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Matisse landscape size

One night this week I washed, dried and put away all the dinner dishes in 15 minutes. When I looked at the clock, I was astonished. Speed isn’t one of my virtues, but I can manage it. In this case, I had other things to do and I wanted the kitchen chores done pronto. It may reflect a principle my husband has repeatedly spouted over the years: the project length will swell to the amount of available time.

In response to that, I refer him to an opposite idea that’s sometimes just as true: the schlock will abound in direct proportion to how quickly the task is performed. Today’s blogging format, for instance, encourages people and organizations to crank out content quickly and often, whether it’s good or bad. There’s a different philosophy that works just as well: be relevant or be quiet.

If you’re out there earning some kind of a paycheck these days, you know what I’m talking about. One of the chief complaints I hear from working friends is the wicked speed with which they are expected to move. Even the most important issues get short shrift because there’s little time or space to deliberate.

Matisse portrait size

It’s that sweet spot of deliberation that makes the artist Henri Matisse a real standout in my mind. He started with an idea and riffed on it again and again until he had something truly extraordinary. Was he changing his mind as he went or creeping up on a vision he had all along? It’s difficult to know. Beethoven had the same practice. He played with musical phrases up to 70 times before deciding on the final version.

Perhaps iteration can be linked with creativity. 3M must think so. It gives employees an hour a day to work on anything they wish—to innovate.

But what about the Eureka moments when a brilliant idea comes effortlessly after a good night’s sleep? What about the creative savants who endlessly and instantly produce one creative thought after another? This is the stuff Jonah Lehrer explores in his books on how the brain works:

Proust Was a Neuroscientist

How We Decide

Imagine: How Creativity Works

I’ve learned the hard way that everything doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, yet I love nothing more than transforming a perfectly acceptable piece of writing (usually prepared in haste by smart/talented/productive people) into something exceptional—or at least something that approaches exceptional. With time and thought, we can we dissect and analyze the parts and the whole until a product is on the beam.

There are still people in the world who value that, but the culture of work has shifted permanently toward speed. There’s little chance of that trending backwards. We want what we want—right now. That means we’re all responsible for the conditions in which we work. Check out this infographic on speed in today’s workplace.

Fast fact: This is the last day to see the Matisse exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, so that’s our Saturday afternoon plan. It will be my second trip. On my last visit, the IMA graciously gave permission to take cell phone photos. That’s why I can share these without shame. Notice the fashion focus in Matisse’s work. He kept a large collection of costumes and clothes for his models.

Tell me, how do you stay sane and set boundaries in a world that prizes speed and 24/7 access to employees? Could you be more innovative or creative at work if you were given more time?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.