The importance of the sabbatical
In this TED talk, Sagmeister reveals his solution for one of the biggest problems faced by creatives: boredom.
Of course, boredom is a factor in the working lives of many people. It almost sounds paradoxical to talk about being bored when you’re in a creative field.
Surely making, designing and inventing are the opposite of boredom?
Surely it’s the least of the worries of someone creative?
Well, yes. And…no.
When boredom seeps into creative work, its force is devastating, more destructive than in the execution of repetitive jobs. Boredom affects the generation and freshness of ideas. And because creative work relies on ideas as its source, boredom is a cancer that eats at the core.
Stagmeister says in the video:
As I realized, just like with many many things in my life that I actually love, I adapt to it. And I get, over time, bored by them. And for sure, in our case, our work started to look the same.”
So, what’s his solution?
He takes a sabbatical every seven years – for one entire year.
His decision to take sabbatical was based on the idea of interspersing his retirement years amongst his work years:
Also is the knowledge that right now we spend about in the first 25 years of our lives learning, then there is another 40 years that’s really reserved for working.
And then tacked on at the end of it are about 15 years for retirement. And I thought it might be helpful to basically cut off five of those retirement years and intersperse them in between those working years.
That’s clearly enjoyable for myself. But probably even more important is that the work that comes out of these years flows back into the company and into society at large, rather than just benefiting a grandchild or two.”
Most people probably gasp at this radical proposition, but Sagmeister gives examples of how the sabbatical has been used successfully for a long time by some big companies:
3M since the 1930s is giving all their engineers 15 percent to pursue whatever they want. There is some good successes. Scotch tape came out of this program, as well as Art Fry developed sticky notes from during his personal time for 3M. Google, of course, very famously gives 20 percent for their software engineers to pursue their own personal projects.”
Sabbaticals are not lost time, but a time for collecting ideas, exposure to different cultures and permission to experiment and be curious.
All of these are vital to any creative practice.