It seems clear to me that creativity doesn’t actually require perfect conditions, but often thrives under difficult circumstances. There are two examples of this. Firstly, an adequate amount of strife and argument, and secondly, time pressure.
In 1976 the band Fleetwood Mac recorded the album Rumours. It would go on to become one of the most iconic rock albums of the 70’s and rated by most as their best. What people don’t realise is that the album was made at a time when the band was in complete disarray due to romantic relationships between band members that had gone awry. On top of this there were creative differences, and a whole host of emotions. There are even stories about some band members not being able to be in the same room at the same time during the recordings. This led to them having to record different pieces at different times and fitting it together later to avoid people having to be in the same room. Stevie Nicks herself suggested that Fleetwood Mac created their best music when in the worst shape.
The other example is of Pink Floyd. Between the mid 70’s and mid 80’s the band’s creative forces were essentially split in two. Roger Waters on the one side, and David Gilmour and Richard Wright on the other. While Waters was taking control of the band creatively and pushing them into darker, more political areas, the other members pushed back. By all account some key band members ended up hating each other for long periods during these years. They fought about everything, from music styles to messaging to what songs to include and leave out. And yet, they were making some of the greatest albums ever made and most definitely the best Floyd albums ever.
It leads me to think that for optimal innovation in companies, one of the worst things you can possibly have is a group of people who all agree with each other and never challenge, argue or contest thoughts. Having the right levels of disagreements and the right types of arguments actually creates a more healthy energy and atmosphere for ideas. Underpinning so much of this is honesty. The ability to be open and honest with each other is essential.
And then there’s the tonic of time pressure. It’s always been my belief that that creativity and time pressure go hand in hand. In my own experiences it’s happened countless times, where the good idea comes at the last minute. After going in circles for weeks, the solution finally comes at the 11th hour when the pressure is on. It’s happened so many times I now expect it.
If you yourself are coming up to a deadline and you don’t have the solution or the big idea yet, it’s actually okay. In fact, it might be useful to channel that energy and rush of the time pressure into creativity. So before taking a week to work on ideas, maybe set yourself some real time pressure – my guess is that it will work better.