Balance, productivity and creativity

Photo by *clairity*

I have been thinking about the issue of balance a lot lately. It shows up in many of my readings and it constantly popping into my head in all kinds of contexts. One of the balances I am particularly interested in is the one between productivity and creativity. The more research is accumulated on these issues, the more we learn that these two important concepts require very different environments in order to thrive. For example, productivity is many times focused on eliminating errors and minimizing noise and mistakes. Creative environments, on the other hand, thrive on such mistakes. As Steven Johnson wonderfully points out in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

Good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error.

Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.

The same is true regarding values and norms in working groups. On one hand, harmony is essential in creating enjoyable working environments and can lead to better cooperation. On the other hand, again, from Johnson:

In groups united by shared values and long-term familiarity, conformity and convention tended to dampen any potential creative sparks.

Most organizations need both high productivity and high creativity in order to succeed. The question is how you balance the needs by creating environments that support both.

The thing is, even in each and every one of these worlds it is also a question of balance. The balance of diminishing returns. As Seth Godin writes:

Over time, processes that seek to decrease entropy and create order are valued, but improving them gets more difficult as well. If you’re seeking to make the organized more organized, it’s a tough row to hoe.

Far easier and more productive to create productive chaos, to interrupt, re-create, produce, invent and redefine.

True. At the same time, we need to remember that to much Chaos is also counterproductive. Johnson Reminds us that:

The computer scientist Christopher Langton observed several decades ago that innovative systems have a tendency to gravitate toward the “edge of chaos”: the fertile zone between too much order and too much anarchy.

The question of balance in general and the balance between creativity and productivity is one that fascinates me and I hope to keep exploring it further in the future. In the mean time you should ask yourself – how are you balancing these two concepts? Are you really balancing in a way that contributes value or are you creating a compromise that hurts both?

Would be happy to hear your thoughts.

Elad

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2 Responses to “Balance, productivity and creativity”

  1. Paul Gray Says:

    Great post Elad,

    I’ve been so busy lately, often feeling like I’m on the edge of order and control – but I’ve actually been very productive. I’ve had lots of ideas and been able to come up with a few breakthrough thoughts as well as find new ways to tackle problems that I hadn’t thought of before.

    I think our best ideas often come in times of stress. Perhaps this forces the mind to branch out and consider more options. Many of these are likely to be fruitless ideas, but just one of them could have some merit.

    That’s where balance comes in. Having a structured, ordered approach can help to analyse and assess ideas.

    Perhaps this uncomfortable middle-ground, while not particularly enjoyable is what we need to come up with ideas and then take the actions to validate and move them forwards.

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Paul, I just love this line:
    “Perhaps this uncomfortable middle-ground, while not particularly enjoyable is what we need to come up with ideas and then take the actions to validate and move them forwards”
    Isn’t this true for so many areas of life… Pushing ourselves a little bit in to the middle-ground, where it is a bit tough (but not more than what we can handle)… I think this is true for relationships, self-development, making dreams come true and more and more…
    Being able to balance the chaos and order that is life…
    Thanks for engaging, good to hear form you!
    Hope to see more of your comments…
    Elad


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