Why Creative People Should Embrace [Mental] Chaos

Creative people thrive on mental clutter.

One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.

—Fredriche Nietzsche

In a Big Think interview, author Malcolm Gladwell explains how important it is for creative people to welcome the irrelevant, the messy, and the chaotic things they come across.

He says that creative people’s brains are supposed to be chaotic and messy—it’s the landfill from which they invent and create.

The next time you catch yourself daydreaming, or find yourself in amusement of some small detail in nature—like a legion of ants crowding over an anthill—don’t censor it.

Let yourself wonder. And feel secure about it.

You never know when one junky idea might serve you. People who work in creative fields need to embrace chaos, not repress it.

If you were to follow the daily lives of two people, a doctor and an artist, you would notice they live differently. The doctor and the artist both take in the same information, they generally have the same experiences, but they process and interpret those things differently.

Logical minds need sharp focus

Doctors discard useless thoughts and concentrate on tasks that require clear, coherent thinking. When they perform operations, they can’t reflect and daydream about some eccentric person they saw at the grocery store. Their focus has to be penetrating; their mind can’t wander. Jobs that demand logical and consistent thinking aren’t suitable for people whose minds are naturally full of clutter.

Creative minds need chaos

Creative people thrive on mental clutter. Their messy minds drift towards whatever it finds amusing. They’re often rewarded for creating art out of inappropriate and irrelevant thoughts.

If you work in a creative space that allows you to shut off your logical left-brain and fire up your imaginative right-brain, you end up experiencing life a lot differently than if you were, say, a doctor.

You welcome scattered thoughts and jumbled beliefs. You’re compelled to make sense of life’s messiness. You embrace chaos.

Creative people collect messy thoughts. Rational people them. That’s why these two types don’t always understand each other.

The engineer thinks the artist a whacko, and the artist thinks the engineer a stiff. Who can blame them? They’ve both inherited different genetic dispositions. Furthermore, they work jobs that demand they remain true to that disposition, be it logical or creative.

Gladwell On Creative Minds

…They know enough about how mysterious, and serendipitous, and unpredictable the creative process is that they realize it’s dangerous to make too hasty a judgment about the value of anything they come across.

…That embracing of messiness and understanding its contribution to the creative process is something that artists, writers, and creative types have to cultivate, and have to learn to be comfortable with, because it goes against a lot of our instincts and training as educated people.

I’ll remember that the next time I get an impulse to edit a seemingly unimportant idea. I hope you’ll remember too.

“Embrace the chaos.”

Best,
Aaron.

Image by Dam

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