Here’s an interesting anecdote from Warren Buffet’s life. Buffet’s personal airline pilot Mike Flint once asked for some advice on how to prioritise the activities which would help his career. Buffet advised him to take a piece of paper and jot down his top 25 career goals in life. He then asked Flint to select the top 5 and make a second list containing only those. From the first list, he asked Flint to strike out these 5 so that only 20 remain. As you’d expect by now, Flint realised that these were his top priority and the ones he needed to start working on, immediately. But then Buffet asked him what he intended to do about the first list, which had the other 20 goals. Flint replied that they weren’t his top priority, but he’d keep working upon them “intermittently” with “dedicated effort”. At this point, you’d think he’d figured out how to prioritise without losing sight of any of his goals. But here’s how Buffet responded: “You’ve got it all wrong, Mike,” said Buffet. “Everything you didn’t put in the Top 5 just became your avoid-at-all-cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”
The most creative, achievement driven and even productive people amongst us are often guilty of chasing after too many goals. There’s a phenomenon observed among creative people, where they feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas buzzing in their heads — suffering from what is termed ‘hypercreativity.’ Their brains are constantly thrumming with activity, often inducing insomnia. They are the kind of people who find it unable to switch off. The catch, though, is that seldom do their ideas find their way to completion.
The core problem here isn’t the excessive flow of ideas but the inability to persevere and focus on one goal long enough to turn it into reality. Hypercreativity is becoming a common affliction in recent times, with the kind of existence that offers avenues for exposure to ever newer concepts and ways of approaching a problem but is plagued with the perils of low attention span and constant distraction.
The moment when the lightbulb goes on in your mind carries a high with it, akin to an adrenaline rush, bringing indescribable exhilaration. However, toiling over the idea, refining it and accepting that you’d have to take it down a notch or two isn’t quite as appealing or exciting a proposition, hence most people—consciously or unconsciously—tend to drift away from the sweat and toil and gravitate to the euphoric moments again. It is much easier to keep switching to start the next easy task than to work through the frustrating stage of refining an idea. The addiction to generating new ideas becomes akin to a drug addiction, and narrowing down your goals is the best way to start the rehabilitation process.
That however, doesn’t mean you cannot be prolific in your output. Studies of great masters in their fields reveal that their work was overwhelming in the sheer volume of it — thereby enhancing the ‘probabilities’ of churning out masterpieces. Edison had 1,093 patents to his credit, Picasso created more than 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics and 12,000 drawings; Shakespeare produced 37 sonnets and 154 plays in a span of two decades. Volumes are often the secret to success, as psychologist Dean Simonton observes: “The odds of producing an influential or successful idea are a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.” The secret though, still remains in the two lists: taking one idea at a time and taking it right to the summit.
Zehra Naqvi