Have Jazz Will Flow
Have Jazz, Will Flow
A personal essay on improving professional creativity.
Step 1 - Listen to abstract Jazz
Step 2 - Find a professionally relevant flow state
Do Step 1 anytime, Do Step 2 anytime, Treat Step 2 like Step 1 and Step 1 like 2.
I define creativity as what happens when;
We plan, work hard, make mistakes, experience randomness and then enter a professionally relevant flow state.
Anyone currently employed in the professional sense probably has a reasonable relationship with planning, working hard and making mistakes.
As long as you integrate learning from your mistakes and keep working hard, things go reasonably well.
Unfortunately, the internet and especially machine learning tools (like AI) have upended this model. By the way, planning, working hard and making mistakes by themselves are the building blocks of Labor. To survive in the near (and far) future, we all have to become creative, we have to deliver creative, entrepreneurial value, we have no choice but to move on from Labor. (Land, Labor, Capital, Entrepreneurship which are you?)
On top of planning, working, mistaking I introduce two new vectors, experiencing randomness and entering a professionally relevant flow state.
I’ve loved jazz music since my early 20s, Blue Train by John Coltrane hooked me. It sounds wonderful, like some kind of an intellectual massage, all the notes, harmonies cascading around my mind, bopping along so to speak.
I’m now in my 40s, I’ve listened to tons of forms of Jazz, somewhere buried in there is what is called “Abstract Jazz” or “Free Jazz” and some of the names I identify with are Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, I think there is a decent amount of Free Jazz in later Miles Davis like Bitches Brew. At first listen, you might find yourself saying, I hear just a bunch of noise. I wouldn’t blame you for having this thought as I had it as well.
As time went by, I began to realize that I liked Abstract Jazz (why I came to keep listening to it, idk).
The aha moment happened when I began to understand that the artists weren’t necessarily telling a story, something to be listened to. Free Jazz attempts to communicate a state of being, a state of randomness. I would further speculate that this state of randomness isn’t random at all, at least not the source of the randomness. The state of randomness communicated in their music expresses a connection to the universe (yes, like the galaxies and cosmologies, electrons etc) and that the randomness we hear in the music is basically the artist feeling the random state of existence and channeling that state into their music.
Abstract Jazz doesn’t exist to be listened to, it exists to be experienced, as if you energized a tuning fork and then stuck the fork in your ear, you would literally be experiencing (not listening to) the vibrations.
Free Jazz doesn’t tell a story, it doesn’t (usually) have words, much of it doesn’t even seem to have a start, stop or internal structure. When you listen to something like Night of the Purple Moon by Sun Ra, he is both telling his story, but more importantly he begins to channel the randomness of the universe.
I don’t put my headphones on to hear all the notes, I put the headphones on to experience the notes, I choose to enter a random state of being.
Lucky for all us non random mortals, the Jazz Masters who made all this good music did us a favor. They bottled up the random essence of the universe, for us to consume like a cup of tea or a cookie, but without all the side effects (or vices) that come with living on the edge of chaos.
As related to creativity, entering a state of randomness precedes doing new things, randomness enables our minds to go in directions never yet considered. Imagine turning your thoughts into a useful roulette machine, a little of that is necessary to break free from convention, to evolve. There are many ways to experience randomness, many that come with extreme penalties either through cost of experience or what happens if you make mistakes.
I vote for listening to free jazz to experience randomness because it contains an easily digestible degree of extreme chaos that has little to no residual side effects.
To get you started, I have selected three recordings that put me in a random state, I listen to them all the time, they never, ever sound repetitive.
Jazz Critics might not directly consider A Love Supreme free jazz, it has some aspects of free jazz in it, a wonderful starting point, also John Coltrane might be the leader of all free jazz, you could argue there is no John Coltrane that doesn’t have some free randomness.
A crazy story of space love, funky, weird, unclassifiable, the first album that helped me bridge between be bop jazz and free jazz.
Journey Into Satchidananda feat features Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane’s beautiful harp and some generally amazing, boundary spanning sounds.
Spending time in random states of being can help us evolve beyond convention, to think of new things and to befriend the unknown. I particularly enjoy listening to abstract jazz. I do not consider abstract jazz to be the only way to experience randomness, it is however an easy way that can be easily turned off. If you want to improve creativity and are looking for a low cost, low investment way to find peaks, free jazz has miles of runway.
Let us turn our attention to the icing on the cake of creativity, a professionally relevant flow state (a whatty whatty whatty?)
A flow state happens when you do something so intensely, so pleasurable that time seems to melt away. Unknown to many there is some excellent behavioral research on the topic that provides a small amount of formal definition, these definitions useful for helping us understand what we are doing.
A flow state can be described as a state of human consciousness where;
Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant or to worry about problems. Self Consciousness disappears and a person’s sense of time becomes distorted.
An activity that produces such a flow state is so gratifying that people will do the activity without regard to what they get from the activity even when the activity is very difficult or very dangerous.
Let that sink in, a flow state can arise from an activity that causes a person to stop thinking about anything irrelevant and is so pleasurable they do the activity without regard for gain or pain.
Imagine if you told your boss, “sorry can’t do that, it isn’t flow state pleasurable enough”.
Imagine, as a family leader if you told your spouse, “yeah, I don’t care that I just broke my femur it was so pleasurable that I’m ok being on crutches for 6 months”.
Many of us have experienced flow states and that is part of why we want free time.
Unfortunately, we also possess the mental model that we need to have flow states as hobbies, as athletic pursuits, as things that just happen to us at will (but we lack the empowerment to find that flow state doing professionally relevant stuff).
By my count, the future belongs to technically creative people who have figured out how to make their professional life one long chained flow state.
Think back to the last year of your professional life, how many days do you think you spent in a flow state?
If I could say a single thing that you remembered from this article, it would be that you can, you must find a way to have flow in your professional life.
If you can’t find a professionally relevant flow state, you might need a new profession.
In my own life, I find flow state by doing things like;
- Pair programming with the dev team at StartupLandia
- Producing weird, quirky content about personal fitness, martial arts and my own thinking on human evolution
- Helping people create awesome product feature roadmaps
- Creating small proof of concept software MVPs
- Issuing invoices, reviewing accounting and owning the financial/contractual operations of Startuplandia
Creativity might actually be a bi-product of attaining a professionally relevant flow state, so yeah, next time you hear someone say “be creative” (which is ambiguous) say to yourself, “oh yeah, this means finding my flow WHILE doing my professional stuff”.
There Will Be a Quiz
What if quizzes were just a way for teachers to help you get in a flow state of learning (that is the optimist in me talking).
Creativity can be broken into the building blocks of;
- Making mistakes
- Experiencing randomness
- Entering a professionally relevant flow state
Most of us have the first three steps down cold, we just need a little support with the randomness and flow state parts. Remember, have jazz, will flow.
If you’d like more free jazz suggestions, thoughts on flow state or you want to belittle my writing style, please reach out ot me on the twitters, @jcdavison.