By Laurence Shorter, Author of The Lazy Guru's Guide to Life.
Unless you’re a natural born writer, which I’m not, crafting an article is one of the most painful and awkward things I believe a human being can do. Not only does it involve forcing a complex physical body designed for hunting, foraging and gossip onto a swivel chair in front of a digital screen with painfully small pixels and no organic matter in sight (a strange feeling for a monkey); it also requires structured vocabulary (invented in 9,000BC), typing (invented in 1900AD)*; focus (ancient but only ever intended for short periods of time) and thinking ahead (still in development).
It’s obvious that a brain evolved for picking berries, fighting predators and jostling for social position is no match for the task of writing a treatise laying out sound reasons why such-and-such a thing is interesting or should be paid attention to. And since this is an article about creativity – which is all about enjoyment and playfulness – the only way I can justify this is to go as far off topic as possible until something interesting happens on its own. Because creativity – and laziness, its great enabler – is exactly the art of letting interesting things happen on their own. But more about that later.
Luckily, the art of writing also involves storytelling (invented millions of years ago), so that is where I will begin: since 2012 I have been a leadership coach; meaning that I work with leaders in any field – whether businesspeople, artists or gurus – to help them with their leading. It’s a funny job, considering that I have never led anyone, officially, myself: not a company, not a division, not even a small team. I have led many retreats, workshops and creative projects – in other words, one-off groups of people assembled together to achieve a common goal. But that’s a totally different kind of leading. None of those people ever reported to me. The mere idea of it would have offended them, even if they recognised me (temporarily) as their organiser. However – running this kind of thing many times has required me to learn a unique set of skills. It has taught me some tricks that it turns out are useful for all sorts of leaders, whether they are running a global company or a family full of screaming kids.
It’s the skill-set very roughly known as Letting Go. Letting go means this: I’m not in control, I don’t know what should happen, and you can walk out any time you want. The only reason you’re still in a room with me (or on Skype) is because I stand for something that interests you. And it’s not money. Because you can always get more money from somewhere else – somewhere where they want you to do horrible and stressful things to your nervous system and to other people’s too. I won’t be doing that. You and me and your nerves are going to get on just fine. Because I’m never going to force you – or myself – to do anything. Instead I’m going to be clear about what I need, give you space, ask that you do the same for yourself, and expect you to communicate with me as we go along how that is going for you. There is nothing more to it than that. As a leader, I will always trust that what you feel like doing is the best possible use of your time.
You could call this ‘leadership by consent’: non-hierarchical, open and continually responding to change. But I prefer to call it simply Being Creative. Because creativity and letting go are essentially the same thing. What does a comic genius like John Cleese or Steve Coogan do when they are creating but let go? Let go of any ideas of what they ‘should’ be doing, and letting something else happen. The same goes for inventors, the same goes for entrepreneurs. To bring something really new into the world, you’re going to need to go there.
But before I go any further let me raise my colours on the mast. As far as I am concerned, creativity is the most important thing in the world.
Too often creativity gets pigeon holed as something for ‘special’ people – artists, writers, performers. In the business world it gets siloed into innovation labs and the branding departments of big companies. But it is rarely acknowledged as the single most important quality for any employee or entrepreneur or leader anywhere. Why? Maybe because we are still shrugging off thousands of years of hierarchical social organisation. Maybe because we find it too difficult. Maybe it’s because of Donald Trump. I don’t know. Either way, it’s something that we have to start getting good at, now.
Because creativity is simply the art of making good things happen. Without creativity we will continue blundering our way through the same struggles and conflicts that have distracted us for years, while the planet falls apart around our ears, and our businesses mire themselves in burnout and lack of purpose, until one day we wake up and the lights won’t come on any more. Luckily, though, every single one of us – without exception – has this extraordinary kink in our DNA, an ability to bring something totally new and unexpected into the world, a connection with God and the unknown that allows pure genius to come through us every now and then and make something happen that is really, really good. And this, my friends, is what creativity is. But mostly we’ve forgotten.
So how can I ‘do’ this better? Well, as you know, creativity is not something you can do. A bit like happiness or having fun, the journey of creativity starts the moment a person notices that the best things happen on their own – when they are temporarily not in control. Once a leader has noticed that, there’s no going back. The old approach of controlling and monitoring, bribing and threatening others or yourself starts to fail and stick in the throat. Meanwhile, the idea of letting people do their thing, of making life easy rather than difficult, starts to creep in everywhere, spoiling what were previously perfectly good passive-aggressive power relationships.
Eventually the ability to step back and allow things to unfold develops into a wonderful life skill: doing as little as possible so that creativity has a chance to do its thing, while still staying totally present and giving your undivided attention. Not an easy thing to do! But worth every moment of confusion, panic and indecision it takes to get there.
So what does this all have to do with being Lazy? If I were to point to one thing in our working lives that most often prevents us from giving ourselves and each other the space we need to be creative – to be truly resourceful – it’s the persistent inner voice that says ‘I should be doing something’ regardless of the shrieking child inside that is howling: "NO, STOP IT. I HATE THIS." It’s the evil meme that work is supposed to be unpleasant, that stress is normal, even healthy, that I should be busy even when I’m not sure with what. It’s the fear that if I don’t fill my time with productive activity then I’m not worth anything, and that doing boring things for boring people is somehow justified by money or survival or simple lack of direction. All of this robs you of the space you need for that magic new thing to happen.
So if there’s one message I would love for anyone to try out from reading this mesmerisingly creative article (yes! I finally did it) it’s the simple idea that maybe – possibly – you too are in possession of the effortless DNA of creativity; that something truly amazing might happen if you only you stopped trying and gave yourself a break; and that you don’t need to pay so much heed to those endlessly busy, well-meaning ‘shoulds’ in your mind – whether they’re talking about getting up earlier, reading more non-fiction books or going to the gym.
Let yourself be ok just as you are. Respect the fact that you have preferences and talents; and that they know exactly how to make themselves known. Follow them, and give them space. That is the beginning of effortless creativity.
Take a moment every day to do nothing: no email, no social media, no reading, no writing: just sitting there, or walking, or doing a flip
Undistract yourself: learn to remove the props that keep you from facing the nerve-wracking empty space that is needed for creative breakthrough
Beditate: learn how to lie in bed for a few moments every morning and night without using the time for anything useful whatsoever
Stop: when you’re not enjoying a task, there’s always a good reason. Stop, tune in, let go. Something else will happen.
Laurence Shorter is an author, speaker and entrepreneur with twenty years experience of working with leaders in organisations and the creative industries.
*all dates cited in this article erroneous for dramatc effect, please don't try this at home :)
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