If some of the trendy gurus in work and office design are to be believed, teams and open spaces are the keys to spurring creativity and innovation. But hold on a minute, maybe this is going too far. While complete isolation and always closed doors are not advisable, the other end of the spectrum may not be such a great idea, either.
In a piece for Fast Company, “How Solitude Can Change Your Brain in Profound Ways,” Jane Porter suggests that periods of solitude can fuel creativity, concentration, and wise setting of priorities. Here are a few passages:
What’s lost when we deny ourselves that time alone? From my own personal experience, I can tell you that stepping away from the routine and rowdiness of daily life allowed me to connect ideas I’d been wrestling with in new ways, follow creative impulses, and simply think about one thing at a time.
Thinking about one thing at a time. How often are you actually doing that? According to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, our brains simply aren’t built to multitask well, which means we end up diluting the quality and efficiency of what we’re doing in the process.
Time alone allows us to order our priorities according to what we need, rather than the needs of others. “The paradigm experience of solitude is a state characterized by disengagement from the immediate demands of other people—a state of reduced social inhibition and increased freedom to select one’s mental and physical activities,” write researchers Christopher Long and James Averill.
In other words, when you’re able to disengage from the demands of other people, you’ve suddenly freed up the mental space to focus on longer-term, bigger-picture projects and needs.
Porter also delves into the relevance of the extrovert-introvert paradigm in considering personal and work habits, citing Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012). As someone with both extrovert and introvert qualities — “ambivert” is the term now being invoked — this discussion resonates with me. I can be both fueled and drained by social gatherings. And while I enjoy the social aspects of teaching, facilitating, and good conversation, my thoughts and ideas tend to sharpen and clarify in a state of solitude.
“In My Solitude” may not be a perfect fit for this post, but I’ll take any excuse to paste in a Billie Holiday rendition of a great old standard.