Creative people say ‘no’
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
When people ask which living or dead famous person I would most like to meet, my response is “no one.”
After getting over the shock of being alive again, someone like George Washington might be disappointed to learn he first has to chat with a lot of people (including the FBI, conspiracy theorists, doctors). You may want to interview him, but he may have other things on his mind after being resurrected after two centuries.
Sitting down with you, he’d probably be more interested in investigating your clothes, laptop, mobile phone, the TV on the wall, and not want to explain 18th century America to you. “Sir, I’ve been dead for 216 years. The 18th century was really boring. Perhaps you should talk to a history teacher? Today I’m going surfing, swing dancing, karaoke all night, then taking a cruise around the world.”
Assuming there is no crime against killing someone who has already been dead for decades, my one exception would be to bring back Kim Il-sung.
Korean friends who see photos of me with Korean superstars such as Psy and Kim Yuna say I missed a great chance when they learn that I asked only one question: “Could we take a photo together?” They still think I failed when I tell them that I also mentioned one other thing to the world-famous figure skater: We share the same birthday. She responded, “That’s nice.” That’s when I asked for the photo, concluding the conversation had already lasted long enough for her.
I am not even particularly interested in meeting people that I admire, such as my favorite writers. They are writers, they want to write. One of my favorites, who I met back in 1999, recently published a book about intellectuals with about 1,500 footnotes ― I doubt many came from conversations with fans. Chatting with me, he’d probably be watching the time, thinking about a book he’s been reading or an unfinished chapter in his next book.
Even if I asked what I considered to be thought-provoking questions, he’d probably cut me off: ”Thankfully, I (or my editor) skipped that,” or, ”That’s irrelevant. Did you actually read my book? Waiter, check please.”
My favorite singer is Prince. I have been listening to his music for more than three decades. A friend of mine used to call my iPod a ”Princepod” because I had so many Prince songs on it. Prince would probably be bored listening to me praising his music. He is always making new music, that’s what he has been doing for four decades, so how much time would he want to spend chit-chatting with me about music that he has already moved on from?
People want to meet them, but most accomplished people probably want to spend their time focused on their craft. In the essay “Creative People Say ‘No,'”Author Kevin Ashton writes about a Hungarian psychology professor who wrote to 275 creators asking them to be interviewed for a proposed book. A third of them said no, citing a lack of time. A third, probably busy, never responded.
Creative and accomplished people are often too busy to share their time, unless doing so benefits them. Management writer Peter Drucker wrote: “One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours ― productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”
It goes against the flow of the times ― people who focus on their own work get characterized as narcissistic. The Hungarian psychology professor was informed by the secretary of novelist Saul Bellow: Mr Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s “studies.”‘
Secretary to music composer Gyorgy Ligeti wrote to the professor: “He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study.
This is not meant to be criticism of famous or accomplished people. They probably want to spend their time on the things that made them famous or accomplished in the first place. Meeting me would interrupt them.
I’m not famous, but I’ve also got my own work to do, which is a good reason to ignore critics without constructive advice. I can take a break from my own work to read something from one of my favorite writers with Prince’s music on in the background.
The writer is Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at CJL@post.harvard.edu.