Yesterday evening, Drew and I (and a couple friends of ours), went to TEDxTU, Tulane’s version of TED talks. We went last year and enjoyed it and this year didn’t disappoint. There were several great speakers, but in particular the opening of the very last speaker’s story stuck with me more than the others. The speaker was Jackie Sumell (learn more about her project here), and while her talk had very little to do with what I’m writing about today, I was inspired by something her grandmother told her. When Jackie was in her twenties, she lived in New York City with her grandmother. They lived a little far out from where Jackie worked, so every morning she had a long route to take to work. Take the subway, get off, walk several blocks, then get on another bus or subway line to go the rest of the way. One day, she was complaining to her grandmother about how inefficient her route was, and very matter-of-fact-ly her grandmother looked at her and said, “Why take the most efficient route? Why not take the most beautiful?”
It struck me how odd of a thing that is to say in today’s culture. We are automatically programmed to do things the most efficient way. It just isn’t practical to take a longer route to work just because you want to see a more beautiful one. It often isn’t practical in a work environment to take longer to do a project just to make it prettier.
But what about when you work in a creative industry? My daily work is to make beautiful things. Is there an efficient route to making things beautiful? Sometimes projects can be both efficient and beautiful, but often they are opposites. It is hard to push creativity into a neat, little, efficient box. Creativity is fed by taking time to see the beauty and inspiration in things and most creative projects aren’t quick and easy. They require planning, sketching, researching, designing, re-designing, tweaking, proofing, and designing a little more. (or painting, or sculpting, or whatever it may be). Not just rushing around to get to the next place or move on to the next task.
I started thinking about my morning routine and route to work. The route I take is a little choppy, taking smaller roads to avoid morning traffic jams, because that is the route that gets me to work the fastest and I like getting every single minute of sleep I can. In the mornings I am only worried about efficiency. Getting the most sleep, waking up at the exact time I need to in order to have the exact amount of time I need to get ready, rushing around getting ready, eating breakfast, feeding the cat, out the door. Taking the fastest route I’ve mapped out to my destination. I’ve been wondering though, how much more creative could I be during the day if I didn’t worry about the most efficient morning and instead focused on the most beautiful? Waking up earlier so that I can take the time to see the beauty on my way to work? I’m actually fortunate, in that the quickest route to work for me is also a very beautiful one, but when I’m rushing along it, I’m not always taking the time to soak up its beauty. Wouldn’t seeing the beauty in the morning help my creativity during the day?
We live in such a hurried culture. Why is it so hard to slow down? To “stop and smell the roses?”
While googling the exact definition of the word “efficient,” I came across this Wikipedia page, with this quote, “Efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things.” It struck me at how parts of my life might be efficient, but are they effective? The question is not am I doing things right, but am I doing the right things?
Just what I’ve been thinking about this morning. Here is an interesting article from several years ago on the struggle between efficiency and creativity.