Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What Nero Wolfe can teach us

Streetlight, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Forest, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Blur, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Fir, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Bow, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

Branching, originally uploaded by jiihaa.

I have been reading detective novels written by Rex Stout, about the fictional detective Nero Wolfe, an overweight genius who supported his culinary and gardening interest by doing detective work. What is remarkable about this series of novels, which appeared from 1934 to 1974, is the feeling of calm in the middle of activity.

In fact, it is interesting how these detective novels, often dealing with murder and similar acts of violence, manage to convey a feeling of relaxation to the reader. I thought about this for a while, until I stumbled onto the explanation: Nero Wolfe (and his sidekick Archie Goodwin) never does more than one thing at a time.

Wolfe maintains an almost total focus on the one thing. If he is eating, then no business topics are allowed to be discussed, and often the eating (of products of high culinary art) is done in silence. The same applies to working with his belowed orchids in the garden. Also, when doing the actual detective work, Wolfe doesn't do anything else: he thinks, often closing his eyes.

And in addition, there is the division of work, so that Goodwin does most of the legwork, what he likes very much to do, and Wolfe does the analysis.

In fact, what is contained in these book is a textbook description of creativity. Rex Stout describes in fiction what is required to be creative. In fact, you can use terms such as flow to describe how things happen in the books.

However, there is some evolution happening in the books. The earliest ones are the most relaxing, the last ones are a bit hurried, partly because of new technology - there is mention of radio phones and such things. But still, the overall feeling of calmness stays in the books all the way.

These books describe exactly the same things as many current writers on creativity stress: specializing, not multitasking, taking time, never working on a deadline, focusing, experimenting, and so on. Worth reading!


Lance Richmond said...

Thank you for your perceptive comment about my favorite detective. I knew that he had a very unflexible schedule (breakfast tray, plant rooms, other meals, always at the same time every day) but I hadn't thought about the one-thing-at-a-time aspect. Cool.

Juha Haataja said...

One book on creativity said that a creative person first creates smooth everyday routines for him/herself, after that being creative is easy...