Headphones designed by Emily Haasch from the Noun Project

Headphones designed by Emily Haasch from the Noun Project

It’s said that the average “prime” of a creative career is just 10 years. After that, the ideas dry up and with them the motivation to work outside the box. How can we extend our creative potential to last 20, 30, or even 50 years? Over at Wired UK, John Hegarty shares his insights on the matter:

Remove the headphones. Inspiration is everywhere — you just have to see it. If you accept that creative people are “transmitters” — they absorb all kinds of stimuli, thoughts and ideas and they reinterpret them and send them back to the world as pieces of inspiration — then it’s obvious that the more you see, connect and juxtapose, the more interesting your work will be.

The more you stay connected and stimulated, the greater the relevance of your work. By walking around in a digital cocoon you push the world away; great creative people constantly embrace it. You need to nourish your soul and your imagination.

Headphones—whether metaphorical or literal—block out the very stimulus that keeps us inspired as creatives.

While blocking out the world and focusing on our work allows us to accomplish more, it also hinders our ability to receive new input and utilize the world around us for generating even more creative ideas.

Hegarty explains how taking off your headphones isn’t the only way to strengthen (and lengthen) your creative career though. If you want to have a long and productive career as a creative, you need to avoid cynicism and its ability to undermine belief in your work, Hegarty explains. It’s also important to mix with the best creatives around us, to not hide our work or ideas.


  • David Jouppi

    I also feel like trying totally different and new creative mediums in your free-time could enhance the longevity of your “prime.” It is, after all, new stimuli. It causes you to think in new ways, and ask different sorts of questions to different sorts of problems. Although specialization is important, spreading out a little bit can compliment you’re specialty.

    • Jared Krauss

      I have such a better understanding of how to represent perspective and depth in my writing after reading through Da Vinci’s journals, especially the sections he writes to painters (which is eery—he knew people would read his journals, so he wrote to those readers in his journals, with things like, ‘O Draughtsman!).

      When I started shooting film again (shooting pictures again) I started to notice how to frame a perspective in writing better too, how to give a static view of a scene that provides depth, volume, atmosphere.

  • http://blog.terakristen.com/ Tera Kristen

    This advice feels more metaphorical than literal. As a writer, I will never relinquish my headphones when I’m trying to work in the office.

    But, to think that all my inspiration will be a result of my own genius ideas, coupled with places, people and things that I experience throughout the normal course of my day is nonsense. Seeking out inspiration is mandatory. Take off the headphones, look up, get outside your comfort zone, etc. all refer to the same idea.

    • http://davidjoshuaford.com David

      I agree – the office is a very artificial place, and tech can bring a whole other viewpoint on the world/existence into that space. I do think it is important to disconnect from tech when conversing with people, taking a lunch break in the park, walking around the city or out in nature etc. I’ve enjoyed deleting apps like Facebook from my phone, and carrying my phone in my bag rather than in my pocket, so that there are times my brain is not interrupted all the time.

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      See my above comment to Nathan Rightnour.

  • Creative Growth

    Headphones are the cubicle walls of today’s open office.

  • Greg Schudel

    I think it’s great to avoid excessive isolation, but what good is that if you cannot concentrate long enough (because your headphone-less) to finish your work?!?! I guess the solution to that would be set designated times to “take in ideas” so you can be efficient in getting creative input and schedule “headphone time” to meet your deadline?

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      See the comment I made to Nathan Rightnour above.

    • ADN MLS

      I would argue that “excessive isolation” is the norm, now. That’s the concern.

  • http://www.nathanrightnour.com/ Nathan Rightnour

    This might be beneficial in certain circumstances for certain people, but this title is sensationalist. While we should all ditch the digital walls more often, music is a powerful tool for controlling your mental state and flow for extended periods of time – the most invaluable time for creatives. Music can evoke any concentrated emotion you choose, and enhances flow by preventing aural distractions from the outside world.

    I’m convinced that some of my best work can be attributed to me listening to music during it’s creation.

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      I don’t think the notion implied here is that headphones should never be worn. It’s silly to think that would be the case. Rather, the point is that we often block out the very inspiration that gets us moving without knowing it.

      Of course, it’s important to learn when the chance to take those headphones off could help spark new insights versus when you need to buckle down and focus on the work, which is where headphones can actually help.

  • Billy P.

    Couldn’t possibly disagree more. They are help improve my focus and the music is inspiring to work to. What a garbage post.

    “You’re out of your element, Donny.”

  • obloodyhell

    As with most things, there’s a middle ground. When you feel you aren’t getting enough done due to distractions, put the headphones on. They work two ways — they intervene on both unintentional and intentional minor distractions (i.e., all those conversations around you that you enjoy getting in on but hardly NEED your input, like “what movie should I see this weekend?”, as well as people asking you minor trivial things that can wait — “what are you doing on that project after the next two weeks?”). They also allow you to focus with distractions limited to actually important things. But no, spend a lot of time with headphones OFF.

  • Jeremy

    Um, all of the negative reactions aside, I think the goal is more metaphorical here … the analogy of wearing headphones is like blocking out or being oblivious to the world around you.

    The post is about being intentional and engaged in who and what is around you.

blog comments powered by Disqus