Friday, February 10, 2006

Comfort levels and productivity

As a writer, I have developed a toolkit of tricks to make me comfortable enough to write. I know how to introduce distraction, when to make coffee, when to sneak a treat. The tricks are necessary because writing is inherently uncomfortable. To distill the amorphous complexity of life into words on a screen requires an input of significant energy.

Yesterday, I was reminded again that productivity grows out of an uneasy integration of comfort and tension. Chris and I had a meeting. We consider the chance to work together a rare treat; the nature of this stage of our development is that we most often grab moments when we can out of too-busy days. Motivation is not a problem for us. We are only frustrated that we cannot work more.

Yesterday's meeting might at any point have looked like a disaster. It was not fun. It was pretty brutal. We uncovered weak spots and prodded them with sticks. We uncovered leverage points and pushed - hard. Our shared commitment and trust meant that we had enough comfort to make each other really, truly uncomfortable.

If we set the frame to include the hour immediately after the meeting ended, it still looked like a disaster. I am reminded of the picture in The Little Prince of the snake that has swallowed an elephant, an experience of being stretched too far by something that is extremely hard to digest. It is inconceivable, looking at the snake pulled out of shape and weighted down, that the snake could ever move forward again.

So it is an opportune moment to make the frame bigger, to include the next few hours. The results are unpredictable. I sat down and mapped out a new strategy, a new web site, and wrote literally thousands of words. The words did not flow easily. Each one was pulled from me, and arranged, and rearranged, in a strange time distortion that allowed for intense struggle and intense productivity. Writing is not a comfortable process.

Looking back, I begin to see the pieces shift, the flow of energy that led from cause to effect. I understand the dangers and rewards of reading a book on Emergence (by Stephen Johnson). From disparate, unpredictable elements, through a few rules of engagement, to a system more complex than the pieces would suggest.

The indigestible elephant is much smaller now, its mass converted to energy. The snake will not need to eat again for weeks. Gradually, it will begin to move again. And to pick up speed.

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