Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Ohio was as much a conference about creativity as it was about marketing. Of course, there were lots of informative sessions that delved into specific strategies and tactics to help us content marketers do our jobs better. But the greatest value for me, personally, came in the moments when I was reminded that, as much as content marketing is a business endeavor, it’s an artistic one, too, and we must nurture that creativity to be really, really good at what we do.
There are myriad challenges to creativity in the workplace — meetings, deadlines, business objectives, the bottom line, people not understanding what it is you do — the list is long. Creative professionals working in open offices have it especially difficult. There are constant distractions and interruptions, and it can be impossible at times to make the brain space necessary for creative work.
In his keynote, John Cleese — the man who brought us Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and other comedic gems — called this brain space his “tortoise enclosure,” where he allows his thoughts to roam freely. If he starts thinking about his to-do list, he makes a mental note to take care of those things later.
Cleese, who is well studied in the cognitive science of creativity, recommended we read Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: Why Intelligence Increases When You Think Less by Guy Claxton. The idea is this:
There are two kinds of thinking: one dependent on reason and logic, and one that’s less purposeful, it’s more playful, leisurely, and dreamy. In this mode, we are mulling things over, almost meditative, pondering a problem versus earnestly trying to solve it. [Claxton] says allowing the mind time to meander is not a luxury. You need the tortoise mind, such as Einstein described, as much as you need the hare brain.
I didn’t have to wait long to see an example of this in action. While I was at the conference, I was in my tortoise mind, absorbing all the new ideas swirling around me; my imagination was open to new possibilities and I was connecting dots in ways I hadn’t before. In that state of mind, I could get the most out of the conference.
But, I had some things to take care of for work right after leaving Cleese’s keynote. As I walked back to my hotel, I prepared my mind for two hours of work. Switching to my hare brain, I organized my thoughts as I headed up the elevator. I ordered room service and started checking emails. Pretty quickly, I was able to sort out what needed to be taken care of right away, and what could wait. For the things that could wait, I scheduled time on my calendar. Looks like I’ll be working Saturday. Great. Then I knocked out the things that needed taking care of immediately, and had just enough time to eat and change before heading out to the Barenaked Ladies show.
Saturday morning, back home in California, I was up early. (My brain was still on Eastern time.) I made some coffee and got to work. By the end of the day, I’d built an editorial calendar and written two press releases, two blog posts, and a newsletter. And in doing so, I’d come up with ways to incorporate many of the things I’d learned at Content Marketing World This was my hare brain in action. My tortoise brain had come up with ideas for applying my new learnings, and my hare brain organized and executed.
But to get to the tortoise brain, I had to get out of my usual work environment. As I mentioned, I work in a noisy, open office full of distractions and interruptions. Cleese advised us to “get away from interruptions and see what happens.“ That Saturday morning, I was in the peace and quiet of my own home, the only noises the clacking of keys and the snoring of the cat next to me. And I got more done in one day than I normally could in a week at the office.
I’ve written before about the value of left brain/right brain switching, but now I’m going to make an effort to practice switching between my hare brain and my tortoise mind, and find ways to create my own tortoise enclosure more often. I just bought copies of Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind for myself and my team. Who knows what ideas will come? I look forward to finding out.