These fickle, fuddled words confuse me Like 'Will it rain today?' Waste the hours with talking, talking These twisted games we play. -"The Space Between" by Dave Matthews Band
Preparation is the second skill discussed in the book and is the vital step that ensures we have our front porch swept, the welcome mat out and we’re expectant hosts when serendipity arrives. It’s the multiplier that allows us to capitalize on those seeds we planted through exercising the skill of Motion and a key aspect of Preparation is “creating space.”
We can look to an analogue in the field of architecture and interior design to anchor this concept. Feng Shui is a theory of spatial design that aims to improve the flow of life energy or qi through the adherence to specific design principles. One of the first mandates when undertaking a Feng Shui makeover is to “clear your clutter.” Companies and wealthy folks pay big bucks to bring in consultants who implement proper Feng Shui in their environments and the first thing a consultant will do is to have the subject “declutter” the space and strip it down to bare essentials. If you’ve ever been in the house of a hoarder then you know intimately the anti-pattern to Feng Shui principles and you’ve likely experienced the discomfort and “frayed nerves” that come from being surrounded by clutter.
Creating space isn’t just about removing distraction though. It sets up a void and a resultant vacuum effect instigating a “flow” which banishes stagnation and invites our house guest serendipity through the front door. Gardeners prune overgrown vegetation not simply because the overgrowth is an eyesore but because functionally it serves to create the space that invites fresh growth. Study any number of phenomena in science (pressure, potential & kinetic energy, osmosis, convection, the Bernoulli principle, evaporation, oxidation, sublimation, transpiration, melting, freezing, magnetism, radiation or capacitors) and you’ll trace the origin of any flow back to a differential caused by an absence of something whether it be electrons, atoms or molecules. Here’s a practical example I experienced first-hand last year playing in an intramural league.
Ultimate frisbee is an incredible sport that meshes athleticism with strategy, grace and flow. It works a bit like football in the sense that the goal is to advance the disc downfield into the end zone to score the equivalent of a touch down. It’s different from football though in that play continues until either a score or an infraction occurs. This unique characteristic makes it a perfect petri dish to examine the commonalities of plays where teams “get in flow.” Progress is made downfield when players beat their defender by making cuts and then stacking successive plays to build a momentum of movement. These cuts only work when there’s space. If everyone on the team is running at random you end up with a congested field, stagnation and no flow. Offensive players will intentionally clear out of areas to create a vacuum that sets up a chain of cuts called the “swing.” Watch this 15sec clip for a great example of this type of flow in action.
So we’ve made the case for space – let’s talk actionable advice for how and where to do it. Where are the areas of “congestion on the field” in our lives that we can begin to clear? Todo lists and inboxes are an obvious starting place. You have people like David Allen and Merlin Mann who have built careers around the idea of creating space with GTD and Inbox Zero (though I would argue hardcore devotees have become so obsessed with the religion of productivity that it’s actually caused more clutter than it cleared). Living and work spaces are an obvious choice. Calendars, RSS feeds and social media channels all seem to fill in unless we consciously protect our space (and yes, I realize I’m a culprit at the moment contributing to RSS pollution, but hopefully in a respectful way and for good intention). Established companies can become addicted to past product lines that hold them back from growing valuable new products and services, the equivalent of overgrowth that if it were trimmed would free up space for fresh growth. Even customers can hold companies back and morph from being a life-sustaining force to a life-limiting one. Overgrowth comes in many forms and it’s up to us to recognize it and prune it when it impedes progress.
Once we’ve cleared space and invited flow, we still need to recognize our house guest when it arrives. Lane and Thor present the concept of using spatial and temporal distance to achieve this. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. For now check out some of these gorgeous work spaces from a recent thread on Quora and change your tune: The Naked and Famous – Punching in a Dream