“We Are Not Procrastinating, We Are Being Productive in a Different Direction!”

For the last two nights, I had the full and meaningful intention of going home and working on a blog entry that I have been struggling with. (Struggling in the good sense of the term, not the awful writer’s block way.) Perhaps because it was not coming to me very easily, I got (as they say) distracted. After viewing an advertisement for National Library Card Sign-up Month, I was struck by the sedate blurb about what the library can do for you. I guess with politicians hunting for additional spending cuts to make you really don’t want to emphasize reading for pleasure or storytimes or other things that apparently don’t generate revenue or move our economy, but come on! This has the inspiring delivery of a pull string Al Gore Doll.

I began to wonder if there was a way to spice up this campaign. The graphic above was the first, the phrase having been carefully tested on a focus group of one. Over the course of the last two nights, I made a bunch of them and posted them in various places. I’ve collected them for a blog entry to get them all in one place. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them (except the Nyan cat animation one; that was a pain in the ass). In not working on my blog entry, I don’t think this little exercise in word art was counterproductive, just creative productive. Parallel productive?

Something like that.

If you have suggestions or make your own, share them!

The face in the “A” of “Apocalypse” makes me giggle every time I see it.

See? If people knew how unhinged library cards were, they be lining up for them!

The most dangerous kind of criminals.

This was done by request. (NSFW version here.) And if you need an explanation for the meme, Know Your Meme has a good one.

I animated this one. You’ll have to click on it to see it because embedding it here will probably ruin it. It’s based off a fairly new internet meme so here’s the background on this one.

This was by request. And here’s the animated Nyan Library Card Cat.

A little bit hypnotic if you stare at it.

All the pictures link to my Flickr account. Feel free to take and share as you see fit!

The Productivity Parabola

There is an experiment that I’ve seen referenced twice in books I read this year(the first time was in How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and the second was in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell). I will spare you the details of the experiment and skip to the conclusion: our subconscious brains can pick up patterns (and act on them) long before our conscious brains can explain them. It’s an explanation of the “funny feeling”, that initial emotional cue that you get when a situation or person or place just doesn’t feel right; something is wrong and you don’t know what it is.

In keeping this result in mind, it has taken me about ten days to figure out something that seems very basic as I type it out now.

I’m tired.

Not in the physical sense, although the gym and keeping late hours certainly does not help that. I’m talking in the emotional and spiritual sense, a feeling at what I can only describe as being the psychic level. It is a deep, inward tiredness of the mind, for want of a better phrase.

In looking back at the past six months, I have come to realize how busy I am. Some of it is pretty obvious in terms of spearheading the HarperCollins petition, doing presentations for ACRL, ALA and Pennsylvania Library Association, coordinating the Tech Lounge at the NJLA conference, and trying to get the eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights out into the larger discussion. The rest is more behind the scenes work in terms of maintaining conversations across Facebook, Twitter, and now Google Plus, reading a vast array of librarian blogs, and writing about noteworthy stories and topics over the course of a year.

It is a full time job on top of my actual paying full time job. Being well informed in the myriad of librarian topics, both of the moment and long term, is not a casual commitment for me. In order to write, you have to read; as someone who tries to build on a conversation, it is a matter of finding out what has been left unsaid or unspoken so that you are not simply regurgitating the talking points of another (not that I always succeed, but as they say, great minds think alike).

I do not regret my involvement in all of these things, but the experience has taught me a valuable lesson as to what kind of energy and the importance of pacing is involved in these endeavors. It is one thing to write a blog post on a position and place it online, referencing it again as the topic returns. It is another to engage in a protracted campaign, whether it is for a library themed Ben & Jerry’s flavor or a company to retract its odious limited circulation policy or to get people to consider how they want to see eBook evolve. It goes on and on, a movement that requires constant tending for continued growth. It’s a longer commitment compared to some statewide efforts I’ve been involved in, albeit as the creator of these campaigns it is far more personal.

In the time it took me to come to this realization, I think I hit the trough of my productivity parabola. A parabola, as illustrated at the top of this post, is perhaps the best way to describe my productivity. I’m either on my way up or down in terms of creating or working on a project. The hard part is figuring out whether I am on an upswing or a downswing; in other words, it is hard to determine whether I’m entering a project on an upswing of creativity and energy or coming off of one. Of course, sometimes you have to get involved in order to find out but that’s just part of the deal.

