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Negativity- the Mother of Creativity?

An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

We find ourselves idler than ever before, as we’ve had to cut down on several things from our daily routines. Many of us sit and do what we do from the comfort of our beds. And more often than not, even when there’s pending work, our minds wander off. The news we see these days from around the world doesn’t exactly impress the best of emotions on our brain. There’s a lot of frustration, anger, uncertainty, and boredom in the air- these negative emotions are breeding faster than ever before inside us. But how about instead of dealing with these emotions to simmer them down, you channelize them towards something more valuable? Before I get to my point, I would like you all to listen to one of the most popular compositions of all time- The Köln concert recording by Keith Jarret: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FqH9mtxJnQ

Heard it? Exhilarating, isn’t it? This was performed at the Opera House in Cologne on January 24, 1975. The album went on to become the best-selling solo album in jazz history and the best-selling piano album of all time. But do you know the story behind what made it what it is today? It’s probably something you’re feeling right now- frustration.

Keith Jarret was invited to perform at a concert at the Cologne Opera House in Germany by a German teenage girl called Vera Brandes. When Jarret arrived at the venue and checked out the piano he was to play, he was extremely dissatisfied, since the piano was simply wrong for him. The black notes were sticking, the white notes were out of tune, the piano had a harsh tinny upper register, the pedals weren’t functioning, and the piano was too small to ensure that everyone in the audience could hear it properly. He requested a change; else he wouldn’t perform. But replacing an instrument like the piano at the eleventh hour was impossible, and the only choice Vera had left was to beg the musician to perform. Seeing her pitiable state, Jarret agreed. When he began playing the piano, he was completely frustrated, since he was also suffering from sleep deprivation and backaches. He came up with a few tricks of his own to ensure that the piano produced enough volume to cover the entire Opera House by standing up and using all his frustration and energy on the keys. This captivating performance was a direct result of a frustrated pianist with an unplayable piano.

When we’re in a negative state of mind, we think that it’s important to first overcome these feelings- maybe eat some comfort food, watch your favourite show, go for a walk, or simply sleep it off- and only then will we be able to work efficiently. We sit and wait until we’re handed the right tools, or are finally in the right state of mind. But sometimes, embracing these feelings, and channeling these negative emotions by understanding them and identifying their root cause, can often be the birth of a brainchild. It’s a surprising twist to overcoming your problems, and it might not seem right- after all, how can these emotions, that are negative and supposedly brain-damaging- be the solution?

According to complexity science, when you’re presented with a huge problem, you tend to break it down into steps, solve the problem accordingly, and if something doesn’t work out, you tweak things to make them work out and try again. Trial and error might eventually lead to results, and according to Norwegian Business School professor Geir Kaufmann, Ph.D., people in a positive state of mind work well with a systematic trial and error approach. But what if you approached the whole problem in a whole new way? You randomly try out things that come to your mind, no matter how wild they may seem? They might not lead to any results, but they will help you learn more about the problem, understand it better, and help you gain a new perspective. Here, you make a mess out of the problem first (which is considered negative), and then the knowledge you gain from this, assists you to creatively approach your problem.

We’re told to drive away these negative emotions because dwelling in the darkness isn’t a great idea. But it’s not something you can help, is it? Everyone has their ups and downs, and it’s important to celebrate the ups, but equally important to know how to channelize the downs into something that holds value, instead of giving in to it entirely. The vacuum that negativity creates in your brain, forces you to think outside the box. This stems from the idea that being in uncomfortable and awkward situations that might fester negative emotions, brings out hidden potential. Just because it doesn’t appease you immediately, doesn’t mean it won’t be helpful in the long run. Therefore, it is important to identify the source of your anger, consider your strengths, and then analyze how those traits could be put to use to “play your unplayable piano.”

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