During my first week joining the Cultivation Center at the HUB Co-working space in downtown Boulder I recommitted to bike commuting to work. This may not sound like anything special given that I live in an outdoor athlete’s Mecca. Cycling is an integral part of Boulder County culture. I used to log well over 100 miles per week on my bike between a 22 mile round trip commute and recreational rides with friends. Now getting back in the saddle is a huge deal for me since I’ve spent the last few years figuring out life with a baby—and work. In short, I’m currently in the worst shape of my life. So, naturally I decided to ride my fixed gear bicycle to the HUB for an easy entrée back into bike commuting. Also, I thought it would be a great idea to travel to and from work without a repair kit or water while temperatures averaged around 97 degrees.
By the time I turned around to trek back to Lafayette (a menacingly gradual uphill climb most of the way) on Monday afternoon my legs were dead weights. Why? I asked myself. Why am I riding this cursed bike? But a number of factors, not the least of which is pride, forced me to pedal home at a humiliating pace. It was difficult for me to even gloat at the suckers who were commuting home in their cars. Did I mention I had NO water for the ride? I contemplated throwing myself into a roadside ditch, but in hopes of making it to Lafayette, I came up with this mantra instead: “Try. But not too hard.”
Try. But not to hard. It got me home. The mantra, as it turns out, was a gift that kept on giving because when I got back on my bike the next morning to trudge the 11 miles into work my mind retreated into a parallel space of free-flowing creative thought. By the time I pulled up to the bike rack in front of the HUB a million ideas for peer groups, trainings and blog posts were brimming from my sweaty head. As I burst through the doors of the Cultivation Center office I was careful not to overwhelm my colleagues with inspiration and the stench of my slow power ride. But as Amy and I talked about my uninterrupted focus time to let my mind wander we grew excited about how this unexpectedly productive instance was built into my day. As each day passed and my commute continued to prove itself beneficial to my overall contribution to the Center we began to talk about how Amy could purposefully build zone-out time into her day—even if just once per week.
We work at the Cultivation Center because we really like what we do here. With everything that we do, we give it our all. But every week, every day, I dare to say, we can each benefit from not trying or “doing” to hard. More and more research is emerging to uphold the claim that working in isolation, waking up in the middle of the night for a creative spurt and then falling into a second wave of sleep, or evenmeditation significantly supports creativity and productivity in our work lives.
In her January 2012 New York Times opinion piece The Rise of the New Group Think Susan Cain woefully named how “Solitude is out of fashion [and] collaboration is in.” Way back then, she was right. And more recently trend-setting corporations have been getting on board with Cain’s line of thinking. She touts research that suggests that creativity is born from private time that is free from interruption. Cain is a champion of the introvert. But does her theory have to only apply to the introverted? I am living, sweating proof that it does not. However as a busy extrovert I do my most creative thinking when my body is otherwise occupied—NOT when I am sitting quietly. In her article Cain juxtaposes Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the former a charismatic figurehead, the latter a quiet thinker, to describe a potent blend of strengths resulting in incredible greatness (she’s talking about Apple, if you weren’t sure…) This got me thinking, wouldn’t we all be better off toggling back and forth between the supposedly conflicting nuances of our personalities (our “inner Steves” if you will…) to better tap into our own greatness? Isn’t part of being great recognizing that there is a “right” time and place to cultivate different aspects of our selves?
Cain claims that the Groupthink phenomenon facilitated by open office plans dominates the modern workplace and is damaging to productive creativity. But many social entrepreneurs and sole business proprietors are severely lacking over-interaction and would jump at the chance to be around breathing, thinking, talking people. Take me for example; I spent the last 6 months building the foundation of a start-up from my home in Lafayette. At first I lavished in the quiet, uninterrupted space of my kitchen office. But within a month I was foaming at the mouth, desperate to walk away from my laptop to talk with another human being, even if for just 5 minutes. Arriving at the HUB this summer was thrilling for me. In spite of being destroyed by my bike commute, my first day here was characterized by unbridled giddiness, hand shaking and conversation interrupting. What’s better is that I arrived at the HUB 6 months after Cain penned her critique of the Group Think. And some great meta thinkers around here have responded by cultivating a co-working culture that respects both collaboration (intentional and spontaneous) as well as mindful solitude. Members take these cues by typing soundlessly at their laptops in the communal workspace and retreating to fishbowl meeting rooms to collaborate. It’s idyllic.
I recently read that in Silicon Valley quiet contemplation is now seen as the “new caffeine.” The creative jolt that can come from an afternoon cup of coffee is being usurped by in-office meditation. Touted as more than just a fad, employees of large tech companies can now tap into Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute or attend a group meditation session held at Facebook and Twitter offices. The very corporations that pioneered collaborative workspaces are now searching for ways to construct solitude for their workers— perhaps adding to the current credos of innovative work (like “Failure is good”) to “Try. But Not Too Hard.”
I’m honing the rhythm of my new work day: saying good-bye to my family, riding my internal brainstorm toward the HUB, and scrambling into the shower before landing in front of my laptop or into a check-in with Amy. My next step: collaborating with my husband, the bike builder and mechanic, to make sure I have what I need to get to work comfortably—a repair kit, some water.
The simple ring of the word “balance” implies to me that I’ve arrived at that productive space where I try, but not too hard; where creativity can flow freely. Where do you have your most creative thoughts for your work? How do you capture your thoughts when your body is occupied (while biking, driving, hiking)? Where do you need to invest your energy (group time or alone time) in order to strike a sweet spot of creativity that’s right for you?