Information Overload The Enemy Of Creativity

I really do believe that I’ve become more creative in my work since becoming blind for the simple reason that I’m not bothered by as many distractions. My gut feel is it’s because I’m not distracted by what I call “visual noise.” You know, sight is such a powerful sense that it can bombard you with visual sensations, which doesn’t happen to me, of course. I read a tremendous amount, by the way, using things like books and journals on tape, but because I’m not distracted by a lot of other visual input, I spend more time actually thinking and solving creative problems than I did when I could see. You and I have talked about how people these days seem to spend so much time texting each other that they’re probably writing and reading more and faster, and thinking less. I think that’s almost certainly true.

This is my co-author Virginia Jacko talking during our discussion of Lesson #3 in the last chapter of our book, The Blind Visionary: Act on Opportunities. You might be tempted to say to yourself, “Yeah, right. She’s definitely got on her glass-half-full hat, trying to put a positive spin on being blind, because it sure beats focusing on the down side.” To be honest, when Virginia shared the above thoughts on creativity with me during one of our interview sessions as we worked on The Blind Visionary, I was a bit skeptical, but the more I learned about her leadership as CEO of the Miami Lighthouse and the more I thought about the role of creativity in my own work as a governance consultant, writer and speaker, the more I agreed with her.

Being really creative (which among other things, I think, means being able to see possibilities for change – opportunities to do really new and different things – and to envision a future that is dramatically different in one way or another from the present) does take sustained concentration, in my experience. And merely acquiring more information faster is highly unlikely to foster creative thinking. I’m not saying that information isn’t important in the creative process; of course it is – but only up to a point. The real challenge is to set aside enough quiet time to do serious thinking, and also to allow enough non-busy time for ideas to bubble up from the unconscious (the proverbial aha! moment – the flash bulb going off).

Don’t get me wrong. I think advances in communication have been a real blessing, in terms of operational efficiency. Just this morning, I emailed an edited document to a client just half an hour after receiving her input, and she was able to send it out to board members all over the country this afternoon. That kind of information exchange, which wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago, represents a real savings in time and money. But operational efficiency is a far cry from significant innovation in programs, services, or products, which depends on the kind of creative thinking that takes a large dollop of uninterrupted time.

Virginia says that her blindness has helped her become more creative by freeing her from “visual noise.” I definitely believe her, even though I wouldn’t choose blindness to protect me from distraction. You probably wouldn’t either, if you’re sighted. But it’s really important that we take her lesson to heart, always being clear that processing information faster isn’t the same as thinking creatively, and isn’t likely to lead to significant innovation.

Doug Eadie