Creativity from Repetition

BlackboardThere were only two items I put on the counter, one worth $4.25 and the other $2.50.  There was no scanning device in this local milk bar…and the cash register wasn’t computerised.  Then he did the unthinkable…he reached for a calculator.  This happens all too frequently where simple tasks still require the use of some piece of technology.

I asked him if he really needed the calculator and his response was “probably not, but if it’s there why not use it?”

The same thing happens with purchasing multiples of items; 4 drinks at $2.25 each, 2 sandwiches at $5.95 each, and 6 used golf balls at $3.50 each.  If you learned your 12 times tables at school then you probably did those three calculations in your head.

If you did the calculations in your head, then you also probably did them faster than the person who had to find, then use a calculator, even if the calculator is just an app on their phone.  The rest of you are asking “so what’s wrong with that anyway?”

The issue isn’t the calculator, it’s that so many simple tasks are not learned to the point of automation.  The benefits of learning to the point of automation are that other skills, especially creativity is allowed to flourish once simple skills are learned really well.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his fabulous book Creativity talks about repetition as being the foundation for creativity.  That creativity is the bringing together of strands of experience in a unique way.  Those strands of experience gained from hundreds or thousands of hours of practice, play or work.  This means that while the way in which the experiences are brought together is unique, the experiences themselves are not.  It takes away the mystique of creativity…

Those considered the greatest creative artists are also the ones with the most experience.  In the field of the arts or business, they are rarely those under 40 years of age and are often in their 60s and 70s, or even older.  Young creative minds have almost always had a focus on their activity from an extremely young age.  Beethoven, for example began intensive music training from about 5 years of age and left school at 10 to study music full time.  Yet his most famous pieces weren’t produced until he was in his late 20s.

Have you ever had an idea come to you in your sleep?  I know I have, and it’s only after I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about an opportunity, challenge or problem before I get that flash of insight.  It’s like I’ve primed my brain by consciously thinking about different options or approaches in the first place.  The more time I spend thinking about an issue the more likely I am to have that insight.  I’d like to find a way to accelerate the insight process, but that’s another story.

So how does all this relate to golf?  It means that sustainable improvement and your ability to perform under pressure can only come from repeating a pattern literally thousands of times.  That way the learned and automated pattern is more likely to hold up even when you are nervous, fearful, under pressure or are doubting your ability.

So don’t ever say that practice is boring.  The fact you think it is boring may be the first sign that the pattern is beginning to become automated.  Now find ways to entertain and challenge yourself in practice; that is where the creative process begins.  You can then perform without thinking about the movement.  It is the thinking that gets you into trouble, especially for experienced players.

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