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Notes from Jocelyn K Glei’s Podcast Episode on Creativity & Efficiency

My dad was a carpenter.
Well everyone called him that, but I know him for what he truly was.
A craftsman.
Be it his work with wood, or the little works of art and craft he made for us or his drawings in my book; everything he did, was slow, and measured, and full of deliberation and intention.

Which is why this episode struck such a chord with me.
Jocelyn articulates beautifully, exactly what my father did.
I still remember his slight rankle, followed by this expression of sorrow, whenever I would rush him, tell him this much was good enough.
Thank God, he never listened to me.
He may not be here now, but everything he built, makes it like he is.

It’s a short delightful episode. Go listen.
Definitely worth your time and attention.
Everything below the break are my paraphrased notes.


Creativity and Efficiency, have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
The creative process actively resists efficiency.

Creativity is messy and organic and full of (as it looks from the outside) friction, which is a little bit frustrating, because everything else in our lives keeps getting faster, easier, smoother, more efficient, more frictionless.

We have become more accustomed to a kind of effortless convenience.
Ask and ye shall receive.

So there’s a really interesting tension here.
Between the pace of technology and the pace of creativity.

Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and, if possible, we do it for money. Welding car bodies on an assembly line is work; washing dishes, computing taxes, walking the rounds in a psychiatric ward, picking asparagus–these are work.

Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it’s harder to quantify… Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms — these are labors.

Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule.

[…]

There is no technology, no time-saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of exchange value, therefore, creativity is automatically devalued every time there is an advance in the technology of work.

The Gift, Lewis Hyde

As technology makes everything more efficient, we tend to think that creativity should also become more efficient, that there must be a way to do creative work, that’s better, faster, more scalable … but is there?

What’s more important?
Doing all the things?
Or enjoying all the things that you’re doing?

Creativity resists efficiency.
No one can tell you how much time something should take, because creativity is not measurable on a time clock.
It’s not practical or efficient or objectively quantifiable.
What it is, is deeply personal.

No one knows, how long it takes to make anything.
Which means, no one knows what pace your creative process should unfold at, except for you.
And no one knows, what boundaries you need to setup to protect that process, but you.
And no one knows, how much you should obsess about the details, or how far you should go, and when you should say, “This is enough!”‚ but you.

Remarkable creative projects don’t come from efficiency.
If anything, they come from inefficiency.
From doggedly ignoring all the rules, and saying,

“I am going to devote an ungodly amount of time to this thing, that no one else thinks is important, but that I think is important.”

Great creative work comes from slowing down, when every one else is rushing around and saying,

“I’m going to take my time and notice this thing, that everyone else is missing and really sit with it, and contemplate it and craft it to create something remarkable.
Actually, something that’s even more remarkable, because no one else would have taken the time.”

So the next time you feel stuck or rushed or judged for your “inefficiencies”, remember that they’re also your strength.
Because greater comes from working at your own pace.
Remember to take your time.

P.S. Also, remember to subscribe to the mailing list, if you haven’t already! :)