Inspiration Diet

Schopenhauer considered “not reading” an important skill to have. The thing with reading is that while it is immensely valuable and absolutely necessary for intellectual development, it is also dangerous when taken too far–when you begin to do more reading than thinking. Your own mind is then replaced by that of others, by the thoughts of the authors you read. Reading, like everything else, requires moderation to ensure that you do not simply react to and quote the thoughts of others, but actually produce something of your own. I’ve noticed this same sentiment in works of other great minds and have taken action by separating some time of my day to collect and note down thoughts of my own–thinking time if you will, to balance that of reading time.

In The Shallows, Carr explained how our brains should not be compared to a computer, simply storing and retrieving information when necessary. Instead, our thoughts are all interconnected, and this interconnectivity influences and shapes the very thoughts we’ve committed to memory, constantly evolving them over time. This makes that which we know more valuable than that which we don’t know because what we know does not remain static but evolves in light of everything else already stored our memory, and together with that material your brain works to synthesize new ideas. This point is important when viewed in the context of Google–i.e. always having access to a search engine that can quickly retrieve information whenever you need it, seemingly rendering your own memory obsolete. This external information however is static, and will not help you develop your own mind and give birth to new ideas, because for this to happen it must first be committed to memory.

A while back I wrote about design inspiration galleries, talking about their negative influence on your own creativity. While I still stand by my original premise, I must now provide an addendum. Such galleries, or indeed any other sources of inspiration, provide valuable material for your creativity–however–at the time this material is consumed your creativity is restrained–or rather, turned off, because it is not required during the reception of all that new stimuli. Give this material time to commit to memory and time for your brain to make sense of what it has received–time to synthesize something new. What is required is separation: a time to collect, and a time to create. Spend time looking for inspiration, but do not do it just before you set to work on your own projects. When it’s time to create your own work, isolate yourself so that what you produce comes from within, not without. This way your brain will have time to fashion something of its own rather than produce reflections of other people’s work.

April 2011