Keep that spark alive: creativity, productivity, and procrastination

How many times do you hear this — “Be Original”? You hear the phrase “Be Creative!” somewhere or the other on a frequent basis. But then we must dive deep and find an answer to what originality is and how are we to express and evaluate creativity.

In a world where everyone is busy imitating others and also trying to fit in, how can one remain original?

All of us have faced these questions in our lives at some point. To explore these areas, we really need to look at ourselves at an individual level and then at large as a society. What really separates us from other animals is the ‘human brain’ and its uniqueness. Bigger brain size doesn’t necessarily mean more neurons or more cognitive ability, as we humans are not the largest or the biggest ones.

The reason why scientists say that our brain must really be special to explain this is it’s measure of activity and ability. Physical activity affects cognition. People who work out moderately are found to be grades above those who don’t. There is a direct correlation between health, activity levels, creativity and cognition. Movement in the body translates to movement in the brain and in life!

An experiment was conducted where the participants were all wired up with electricals and their brain readings were being recorded when posed with a problem to solve. You ask the problem, they give the solution, you verify it. Now comes the important question, how did you get that solution? What directed you to walk on the exact same path as you did? Did you use logic or was it more of a brave insight?

It is observed that what your brain has been doing before you were posed with the problem decides whether you will use logic or intuition to solve the problem. The activity just before is what matters in the situation. No doubt, great times for creative insights are holidays for most influential people since ages. Being obsessed is needed by the brain for the background activity that is important for all decision making.

We always hear greats sharing their ideations behind the art, music, science they generate, but they can’t explain where their ideas come from. We can dub these people as ‘originals’ but that doesn’t help one from thinking what their secret is. One common trait that is observed is that they do not follow the rigid rules, notions or conventions that one is supposed to, they just do what they trust in.

We all can say this without exception that we have been procrastinators in some way or the other at some point in our life. The ones who either procrastinate or “precrastinate” aren’t found to be as creative as the ones that lie in the middle of the spectrum. The moderate procrastinators are better in a way because the thinking, imbibing happens in the background. All famous greats were procrastinators — last minute hustlers, delaying the tasks to induce creativity and originality.

It is genuine to feel fear and doubt, but thinking about it, letting your brain work in the hindsight while you switch to doing something else; is what moderate procrastination looks like. Doubt for ideas, thoughts, creations is good, whereas on the other hand, self doubt or doubting capabilities is what cripples people and that needs to be avoided. Rather than saying ‘I’m dumb’, ‘I have failed’ just replace it with ‘The idea has failed, its not working’,’let’s try another one’.

Should one multitask? How many things should you do together, two, three, or four at a time? Seems like ‘Slow Motion multitasking’ can be the concept that has been able to explain the genius of Einstein, who published four remarkable path-breaking papers just in one year, 1905. Although sounding counter-intuitive, this involves having multiple projects and shifting from one to another and not lapsing or hurrying into things. Many great scientists and artists have followed this. A study conducted on 40 scientists which included the likes of Linus Pauling and Richard Feynman revealed that out of their first 100 publications, they actually changed the subject matter an average of 43 times! Just as athletes cross-train, the human brain can be cross-trained as well.

Another experiment that showed this was conducted between art students who studied various art forms from a museum but were later more accurate in identifying the diseases through the image than the professional medical students. This indeed is the way out. But, how do we stop getting overwhelmed? Not get bogged down by it? One has to do many things, which doesn’t mean that he doesn’t do anything with devotion, rather it’s the exact opposite.

Having actual physical boxes in which one throws in chits, writeups, objects and literally everything and anything that helps him recollect the idea again does wonders! It not only helps one preserve ideas but also, actually fosters creativity. We can make multitasking work for us — what we need is to slow down. Not doing things too quick or unsteady, rather slow steady, alternating patches.

Studies have shown that people who use google chrome or Firefox have outperformed those who use Safari or Internet Explorer and also earn more or stick longer to their jobs, which is bizarre as all of them have the same basic features. What makes this happen, the simple reason is that Chrome and Firefox don’t come pre-installed as opposed to Safari or Edge. It takes to be the kind of person who takes the initiative and doubts the default. They keep trying, they keep working.

People are scared of getting judged by their failed ideas, which in reality doesn’t happen; most of the greats have always come up with far more ‘poor’ ideas than ‘good’ ideas as opposed to others. You have to try new ideas, you just cannot get stuck on a particular thing, you have to keep trying and not give up easily on anything. Be courageous. No matter what, you have to keep generating new ideas and switching to new domains. The bottom line being — “be original” is definitely not easy, but it is what is needed in today’s world!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store


TEDxIITGuwahati is an extraordinary event that invites innovators and thinkers from various background enlighten the common folks with their radical ideas.