Creativity & the Comfort Zone

Someone commented on my previous blog: “No so sure. What about creativity?
It was a very good question. Do you know how you know a question is good?
It makes you think. And this question made me think. Instantly I wanted to answer right away, but partially due to the circumstances, partially because a little voice somewhere deep inside told me to wait. And I waited. And I thought.

So what about creativity? Are we more creative outside the comfort zone than inside it?
It´s a nice perspective. Somehow I think the creativity dimension in parpendicular to the flow plane. I think you can, and probably will be creative if you´re forced to it. Being a writer  I am quite know to creative processes. The worst condition is when there are no boundaries, no frames or limits to work within. The magnitude of choices becomes too high. It is somewhat easier to be creative when your squeezed into a situation.

The latter is often the case when being outside the comfort zone. We feel squeezed.

The comfort zone as i define it to be equal to the flow zone, has two sides.
I do agree it is a bit controversial to look at the comfort zone this way. However the traditional “image” has similarities with the flow channel diagram of Csikszentmihalyi.

About the flow channel most certainly is outside the comfort zone, but what about the area below it? This is the area of boredom and apathy, control and relaxation.
we all know the story of the kid who sabotage the teacher´s lessons because he is under-stimulated. This is negative creativity. Why? Because it´s creativity added in the wrong context. Creativivity isn´t positive. As any property or skill it´s neutral until in a certain context that gives it it´s valour. The sabotaging kid is most definitely below his flow zone, he is bored, hence letting his creative capacity create a more (for him) stimulating context.

The same goes when pressurised outside your flow zone on the upper side. Too little time, a dangerous situation might force you to come up with new solutions to “survive”.

So yes, definitely being outside the zone is creativity zone. However, being outside on the upper side, you spend a lot of energy of worrying. You have no focus on the solution (whatever it is). It´s paralysing, thus also paralysing the creativity. This is definitely not a good spot to be in.

So what about inside the flow zone?
Flow is requiring 3 elements: A clear target (goal), concentration and direct feedback.
John Cleese, in his Video Arts-speech, pointed out that creativity often happens in the absence of a clear target or goal. Personally I get my best ideas when being alone, walking, in my car driving or on a plane. Common for these situation is the lack of a goal (Ok, I´m going somewhere, but I´m on automatic and I don´t need to concentrate to reach it). Defocusing does it for me. This is very much in parallels with Cleese´s (and others) findings. The best way to come up with something new is when asking the question, then leave it and defocus. I even have some meditative exercises for this, but somehow I prefer to go for a walk, a fixed route where I don´t have to take decisions about turning left or right and most likely will be undisturbed except of my brain´s (hopefully) sudden whims and fads.

As a writer when I write a story I often have spent plentiful of hours on walking, planning and creating before I start the goal-oriented writing. At least this is when i am the most productive and can focus on text and story quality.

Of course I sometimes write as a result of a whim or sudden idea, and letting go sometimes makes me creative when I am writing. In these cases I write without a goal (except recording my tying) and actually I think it´s a bit like defocusing within the frame of the writing activity.

Thus (and finally) my conclusion is that creativity is totally different process than goal-oriented productivity. Sometimes it happen inside the flow zone sometimes after. But it never happens when I am nervous or feel pressurised about something. Then I am just busy worrying. And this is my main point. When in a state of worrying, you lose energy. Energy that can be directed into productivity, creativity or learning channels.
For me, being outside the so called “the control zone” is exactly this; worrying. Thus I think it´s bullshit to force yourself into worrying. There are better ways of managing yourself into value increasing positions.

However if you translate “comfort zone” to “control zone” I agree. Being on “the upper side” of the flow line is best of productivity, while creativity is best stimulated while relaxing og defocusing.

Stop the bullshit!

Everybody´s talking about how being outside your comfort zone is the way to go.
It´s bullshit!

Anyone with the slightest engineering knowledge can deduct this!
Being outside your comfort zone means being nervous, anxious and basically spending lot´s of energy on «How do I cope?»-worrying. This worry is wasted energy.
Outside the zone is friction land. Being there will cause what I call «physiologic enthropy».
Actually, being too far outside your zone will cause a trauma, and you´ll need to get treated by my wife (she´s a psychologist)!
Where you should be to be at your most productive is inside the comfort zone, but on The Alert Side.
The Alert Side is where you need to stretch, where you need to be «on», where you learn fast but still is «in the zone», where you don´t spend your energy on dread and fear. Schematically you will find this as the area above the Challenge/Compentence-line in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow-diagram. This is the area that will bring the sense of mastering. Beneath the flow-line you´ll find the affirmative zone which is good for anchoring confidence but not for growing it. So stop push your self over the limit. Push yourself, alright, be alert, be conscious and focus on your target – one at the time!

It´s just like a wing in flight; a too steep angle will cause separation and turbulence. You will climb, for sure but it will cost you more in fuel than if you climb at a slower and steadier rate. So instead of over investing your energy in bursts, acquire good habits and focus steadily on you targets.

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