse worldwide virtual city in human history.
Or, to sum up this four-minute video in a single quote: “Chance favors the connected mind.”
I agree, and am pleased to be living in these exciting times. But we have to be careful. Even as our society favors extroversion over introversion, our technology favors connectivity over contemplation. If we want to keep contemplation (by which I mean intense and prolonged focus, and deep, undistracted thinking), we’re going to have to be deliberate about it. We must to create our own spaces (literally and figuratively) for it. Because it isn’t going to happen on its own, not here and not now.
It may be as simple as shutting off your phone for a while, or as challenging as finding ways to clear your mind of intrusive thoughts, or restoring the discipline of the kind of slow, in-depth reading that the web’s tempting bounty tends to discourage.
That’s the other side to what Johnson is talking about here. Connectivity, yes, by all means. But don’t forget to carve out a bit of solitary, monk-like contemplation for yourself.