Imagine for a second if you could somehow wrap up the creative chaos of a kindergartner’s life and apply it at work. You’d go on field trips, make stuff, hatch crazy ideas, and be awed by the world on a daily basis. Sound ridiculous? At the renowned international design consultancy IDEO, it’s how work gets done every day.
The latest from the greatest Danny Dub.
Starting the day like Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier’s working hours were implacably regular. During my four years at the atelier, he worked at the rue de Sévres from two in the afternoon to around seven. The hour of 2:00 P.M., I soon learned, was holy. If you were a minute late you risked a reprimand. At first Corbu arrived either by subway (a convenient, direct metro line connected his Michel-Ange- Molitor station with the atelier’s Sévres-Babylone) or by taxi. Later on he started driving his old pistachio-green Simca Fiat convertible. In his last years it would be the taxi again. The process of returning home revealed quite a lot about Le Corbusier’s character. If the work went well, if he enjoyed his own sketching and was sure of what he intended to do, then he forgot about the hour and might be home late for dinner. But if things did not go too well, if he felt uncertain of his ideas and unhappy with his drawings, then Corbu became jittery. He would fumble with his wristwatch – a small, oddly feminine contraption, far too small for his big paw – and finally say, grudgingly, “C’est difficile, l’architecture,” toss the pencil or charcoal stub on the drawing, and slink out, as if ashamed to abandon the project and me — and us — in a predicament.
During these early August days, I learned quite a bit about Le Corbusier’s daily routine. His schedule was rigidly organized. I remember how touched I was by his Boy Scout earnestness: at 6 A.M., gymnastics and … painting, a kind of fine-arts calisthenics; at 8 A.M., breakfast. Then Le Corbusier entered into probably the most creative part of his day. He worked on the architectural and urbanistic sketches to be transmitted to us in the afternoon. Outlines of his written work would also be formulated then, along with some larger parts of the writings. Spiritually nourished by the preceding hours of physical and visual gymnastics, the hours of painting, he would use the main morning time for his most inspired conceptualization. A marvelous phenomenon indeed, this creative routine, implemented with his native Swiss regularity, harnessing and channeling what is most elusive. Corbu himself acknowledged the importance of this regimen. “If the generations come”, he wrote, “attach any importance to my work as an architect, it is to these unknown labors that one as to attribute its deeper meaning.” It is wrong to assume, I believe, as [others] have suggested, that Le Corbusier was devoting this time to the conceptualization of shapes to be applied directly in his architecture; rather, it was for him a period of concentration during which his imagination, catalyzed by the activity of painting, could probe most deeply into his subconscious.
Which of the four are getting in the way?
You don’t know what to do
You don’t know how to do it
You don’t have the authority or the resources to do it
Once you figure out what’s getting in the way, it’s far easier to find the answer (or decide to work on a different problem).
Stuck is a state of mind, and it’s curable.
via Seth Godin
Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’
In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
There are too many shoddy, unconsidered things in the world already. Given the widespread distribution of today’s digital production tools, it’s remarkably simple to make nearly anything, especially things claiming to critique design through the rejection of formal rigor. Making things well, making them beautifully, making them with craft, making them with an excess of effort, demonstrates a respect for one’s own labor and an expression of love for the world that dissolves perceived categories of work and pleasure.
I am amazed at the situations I find myself in, sometimes extravagant, other times surprising, and from time to time, enlightening. Mundanity sets in, for sure, and I think that this feeling grows as we find ourselves more capable of escaping it. Ever read a book and wish that you were doing what they were? Or watch a movie and find an instant twinge of nostalgia as the music cues and the credits start to scroll? Part escapism, part actualization of a dream to move, to explore, to inquire, the adventurous in us were clever enough to invent ways to accentuate the experience, or, with a sprit of genius, create one.
Even then, once that moment is done, that last leaf turned, or the last spin on the merry-go-round rounds, people like us crave ever so slightly the next moment that brings us out of our normalcy. Book, film, playground architecture, small hamlet along the coast, guest to a laird, sitting on a dock with friends; amazing moments once wrung lay dripping with memories.
Finality inspires. It asks of us, what have we taken for granted? What have we done, or more importantly, what have we yet to do and what will we never be able to experience again. How many more times will we sit by that window sipping coffee? Or run alongside the river, losing the day’s trials as we do so? How many more opportunities will we have to dance upon rooftops like kings upon their thrones?
Are all these hopeless grasps at unsustainable pleasures? Or mere stepping stones to a higher plane of existence? Collingwood warned of looking at practical life with disdain, that the disatisfaction of those linking moments between fortuity be an illness to our humanistic fiber:
Amusement becomes a danger to practical life when the debit it imposes on these stores of energy is too great to be paid off in the ordinary course of living. When this reaches a point of crisis, practical life or ‘real’ life, becomes emotionally bankrupt; a state of things which we describe by speaking of its intolerable dullness or calling it a drudgery. A moral disease has set it, whose symptoms are a constant craving for amusement and an inability to take any interest in the affairs of ordinary life, the necessary work of livelihood and social routine. A person in whom the disease has become chronic is a person with a more or less settled conviction that amusement is the only thing that makes life worth living. A society in which the disease is endemic is one in which most people feel some such conviction most of the time.1 (R.G. Collingwood)
- R.G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958), p. 95
An alarming consideration at the very least. To be addicted to what we consider the essential consistency of our resolve—the “stuff” that makes life worth living—would be a crime. But I believe there is a clear distinction between the stargazer and the sleuth. Perhaps in our pursuit of mental and spiritual satisfaction, we use those rare moments, exploiting them as linking points, cues to connect our memories to the less memorable—though no less essential—chapters of our greater narrative. That is what makes working hard and working smart as satisfactory as traveling fast and traveling far. And while the repetitious routine may seem to wear away our resolution, we must remember that those instances, whether impressive or seemingly inconsequential, are only a part of the greater awe. It is, after all, in those quiet moments where we are able to synthesize all those great experiences to create the great work, our magnum opus.
And so it is that on a Friday night, quite an un-extraordinary one, we find ourselves in a restaurant discussing the mundane.
“When you start feeling that way, it’s always good to take a moment and step back. That way you can look at yourself as a character in you own narrative. You can remove yourself from that moment of frustration.”
Wise words from a friend who, at the moment, is taking a giant bite out of his brick-oven pizza.
”That’s why it’s called ‘The Struggle,’ Phil. Because it’s a struggle.”
And as I’m now taking my turn to take a bite out of my pizza, I think about what Matt had to say. All that comes to mind is: