Friday, December 02, 2005

A Word About Silence

In the December issue of FastCompany Magazine there is an interesting article about the artists retreat in New Hampshire, McDowell Colony. It's been there for nearly a century and it still attracts many contemporary writers, composers, and artists of all varieties. In this day and age, it's interesting to read that creative people still find the experience of being in a secluded and quiet environment essential to their creative process. They also find their interactions with other artists from different disciplines at breakfast and dinner to be stimulating and inspirational to their own art.

It's interesting that artists can recognize that these things are integral to what they do, but others getting along in the work-a-day world don't see these things as essential: quiet and contact with people outside our own immediate sphere. I had a conversation recently with the CEO of one of the companies I work with. He was talking about his pastor giving sermon on Sunday about noise. Part of the sermon included a long period of silence, designed to make people aware of how uncomfortable we are with silence. In fact, life's noise has become more than just the constant drone of TVs, radios, iPods, and streaming video, it's the vibrating Blackberry, the endless email, the ringing cell phone, the back-to-back meetings, the weekends crammed with one activity after another. We are always "on," always accessible, always in the middle of ceaseless noise of one variety or another. So when does anyone have time to think, create or innovate?

Carl was saying he always gets his best ideas in the shower. I used to as well before getting in the habit of long evening walks with my dog through a dark and quiet suburban neighborhood. Maybe that's because it's the one time and place where no one can really interrupt you. And it's quiet. And your brain has time to bubble up all the things that have been sitting there getting worked out, but whose thoughts can't cut through the noise of the every day. How much time do we spending "doing" and how much time to we spend thinking about what we are doing?

I recently heard a very well known real estate speaker at one of our company events talk about what it takes to be successful in this business. He was talking to a group of rookie real estate agents and his presentation was full of very practical ideas for what they needed to do on a daily basis to truly succeed. One of his suggestions was to spend 45 uninterrupted minutes a day planning their business. That seems like such a no-brainer. But most of us spend so much of our day doing what needs to be done, we don't spend time thinking about what we are doing. How can we create and innovate in an environment like this? Why have we filled up our lives with so much noise?

Well I have no answers for these questions, but they are worth pondering. I'll go take a shower now and think about it some more.

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