Even in plotting out this blog post in which I was planning on talking about just how tired I was (how exciting, right?), I was struck with a question that more than piqued my interest. I’m curious about how librarians share online, whether it is through social media or bookmarking sites/tools or other websites. I’m putting together a survey that I’ll be linking to in the near future. (I’ll need your help to spread the word.)

In keeping with my very own tradition, in the depths of what felt like a creativity dearth I found something new and invigorating. (Go figure.) As I put together my survey, I’m wondering how my colleagues deal with hitting the bottom of their productivity parabola. I’d love to hear how you get out of your rut.

(By the way, the HarperCollins petition is 405 signatures away from 70,000. If you wouldn’t mind sharing it again, I’d like to at least reach that milestone.)

Creativity & The Invisible Fence

Photo by Martin Gommel/FlickrThe invisible fence is a product that is designed to keep pets (like dogs & cats) within a set of boundaries without the need for building a physical barrier (e.g., a fence). The boundaries are set by a transmitted signal from either a buried wire or an above ground positioned object. The pets wear a collar which will give them a mild shock (*bzzzt*) when they approach the limits set by the owner. With a few days of training, the pet becomes familiar with their new limitations and will not venture past them.

I think creativity in the workplace is sometimes given the same treatment. But minus training about the collar and boundaries part.

This is not an objection to conditions or requirements to creativity in accomplishing tasks in the workplace; at face value, there is nothing wrong with applying such guidelines to an assignment given out by an employer. My objection is to the illusion of a free range and the enforcement of punishments without prior criteria.

What results are people who end up working as if they are boundaries when none exist; people who are unwilling to explore the range of options for fear of getting zapped; and people who would seek to avoid projects requiring creativity for the safety of rote and defined assignments. These are not the conducive conditions for innovation and progress.

Does the place where you work have an invisible fence for creativity? As a supervisor, what are you leaving out when telling an employee to be creative in the course of completing a task? As an employee, how do you learn of guidelines or criteria for your assignments?

I think everyone is creative when they are given the chance. It’s just that no one likes to get zapped. Not even our cats and dogs.


(I like writing these Seth Godin-esque posts, even if they don’t reach to his level of mastery. He has the uncanny ability to capture big moments or thoughts in small blog posts. I hope I did that here.)

Pieces of Me

When I left work today, I had two things on my mind. First, I wanted to cook. Second, I wanted to write. Both were slated to be creative endeavors as I had something I wanted to try cooking and I had an idea for something to write for this blog.

As to the cooking, it was something that came to me early in the day. This morning, I had thought about making some pasta and meat sauce; with the meat sauce, I wanted to try browning the ground beef in bacon grease. (Yes, it was a inspiring moment that you might find on some other blog.) Kathy had thought that this might not work, which only spurned me to try it even more. So, after work, I stopped at Wegman’s, grabbed everything (plus some other things I thought might spice it up), and headed home to cook.

What I like about cooking is that it appeals to the mad scientist in me. In the past, this has lead to some memorable disasters and certainly culinary miscues on my part. (The best miscue that Kathy will tell to complete strangers was adding cinnamon to ground beef for hamburgers. It seemed like a good idea at the time…) But since I have enough money to negate any cooking disaster with consoling takeout, it has given me a safety net for trying things I’m not completely sure about. These days, I will consult The Flavor Bible to make sure there are some flavor affinities going on so I know I’m headed in the right direction. And tonight, I was headed in the right direction for some tasty success.

(For the curious, the final product had ground beef browned in bacon grease, organic marinara sauce, chopped bacon, black beans, dark red kidney beans, garlic, onions, chopped grape tomatoes, a dash of cumin, a dash of freeze dried basil, and a couple of turns of a pepper grinder. I served it on angel hair pasta with rosemary Italian bread with salt. I don’t use measurements for ingredients since I function under the “close enough” system.)

