Creativity in Motion

I don’t want to just design another speaker. I stared at a now filled page of speaker designs. I lacked that feeling of excitement that I usually get when trying to come up with something new. All my sketches felt void of fun, matches that won’t light. I don’t have to come up with something new, it’s not required of the brief. The project is more a showcase of hard skills than design ability. But I want to take the opportunity to do something different, something unique. Why? Well, the speaker market seems so saturated, designing another speaker to me would be like pouring more MiWadi into an already disproportionate class of juice. So as I sat there thinking like The Thinker, waiting like Plath for the black rook in rainy weather to do something, breaking down the need for a speaker and the environments they’re found in, I just kept coming back to the generic shapes. I wasn’t thinking outside the box. I was boxed in a creative block. And what do I do when I’m having a creative block? Well, I do something else.

The Thinker, bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin, cast in 1904; in the Rodin Museum, Paris. © Shawn McCullars.

I put a pizza in the oven. Wedges in the air fryer. And I went on an adventure in my kitchen. The gentle hum of both appliances created the perfect environment for me to hyperfocus. I walked laps around the tiled floor, talking to myself, thinking, flickering from one thought to the other and then it hit me. The beeps of the oven. I checked the pizza, wasn’t done yet, another five minutes should do and continued my walk. And then an idea actually hit me. I laughed at the thought but then like the kombucha girl meme I switched and started to see its potential, on shelves, in hands, on the beach and at a party. Ideas started to snowball, I needed to sketch these out. I grabbed my notebook and scribbled down the idea in a sketch that only I would probably understand. And then it hit me. The air fryer beeping. I checked the wedges, perfect as usual, air fryers are miraculous.

Then like the kombucha girl meme I switched and started seeing its potential

It’s customary for me to doubt my ideas. I started digging for flaws, consciously undermining it but still finding ores. I then left it for a while to eat and watch tiktoks. And after that I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I just wanted to let it linger. So I slept on it and thought to myself, “if I still think it’s a good idea in the morning, I’ll develop it”.

In a lecture I had that week, we discussed how we come up with ideas and how we can be creative. The lecturers asked what methods we use to get in a creative zone. I thought about this for a while, thinking about past projects and times where I had to problem solve. And as I looked back I realised how often I just walk around a room and think to myself and how oftentimes I can’t really trace where an idea comes from. It just happens. I questioned what it is about walking that enables me to be in a more creative zone. I remember walking to and from school and always having interesting, imaginative and creative thoughts. And after overcoming my creative block with the speaker by walking around my kitchen, I wanted to do more research into why this is the case.

“Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

- Henry David Thoreau

Is it because part of our brain is occupied with a monotonous action allowing us to access the more creative part of the brain? Would this align with left-right brain theories? Or is it an evolutionary thing? To survive humans would often have to think on the move; “How do I escape this predator on my tail?”. Or is it some chemical that’s released in the brain when we move? Why does walking have a spillover effect on thinking creatively?

“When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs — including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention.”

- Ferris Jabr, The New Yorker

Jabr from The New Yorker discusses this seemingly odd relation between walking and thinking. He writes that “because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander — to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight.” The minimal conscious effort required in walking allowing for free roaming attention is interesting and dictates where we should walk for this process to work: paths we’ve taken before many times. I walk in and out of my kitchen daily, and when I was in school, I walked that route hundreds of times. There’s no need for directional awareness and rarely any unexpected events when you walk the same path over and over again. And your mind has to do something. So it wonders and ponders and that combined with increased blood circulation can create sparks and start fires.

Photo by Frank Busch on Unsplash

So sometimes I think it’s best to not force creativity through analytical “design thinking” methods with lovely graphs and arrows getting you from point no idea to point idea and instead allow for creativity by going for a walk or waiting for those 3am thoughts or just doing something that requires minimal effort, occupying the analytical and monotony of our daily lives, but allowing your imagination to run free.

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