Steve Jobs’ Uniform: How Being Boring Can Increase Creativity

Even though I know that there are no silver bullet solutions to the complex problems of daily life, I’m always hoping to find one. I’m particularly interested in strategies that give me more time and energy to concentrate on my creative interests, which is how I wound up watching a video called The Habits of Highly Boring People. Steve Jobs is one of the “boring” people mentioned, making the title a little inaccurate. We’ll get to the why of the word “boring” in a minute.

Chris Sauve starts his TED talk with a famous quote:

Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work. — Gustave Flaubert

If you haven’t encountered it before, Flaubert’s comment can seem like a contradiction or a joke. Sauve found three habits that can make your life appear boring while freeing up time and energy for creative work and original thought. Despite the title, it’s not the people who are boring. It’s the routine and regimented life they live that looks boring.

The three habits are actually pretty simple.

  1. Write everything down. Short term memory is only good for 5 to 9 items at once, and most of us have dozens of things going on at the same time. We can save brain space and energy, and increase the chance we get to our appointments on time, if we just write it all down.
  2. Reduce to the essentials. Every decision we make, big or small, takes brain power. If we simplify our lives and reduce the number of inconsequential decisions we have to make, we will have more energy for making the important decisions related to the work that we love.
  3. Stop and question. According to Sauve, this is the key piece of the equation. We can do one and two, then run on autopilot for years without necessarily being successful. We need to keep re-evaluting our system to make sure it is still relevant. How we feel about things in our life changes and something of no interest now may be of interest to us next month or next year. Our system will become ineffective if we don’t take the time to keep asking “Is this important to me?”

One of the things that stuck with me when I first watched this talk was an example of reducing to essentials in order to minimize the unimportant decisions. He talked about simplifying your wardrobe, and used Steve Jobs as an example. Jobs wore the same thing, day after day after day, for years: a black turtle neck, blue jeans, and Nikes. He made choosing what to wear each day a non-issue by defining his own uniform and sticking with it. No time wasted figuring out what to wear in the morning, and clothes shopping was simplified as well.

steve-jobs-wardrobe

I was floored by the thought of doing this. I am not the world’s most fashion-oriented person. I am happy in my jeans and t-shirt, too (go, Steve!). I hate shopping for clothes. But I like having a choice when it’s time to get dressed. I want to be able to wear something that suits my mood — purple when I’m feeling excited or a NaNoWriMo shirt when it’s time to get to work on my novel. I was tempted to reject the entire idea of these three steps because I wasn’t ready to slim my admittedly small wardrobe down to just a few identical items.

Then I listened more closely to what Sauve said about continuing to question what we are doing and what we choose to simplify or eliminate. We re-evaluate to make sure we are doing what we love. If we love clothing and love having a choice, then we are free to spend time and energy on buying and maintaining an extensive wardrobe and choosing each day what to wear. If it’s important to us, then we should make it part of our lives. The whole goal here is to free ourselves up to do what we love.

Now that I understand this, I need to look again at these three habits and think about applying them in my life. I’m already using them to plan and organize my writing goals and I have to admit they work, which is additional incentive to try them with regards to other things. Life is complicated and it might take me a while to figure this out. I’ll have to set aside time to actively think about this. First, though, I will write it down.

Here’s “The Habits of Highly Boring People” for those who are interested. Sauve’s talk is just under 15 minutes long.

Does simplifying the essentials make you more creative? Do you like the idea of simplifying your wardrobe or hate it? What new habits are you trying to develop in 2015?

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Kit Dunsmore

Kit Dunsmore has believed in the magic underlying the muggle world since she was a child searching for the Shetland pony pooka she was sure was hiding in her back yard. She learned early on that books were magic doors into other worlds, and that she could revisit a beloved character or place by opening the right book. As she grew, she decided she wanted to make magic with words, too. Today Kit writes about things she loves: poodles and dragons, witches and artists, quirky underdogs and loyal friends. Whether her setting is 6th-century England, the imaginary Twelve Kingdoms, or an art-obsessed version of modern America, magic always finds its way into her story. She enjoys turning fairy tales inside out and watching characters sacrifice everything to reach their goal, but she also believes in happy endings. When she isn't writing, Kit experiences magic by making things with her hands. Over the years, she's made quilts, fabric sculptures, collages, sweaters, and blank books. Her newest interest is learning how to spin her own yarn, a skill guaranteed to strengthen one of her many delusions: that she is a self-sufficient pioneer woman. She also thinks she is a hobbit, a witch, an artist, and a good cook. Living in the foothills of Colorado, Kit enjoys the giant skies and prairie landscapes which suit her need for wide open spaces. In addition to hiking through glorious scenery with her husband or imagining herself living in the Middle Ages, Kit works as a pillow for her miniature poodle and polishes the next small piece of her handmade life.

4 thoughts on “Steve Jobs’ Uniform: How Being Boring Can Increase Creativity”

  1. Hi Kit, I just came across this TED talk on twitter. I was so impressed by it that I wanted to see if there was more information about reducing to the essentials on google and it was then that I stumbled upon your blog! I truly believe that simplifying to the essentials will allow me more time doing the things I love like family time, writing and mixed media art work. I have started to follow you and look forward to reading more of your posts.

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    1. I love the idea of simplifying but find it difficult to achieve. One new thing I’m doing is concentrated effort. I now do all my blog writing for the week in one day, and that leaves the rest of my days open for my novel. It’s making a difference both in my interest in my blog (I’m actually enjoying it more) and in my ability to make progress on my novel (I can get into a flow and feel less distracted). How have you simplified?

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