There's no shortage of intriguing oddities in Tokyo. Some form of art can be found nearly everywhere you look. The buildings, food, and crafts all have a sense of artistic soul buried within them. Heck, even the clothes people wear have a strong creative flair.
People that know me well know that I'm a bit of a wanderer. This artistic ubiquity may be one of the reasons that, in some ways, Tokyo is the perfect city for me to live in. Whenever I go anywhere, I like to take my time. Because when you're in a rush, you run the risk of missing out on creative elements perfect for greasing the mental gears necessary for generating your next great idea.
I've never given much thought to the subject of wandering for wandering's sake until coming across the works of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In the book Antifragile, Taleb defines a flâneur as someone who decides at every step to revise his schedule so he can receive and absorb things based on new information. Other more common definitions focus on the idea that a flaneur is someone who wanders around observing society. Taleb defines a rational flaneur as someone who doesn't get locked into a given way of doing things. Essentially, the opposite of a tourist. His flâneur is someone who seeks optionality.
Taking time to wander allows our minds to detract from the everyday routines of life.
By looking at different things, we gain information that helps generate new ideas by removing ourselves from a fixed set of ideas to think of new ones. This process of exploration in search of unexpected insights is a central theme of creativity. According to Edward De Bono, provocation is a natural component of lateral thinking. And lateral thinking is an essential aspect of creativity.
"Provocation is closely related to humour for humour suddenly reveals to us how we can see something in a different way: like a child's riddle or a pun at the lower level and sophisticated wit at the higher level." - Edward De Bono
Reframing these insights leads me to the concept of the "creative flâneur." The creative flâneur is someone who wanders with the deliberate purpose of detracting their mind to generate unexpected insights. Wandering doesn’t have to be limited to your surroundings. This can include a vast array of activities. Whereas the rational flâneur that Taleb describes seeks options, the creative flâneur seeks connectivity of ideas to form insights.
Wandering with purpose is vastly different from aimless wandering.
The explore-exploit tradeoff is a relatively well-known concept within reinforcement learning theory. Whenever we face uncertainty about a particular situation, activity, or decision, we have a choice. We can choose to explore new activities, surroundings, or data for additional information. Or we can exploit the information available to us at the moment. Exploitation maximizes our near-term rewards, while exploration increases the options available to us long-term. When you have time to wander, the opportunity cost is low. So it's ok to take time to explore for creative inspiration. But only do this for so long otherwise, you run the risk of excessive procrastination. At some point, you have to do what you can with what you've already got.
I often find myself in situations where I've wandered for too long. Think of all the times you may have found yourself
- walking around all day long when there’s work to be done;
- spending too much time researching for a project without getting started;
- otherwise procrastinating via some form of skills dabbling.
When I begin to notice that I’ve wandered too far, I often begin to feel the pangs of anxiety creep in. In the past, I would ignore this trigger to my own detriment. Your triggers may be different from mine. Nevertheless, it’s important to pay attention to whatever happens right before you notice you’ve wandered too long.
As I’ve learned more about myself and what triggers my procrastination, I'm disciplined to know that anxiousness only means one thing... It’s time! I need to buckle down and focus on the arduous task in front of me. Or there’s a difficult decision to be made, and I need to choose. So the next time you feel stuck and in need of some creative inspiration, go out and wander with deliberate purpose.
“The creative flâneur is someone who wanders with the deliberate purpose of detracting their mind to generate unexpected insights from their surroundings.” - Roy Naquin