Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Some further thoughts on effort/shirking

I really like this quote from Gertrude Stein,

It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.

My interpretation of this is first, that one needs fallow time for reflection and other time for chatting with friends to generate formative ideas.  This incubation phase looks like no work is being done.  But that is not right.  It is the way things get going.  Then second, conscious thought doesn't always do the trick and sometimes the subconscious is very helpful in coming up with solutions.  That is one reason for sleep and dreams.  But the subconscious may be working even when we are awake.  So if you are engaged in something light and not too taxing of your attention, such as watching a junky program on TV, your mind may be at work on problem solving for the idea at hand.

If this is correct, it means that when you are always busy with tasks that someone else can tell you are doing them, then you don't have "time to think."  So you can have the appearance of working quite hard, yet end up not being productive in the sense of coming up with a breakthrough idea.  

And if you are, like me, an introvert then if you are denied this down time for too long a period you start to go bonkers.  As you get older you learn that other introverts crave this time for thinking.  Of course, a career in Academia accommodates this sort of behavior. There is the issue of whether it can also be accommodated in the business world, and if so how.

This means that fundamentally we can only really tell about effort for knowledge work in retrospect, by seeing what ideas come from the work.  During the production it is near impossible to distinguish from idling that is properly called shirking.  And even in retrospect it is hard to tell because many potentially good ideas end in up in the trash.  You can't tell ahead of time.  You have to try them out.

For your amusement, below is a copy of Picasso's famous painting of Gertrude Stein.

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