Focus or Immersion

Creative people get very involved with their subject matter. It’s one of their striking characteristics. Almost always when someone makes a major discovery that appears to be accidental, it is not accidental at all. The individual has no doubt sat inside the subject matter for years. Rarely is creativity and innovation “overnight discovery” kind of work. Long before the solution emerges, an innovative person has a sense of direction, some vague notion of where the final answer lies. The answer is seen—sometimes after years. The flash may come, but it almost always is preceded by a lengthy period of deep immersion in the subject. Creative answers come in the minds of those who are prepared. As creative expert, Frank Barron points out, “You have to know a lot about the old to see the new.”

In the Teaching of Buddha, a story is told of a wealthy man who saw a beautiful three-story house and wanted one just like it. So he called a carpenter and ordered him to build it. This the carpenter did, starting with the first story, then the second, as in normal construction. When the wealthy man saw this, he became very irritated and said, “I don’t want a foundation or a first story or a second story; I just want the beautiful third story. Build it quickly.”

Many of us would like to rush to the conclusion for there lies satisfaction, fame, and fortune. Unfortunately, innovation does not normally cooperate that way. As Louis Pasteur, after whom the  process of pasteurization is named, reminds us, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Discoveries are made by people who have labored in their fields. In science, technology, medicine, art, dance, literature, and social relations, discovery takes place at the frontiers of knowledge and technique. New gymnastic moves are not invented by people who observe from the sidelines. Musical contributions are made by musicians not engineers; building advances are made by architects and builders, not by artists. Part of the ability to immerse one’s self in a subject is a matter of concentration. This is not easy in today’s world where so many things constantly stimulate us. Brushing one’s teeth, carrying on a conversation with someone, and simultaneously watching television is not uncommon. Carving out time to work on something is not easy in the modern world. Focus or immersion in a subject area includes the ability to concentrate—and the ability to notice the unusual. This insightfulness comes as a result of paying attention.

Immersion in a subject also implies love of subject. Creative individuals generally become so involved with their subjects that their fascination takes on the quality of a love relationship. Family time, personal hygiene, health, and certainly rest, all suffer from this love affair. All this consumption of focus begins to pay off, however, as the mind becomes laser sharp.