INNOVATE

What I Learned About Creativity After Driving 2,000 Miles Across America

You have to see it to believe it.

Share on
BY Nicolas Cole - 04 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I just moved from Chicago to Los Angeles--and did the whole journey by car.

For five days, my two closest friends and I drove through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, until finally arriving in California. Each day, we spent anywhere from four to ten hours in the car, painstakingly lugging ourselves (and all my chosen belongings, packed into my car) from city to city until arriving at some absolutely mind-blowing tourist destination: the mountains of Aspen, or the Arches National Park in Utah.

For the entire trip, I genuinely lost track of time. When one of my friends would say, "Wait, what day is it?" my mind went blank. I had no idea. Time (as well as cell phone service) doesn't exist out in the mountains. And that taught me a valuable lesson about creativity.

When you remove time from the equation, your ideas have space to grow

Let me give you an example:

When we arrived at Arches National Park, we found ourselves walking where, some 300 million years ago, an unfathomably old sea washed in and evaporated over time--leaving behind salt beds. On top of those salt beds, sediment accumulated and eventually caused the beds below to liquefy, leading to the salt domes made of layered rock we see today.

As I looked around at the massive red rocks, each one weathered with its own brushstrokes from the wind, how could I not question the concept of time? What is "time" to a layered mountain, the result of hundreds of millions of years?

I thought trees knew patience.

Red rocks rise without needing to reach for the sun.

We lose sight of the process when we tunnel-vision on our goals

Here's what made the red rocks in Utah so astounding: they didn't happen overnight.

With creative projects especially, but any undertaking really, we are always pressured by time. Deadlines. Due dates. But the word "pressured" feels so misunderstood after witnessing millions of years of work.

Pressure does not mean "faster" to the mountains.

Pressure means patience.

When we tunnel-vision on our goals, we sacrifice today's discovery for tomorrow's achievement. We race toward the finish line, not realizing that what makes something like Utah's Arches National Park so impressive is its time investment. Time, to the red rocks, is not a stopwatch. It's an accumulation.

You are not seeing a "goal achieved," as much as you are witnessing a process in slow motion.

True creativity does not operate like a To Do list

If productivity is measured by how much you get done in a day, or even an hour, then creativity should be measured by the depth of your discovery.

The difference between a "task accomplished" and a discovery is time. As a society, we tend to measure our achievements by speed. We want to know how fast we can get something to market, more than we want to allow for the inherent pressure that time applies. Note: this does not mean to let years go by and not actually "do" anything. This means questioning what it is you're working on, deeply, day after day after day.

If you look around, not very many companies or artists allow for this sort of process. They stare at the sun and tunnel-vision on the result of their product or service, more than they do invest years into perfecting their craft. And the results speak for themselves. The CEOs or the artists that treat this process with care are the ones that build mountains.

The rest? Foothills, at best.