On Structure

I am one of those “creative” people who are drained by conventional, structured work environments. A stock character. We are often told, and can come to believe ourselves, that our need for novelty is purely psychological. Perhaps, though, we have learned that our best energy management strategy is to allow for strong ebbs and flows — and, ultimately, does it matter whether this tendency is “psychological” or just the way we’re “wired”?

In Psychology Today, creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes, “Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. … The important thing is that they control their energy; it’s not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. … They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work. This is not a bio-rhythm inherited with their genes; it was learned by trial and error as a strategy for achieving their goals.”

Stanford researchers Connie Strong and Terence Ketter, MD, announced in a press release the results of their preliminary study, which “found healthy artists to be more similar in personality to individuals with manic depression than to healthy people in the general population.”

There’s this observation from one of the U.S.’s most well-adjusted “creatives”: Stewart Brand, creator the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1960s and of the Global Business Network (a membership organization for business leaders) in the 1980s, told Fortune magazine that “the most productive people he knows have developed ways to work outside offices, not in them.”

My lingering question is whether an office setting is actually generative for those people who find it comfortable. Evidently I’m not alone in asking the question. The article Brain Death by Dull Cubicle has been making the rounds. It discusses research that suggests that the brain does not keep up the process of neurogenesis when the animal spends its time in an understimulating environment.

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