If Isaac Newton worked in a digital creative agency…

It’s something of a contentious point these days, but digital creative agencies are still, primarily, purveyors of truth.

It may often be dressed up in words like ‘engagement’, ‘shareable’ and ‘social’, but the strongest of their creative ideas still have a solid truism at the core.

So it’s interesting to consider the quote of Isaac Newton, one of history’s greatest original thinkers, that ‘Truth is the offspring of silence and unbroken meditation‘.

Hmm.

Yes, not for him the stumbling upon game-changing ideas whilst reveling in a buzzing environment of noise and distraction. He believed that, in order to find new ways of thinking, one had to sit almost motionless for hours, examining a problem – and different, original ways of tackling it – within the realms of the mind. Thoughts, branching into other thoughts, branching into other… Yes, all in total silence. Yippee!

In fact, it was said that ‘…sometimes, when getting up, he would sit on the edge of the bed, following a train of thoughts, and remain totally absorbed, until his reverie was interrupted by somebody calling him for lunch hours later’. What would he have made of creative agencies, with their noise-reflecting floor tiles and emphasis on creating a loud, vibrant atmosphere?

True, creating a state of undistracted silence may have been easier to achieve in the mid-1600s, when there were far less distractions around and it was more straightforward to detach oneself and surrender the mind to concentration.

Nowadays it is a lot harder to escape. A deluge of distractions is very much the default state, and being able to remove oneself from intrusive digital communications – mobile phones, social media and what have you – is actually really, really difficult. Both physically and psychologically.

A state of always-on responsiveness is seen as an important ingredient to one’s social and professional success. It’s about getting there first, whether it’s the news, gossip from friends, ideas, information, anything. Being late to the party is as good as not being there at all.

But it could be said that this preoccupation with connectedness and speed of communication is influencing people’s expectations to such a degree that there’s now more validity placed on speed, rather than depth, of thinking.

After all, consider the words digital agencies use to describe themselves. ‘Nimble’, ‘responsive’, ‘adaptive’. Agencies that are seen to take too long to think, whether it’s creative routes or strategy, are often derided as slow and pondering, ruled by process, or worse, simply stretching things out to justify a fee. In our industry, there are many positive associations with moving quickly.

But maybe the naval-gazers do have a point. Maybe, as Nicolas Carr pointed out in The Shallows, whilst we are becoming more adept at scanning and skimming, we are losing our capacity for concentration, contemplation and reflection.

Perhaps if there were a way of unshackling the mind from the invisible chains that connect it to mobile, laptop and tablet, we’d find it easier to arrive at truly original thoughts rather than those derived from third-party influence (whether accidental or intentional).

The addiction to the distractions of the now is currently one of the most keenly-debated topics amongst everyone from media theorists such as Douglas Rushkoff, to venture capitalists; Joe Kraus, a partner at Google Ventures raised some excellent points in his presentation about ‘slow tech’. From our inability to engage in long-form thinking to our tendency to fill gaps of time with digitally-fueled stimulation, it would seem that it’s an area many people are becoming increasingly concerned about.

Increasingly, this is leading some people to try and ‘switch off’ to help creativity. When Weapon7, for example, moved office we thought it would be useful to build a secret room hidden behind a false wall that was absolutely stone-cold silent. A sanctuary where people could escape from the myriad digital distractions; an antidote to the communicative chaos outside.

And on the other hand, there are those who believe the more distractions are present, the better it is for creativity. Paul Kedrosky, for example, wrote that one of his favourite things about the internet and social media was the way random data and content collided, combining to form all manner of surprising ideas. Not unlike the way molecules are bombarded with other particles during quantum research, he argued.

But there’s really no golden formula, right? When tackling a brief, some creatives simply like solace for thought, while others do prefer chaos.

Some like to leg it out of the office as quickly as possible, switch off their phones, and clear their minds in the nearest park or art gallery. Whilst for others it’s headphones straight on to be immersed by the internet as fast as possible, several simultaneous conversations with other connected friends on the go, two browsers open, multiple tabs, WhatsApp constantly vying for their attention, and email being checked every few seconds.

Isaac Newton would have no doubt been horrified. But then, discovering the truth can often be an unsettling business.

However, the real question is: which approach is more effective?

That’s what everyone is trying to work out. What do you think is the best way to arrive at original thinking?

You know what Isaac would have done. What’s your truth?

@JeremyJGarner