These days I’ve become increasingly obsessed with productivity. I’ve come a long way from where I was. But there’s still a lot more to do. So I’m constantly chasing reading pieces like The Daily Habits of Highly Creative People and trying to apply some of it in my daily routine.
The most recent discovery in my quest for greater productivity, was Isaac Asimov’s essay on creativity which was published for the first time earlier this week. The question he tries to answer is: How do people get new ideas?
It got me thinking if there are some takeaways that can be applied to the newsroom? In fact, all of it is very relevant in the context of a newsroom which is a great deal about bringing people and ideas together.
Newsrooms are practically idea factories. Here are some parts that I find particularly relevant and some thoughts of my own.
#1 The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a “new idea,” but as a mere “corollary of an old idea.”
Perhaps this is why it is important for reporters like me to read across beats from monetary policy to the newest dating app.
#2 My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it.
The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.
So think of ideas and explore threads of conversations that you’ve had, scribble it down for news meetings. Now comes the part about news meetings.
#3 If a single individual present has a much greater reputation than the others, or is more articulate, or has a distinctly more commanding personality, he may well take over the conference and reduce the rest to little more than passive obedience. The individual may himself be extremely useful, but he might as well be put to work solo, for he is neutralizing the rest.
To be honest, I’ve been guilty of being the guy (maybe not by reputation) capable of neutralizing the rest.
#4 The optimum number of the group would probably not be very high. I should guess that no more than five would be wanted. A larger group might have a larger total supply of information, but there would be the tension of waiting to speak, which can be very frustrating. It would probably be better to have a number of sessions at which the people attending would vary, rather than one session including them all.
Our team meetings tend to be smaller and mostly fun. We try doing it over chai and as informally as possible.
#5 For best purposes, there should be a feeling of informality. Joviality, the use of first names, joking, relaxed kidding are, I think, of the essence—not in themselves, but because they encourage a willingness to be involved in the folly of creativeness.
Some of the best editors and team leaders I’ve worked with have been this way.
#6 Probably more inhibiting than anything else is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.
I’m a great believer in this. Most of my decent stories have come up while I’ve been working on something else. But it is important to set out with a hypothesis and also create that serendipity. And here comes a note to editors and team leaders:
#7 I do not think that cerebration sessions can be left unguided. There must be someone in charge who plays a role equivalent to that of a psychoanalyst. A psychoanalyst, as I understand it, by asking the right questions (and except for that interfering as little as possible), gets the patient himself to discuss his past life in such a way as to elicit new understanding of it in his own eyes.
In the same way, a session-arbiter will have to sit there, stirring up the animals, asking the shrewd question, making the necessary comment, bringing them gently back to the point. Since the arbiter will not know which question is shrewd, which comment necessary, and what the point is, his will not be an easy job.
PS: Since we are talking Asimov, also see: The Jobless Future: Humans Need Not Apply