Why regular rituals matter when it comes to creativity

Rituals are important when it comes to creativity.

It’s regularly discussed that routine stifles creativity, and to a degree this is absolutely true. If you stick so rigidly to routine you’ll rarely have an original experience from which to drive creative thought.

As the saying goes: you can’t do the same thing over and over and expect something different to happen as a result.

But the benefit of routine on creativity cannot be overstated. Routines are important because they give us a base of expectation: how do you know you’re experiencing something new and different if you don’t have a base, a routine, from which to measure?

Experts are all about routine. Doctors need routine to conduct surgery, airline pilots need routine to ensure a safe trip, and chefs need routine to deliver what’s promised. You wouldn’t want to visit a doctor who begins a major operation by saying “Let’s see what happens today.”

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As a most famous example of the importance of routine: in 1928 Scottish physician Alexander Fleming returned to work after holiday to discover a culture contaminated with a fungus which was keeping colonies of the bacteria staphylococci at Bay. Rather than throwing the petri dish out because of the contamination, Fleming instead looked closely at the dish and commented: “that’s funny.”

After some research on the fungus and it’s affect on bacteria, Fleming ended up having had discovered penicillin, one of the first major antibiotics against many bacterial infections.

If Fleming had not maintained a professional routine, he may have never have noticed the contaminated dish in his lab.

It’s often easy to look at great creative thinkers and remark on their lack of routine or structure—Fleming’s lab was notably in a constant state of disarray and Einstein’s desk was regularly covered in mountains of unorganized papers—but what appears to be chaos on the outside is well-thought out structure to the thinker.

We need routine for many reasons. When it comes to creativity routine enables us to notice when things change, when there’s something funny or interesting worth pursuing further. We don’t get to uncover the unique and valuable if we’re in a constant state of unexpectedness. The ground is always beneath us, which makes it easier to determine when we’re flying or falling.