After cleaning up the kitchen, I went to office, sat down at the computer, opened up Windows Live Writer, jotted down the couple of thoughts I had on what I wanted to write, and then… nothing. No more words, no more thoughts, just me and the blinking cursor of the DAMNED on the screen. It was in that moment that I thought that one out of two creative projects was good enough for today and that I would just find something else to do.

Such began the winter evening of my discontent: nothing was holding my interest. World of Warcraft, Google Reader, my usual web haunts and message boards; I was thirsty for something to do but not those. I ended up on the TED talk website looking through the topics and speakers. I had watched a couple last week and remembered that there were some talks I had seen listed that I was curious to try out. So I watched one, skipped around to a couple of different ones, and had literally text a friend about how damn bored I was when I found the TED talk I have imbedded below. I watched it and, lo and behold, a marvelous thing happened:

I thought of something to write about.

(If you want to watch it before reading the rest, go for it.)

Before Elizabeth’s talk, I had never thought of the creative process in any sort of substantial terms. For such a fantastic process that produces such interesting results that have certainly changed my own life and people around me, there was no curiosity about the process, how it happens, or why it happens. “It just happens” was a sufficient explanation without further thought or consideration. In the walk I took after her talk, I began to think about the process and how I would describe it to outside observer. How would I quantify and/or qualify my creative process? As the houses went slowly by and my feet strode across the pavement, I finally settled on a way that I think best describes it for me: a haunting. Allow me to elaborate.

There are two ways that ideas come to me. The first is like a poltergeist; a sudden appearance of a thought that rattles around for a moment and then quiets down just as quickly. It is a fleeting disruption to whatever I am thinking or doing at the time. I’m not always sure where it came from, nor whether I even like what it is; all I know is that it’s now there for me to either build on it or discard it. Like any haunting, it can strike anywhere such as in the car, in the shower, laying in bed, or any other situation in which paper and pencil are not immediately handy. And, like poltergeists of traditional telling, these random flashes of inspired thought come and go as they please.

The second way is more like a possession. It is an idea or thought or concept that simply grips me and holds me in its sway, taking over my active thought process. It takes an ‘exorcism’ of output as I must either banish or get this idea down in some form lest it drive me mad with its incessant chatter and visualizations. An undismissable flight of the fantastic, not all of them will be advanced, but they will all be heard. Even when jotted down in my notes or potential projects list, they linger on, watching and waiting for me to act. This description is more sinister than it actually is, but I really can’t think of a better way to express how it feels to get an idea that simply won’t shut up or go dissipate.

(To me, the truly bothersome thing about my creative process is that I really don’t take anything off the table when it comes to my imagination. This means that some very dark and disturbing things can show up at times. These are the kind of  things that keep me awake at night and make my palms sweat in the middle of a perfectly normal day. They are wholly depressing, ideas of a true profane and vulgar nature that frighten me to ponder what people would think of me if they ever heard them. I know we all have our dark side, but I’ve never liked this end of the creative abyss.)

What really got to me in Elizabeth’s talk was the part about the product of such creative minds and how it affects them. For all of the projects that I handle in the course of the day, it is the ones in which I am personally invested (like this blog) that are the most mentally taxing. While not each post is the finest of my efforts in prose, there is a bit of me that goes off with the pressing of the “Publish” button. For those entries where I put myself out there to the greater library field (like this recent “Why I Support Library 101” post), there is always a moment riddled with unnerving doubt that assails my senses. To get this post published (or whatever I’m trying to reveal beyond myself), I pay the psychic toll it is demanding: a bigger piece of myself. I don’t know whether it is a fear of failure or disappointment or the creative process trying to protect one of its own from harsh realities of the outside opinion world, but it is most certainly unpleasant. There is validation in the compliments of my peers for some of the more thoughtful posts I have made on various subjects, but the price paid is not forgotten.

In the end, however, I think I have gotten a better understanding of the entire creative process from start to finish. I can feel how creativity flows within me, how it expresses itself, and how it manifests in the final product. And, more importantly, why it is ok to let a bit of myself go out with it. I think it would be a shame to leave this world not having given everything of yourself away, for you truly cannot take it with you. With each act of creativity, let there be an act of courage to share it. And let me leave you with a thought for your own approach to the creative process:

Creativity is the original open source software.

It should be shared and shared alike.