Invention & Distraction
If someone tells you there is nothing new, everything has already been invented, tell them rubbish. What they are saying is not true – as the thousands of new apps invented daily testify. Indeed, if we had not already been told that this is the age of something else I’d call it The Age of Invention. Never has it been possible for so many people to invent things – from the macro to the micro. One of my grandsons, Tim, is successfully inventing how to design massive load-moving equipment in a fraction of the time it normally takes. His biggest asset and skill? His father, Richard, my son. No apology for being mighty proud.
There are traps on the way to invention. Clear Purpose and Objective, Research, Focus, Diligence – you need all these even assuming you start with a first class brain. But examination of how things actually get invented has unearthed an insidious trap, Distraction. We all know how distracting the world around us is today. It is making a big inroad into inventions. It screws up the Invention Flow, an essential part of creative, innovative thinking.
Archimedes may have shouted EURIKA when he flooded the bathroom but what gave him the clue to what his accident meant? It’s not a secret – he was thinking about how to measure volume of an irregularly shaped object. The invention was already there because he was asking the right question. All he had to do was to keep his mind open to associate with his question events that happened. In other words he had to perceive relationships.
But being open to the answer because you have already embedded the question in your mind is only half the solution. Your life will be buzzing with distractions, home, work-related, appetites (and not just food), moods, guilt (if, like most people, you were brought up to feel guilty), laziness, excessive drive – we could go on forever. Distractions abound and they kill.
Why is distraction so deadly to your invention process?
Working on something new your brain plays several tricks with you. It releases dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin and adrenaline into an area of the brain known as the striatum. This creates a “Flow State” that is self-innovating and self-perpetuating, rather like the momentum a train has once it is up to speed. The effort to keep going is much less than was the effort to start. A train can be derailed by distractions – a metal bar on the line and it comes off the rails. Once in a Flow State humans don’t come off the rails that easily.
Your Flow State is the most precious tool you have when inventing something. Once you have it, leave all other matters aside and just keep going. If you hit a pebble, skirt round it and carry on. Writers will tell you they often leave bits of the piece they are writing blank with just a line of mmmmmmmmmm. They are keeping gong and will come back to that bit later. What matters is that they don’t stop. If they do, the effort to restart may overwhelm them.
Learning how to enter the Flow State is not difficult but it requires a discipline that involves help. It is not just a matter of discipline to avoid distraction. It is how your mind is organised – or “set” if you like. It requires a good coach to drill a mind into this mind-set. It usually doesn’t take long and, like riding a bicycle, once learned, it is never forgotten. We have coaches who are skilled in mind-set shaping.
Work flow is the key to successful inventing. Is your work flow as self-generating and distraction-free as it should be? If not, what are you going to do about it?
Something soon, I’m sure.