All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this new blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from the numbers scene from Pi:
What can we learn?
Create a system for extending the mind. I’ve been categorizing and indexing the record of everything I’ve written for the past fifteen years. That’s my secret weapon as an artist. It’s the trusted system that prevents me from holding too many ideas in my head. That way, my mind is free to think creatively about what’s needed relative to those ideas. The only problem is, I feel unarmed without it. Going to work every morning without that structure is unimaginable to me. And so, I converted it into a search engine. A portable idea warehouse. A convenient tool for accessing my creative inventory. An external parking place for fleeting thoughts that helps keeps the flow of creative thinking going. Which isn’t especially useful or interesting to anyone but me, but the experience of creating this system taught me a valuable lesson. The more outstanding thoughts that plague our consciousness, the harder is to think creatively. Hanging onto every idea is a low level task. It’s not a prudent use of my brain’s time and energy. Max, a man who suffers from hallucinations, cluster headaches, extreme paranoia and social anxiety disorder, is living proof that the mind is a terrible office. Unless he creates placeholders for his thinking, he’ll never relieve the pressure from his psyche that frees it up for more valuable work, or, god forbid, a little peace and calm. What’s your system for clearing the deck and unsticking your workflow?
Unprocessed ideas equal unnecessary stress. This film’s low budget, blotchy visual style perfectly renders the maddening and claustrophobic intensity of living the cerebral life. In fact, watching the final scene where Max performs a frontal lobotomy on himself with a power drill, makes me never want to look at another math problem again. It’s a gruesome lesson about the perils of the life of the mind, but a worthwhile one nonetheless. Truth is, until all of our ideas are collected somewhere other than our head, managed into trusted external systems, we just as vulnerable to psychological deterioration. Creators need to make room. To relieve their brain of the necessity of remembering. To free up their working memories and open themselves to receiving new ideas. And the easiest strategy for doing so is to establish a personal ground zero. This is the entry point into the creative processing workflow. The central cockpit of creative control. The primary location for offloading raw materials into the idea factory. It’s the number one secret to having a healthy, productive and profitable thought life. Without a ground zero, it’s impossible to move new ideas downstream so they can peacefully return to their natural state. Are you trying to fool your own mind?
The pedal driving your racing brain. In the final scene of the movie, a young girl approaches Max in the park asking math questions. But upon hearing the problem, the tortured genius actually smiles for the first time. He claims that he doesn’t know the answer. And instead of obsessing about the patterns, he begins observing the trees blowing in the wind. Max is finally at peace. He’s now able to look upon the maddening complexity of the tree, but accept it as an unsolved problem. It’s a powerful lesson that we can’t neglect our non thinking life. Because if there’s not enough whitespace around our grey matter, our heads might explode. It’s the difference between listening to the bird sing, and tormenting yourself trying to figure out what species of bird is singing. It’s the difference between reading books for pleasure, and reading books to figure out the strategy and architecture and opportunities around the books. That’s the mark of a mature creator. Someone who can resist the urge to snap into thought mode. Someone who can transport themselves to mental place where they don’t have to work. Someone who doesn’t feel obligated to do anything other than just soak it all in. How skilled at your at pressing the off button?
What did you learn?
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