MindfulMess and creativity

I have my fair share of typos. When you read fast and write fast, typos happen. Some typos are really stupid. Others make you think… This is so-called “out of the box creativity”. We stumble upon something cool by mistake but are mindful enough to use it. I wrote MindfulMess instead of mindfulness, and this was an opening for a new article! What an unexpected treat!

What mindfulMess means?

Once I stumble upon something cool, I feel a need to analyze it and brainstorm it.  So what can I do with mindfulMess?

  • Be mindful when something messes up and use it creatively. This is what I am doing right now.
  • The psychological field of mindfulness is a mess. Organize it and systematize it. Beyond my paygrade, but maybe can be combined with some other idea.
  • Mindful people tend to be messy. This is really strange since a mindful person should notice every detail that is off. One would expect perfectionists and minimalists, not modern hippies.
  • Sensory overload. Mindfulness training is one of the ways to deal with sensory overload in loud and crowded places. At the same time, mindfulness training and especially synesthesia may generate sensory overload.
  • What are the environmental requirements for training mindfulness? Can we really train mindfulness in a messy house with small children who do not clean after them?
  • Do we really mind the mess we leave after us the way we mind the mess other people leave after them? Why grownups are usually disturbed by mess much more than children?

You can continue the creativity exercise. If you took my speedwriting masterclass, start your writing. This is my own writing exercise… In fact, I will break it into two articles. The first will focus on creativity, and the second on mindfulness.

Why do we mess up?

We have two systems of decision making. One is thinking and evaluating every step, the other is pretty much automatic. Any system can make mistakes, yet most of the mistakes are made during context switches.

For example, you could be on a familiar road between the home and the workplace, and get a message. That is likely to take your attention from driving. Being a very responsible driver, you do not risk yourself and other drivers, but you still miss a turn. Or maybe there is a new construction site, pulling your attention and you miss your turn.

Occasionally I help my kids do their math. They are already at the level which Anna cannot handle, but I still usually handle them automatically. Some of the questions make me think for a moment, just before I resume an automatic solution. The moment between rational thought and automatic performance is the time where I am likely to miss something small and stupid. Do not worry, I double-check my math and the errors soon disappear.

Multitasking makes all of us seriously more stupid, like 20 IQ points, and the context switch is one of the reasons.

Smart people also make stupid mistakes

Intelligence is usually associated with the ability to solve tasks. So if during the IQ test you make stupid mistakes, your IQ score will drop. Suppose for example I can solve problems at the level of IQ of 160, but I drop 20 IQ points due to stupid mistakes. Then my measured IQ will be 140. This is still considered to be a genius-level, just not as high as my real potential.

Stress and sensory overload are another reason some of us become stupid. When I am in a new environment, like on a job interview, I tend to make very stupid mistakes. Then I go home and do not understand how I could be so stupid. Later I interview others, and they also do stupid mistakes.

The issue is psychological. I had the same issue when I was playing chess. Every time I arrived at a competition, I used to lose during the first two days.  Maybe it was the stress, or sensory overload, or simply some adaptation process. Then I adapted and won.  When all of my competitions started to require travels, it was a sign for me to stop playing…

The bright side of the mess

Being smart pays off after we make the mess. Smart people can check the logic and find the errors. A mistake in a sign of an equation can change the entire dynamics of a process and is easy to detect. A mistake in code will activate some sort of compilation, linkage, or execution error. A spell check is likely to catch some mistakes in the articles.

But the mistakes in laboratories lead to very strange results. The development of Viagra is a classical example. It was supposed to deal with cardiovascular issues but failed miserably. However, patients reported a strange side-effect. The doctors did not dismiss the drug, but instead changed its purpose. And the rest is history. A similar example is the discovery of penicillin in a petri dish that was lost in a mess so hopelessly, that a moss found its way inside.

We see a mess and we react to it by learning. Sometimes we learn what we should avoid. Other times we learn to reframe the result.

Creative mess

A person in the creative flow state is single-minded and is likely to miss a simple mess around him. He is likely not to clean the dish after himself and not to buy food, to miss bill payment or tax report, and go without sleep for two days. I am smart, but Anna is a genius. I often need to clean up her mess. Then I start writing and we switch roles.

A mess usually does not stimulate creativity. A clear and organized environment enables better creative results. A messy environment steals our focus, and we often lose great ideas in the mid-thought. However, we notice mainly the changes in our environment. As long as the mess does not change and we find everything we need, we stop noticing it.

If a cleaning lady or a loving spouse moves the things into their intended place we do notice the change, and the result can be shocking. My wife tried to introduce a cleaning lady into our home for several years before we understood that the situation is hopeless. Today we mainly use automated devices and our own kids to clean up.

Do creative people love gadgets?

As far as I know, creative people love gadgets. Some of us mind cables and big bulky boxes, others are just fine with them. Quite often creative people introduce all sorts of organizers because they look cool. When the organizer does not fulfill its role it goes on a shelf. Then it goes out to serve a very different purpose it was never built for. Often it is replaced by a better device and goes back on shelve.

I think I have more gadgets than any normal person. Some of the gadgets are very high-tech, others are very low-tech. Occasionally I play with a gadget for a month and put it on a shelf, then after years Anna or one of the kids pulls it out and uses intensively.

For a creative person, a junkyard can be the perfect place for a treasure hunt. And at the same time, his own home is often a junkyard.

I also have many hobbies which generated collections. The paintings I made. The minerals that helped me meditate. The collection of knives, some of them are utility and other fantasy-inspired.  Photographic equipment of all sorts. The musical equipment of my kids. Most of the stuff is on the shelves, and I get to play with them for a couple of weeks every year. Anna almost never buys gadgets, but he allows my gadgets to have a long and interesting life.

Are creative people more mindful?

Anna thinks bottom-up, I think top-down. I am very systematic in my creativity. Anna is a master of out-of-the-box solutions. We are very different, and our mindfulness is different.

Anna notices the objects in her environment and finds new uses for them. She is very aware of the small details. In a similar way, I am aware of large concepts and mindful of new ideas. I use small items to make certain concepts less abstract and more tangible.

I will take everything I need off the shelves and put around me to focus my thought process. Each item provides multiple attributes, and each attribute potentially leads to ideas. Occasionally my ADHD kicks in, and I actually need to play with an item. When finished, I will put everything back on the shelf/

Anna will be obsessive about my mess. She will pile the things up in a huge pile, yet she will take care of every loose cable. From time to time she will fetch something from the pile and integrate it in her design. And unlike me, she will work all over the apartment, moving every couple of hours to a new location.

I used to meditate. Anna never cared for spiritual practices.  She was raised as a child in a religious community.

Either there are distinct clusters of highly creative people, or everyone can develop his creativity in a very different way. I do not really know, and the science here is inconclusive.

I am occasionally branded as a mad professor, so here we go

Mad scientist

I think this is as far from my true self as it gets, but it makes me smile… The true me is more of a classical hacker: four screens, computer, exotic coffee or tea, and constant clicking of a keyboard…


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