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Prescribed for Basic Discomfort

Nail_bed With the exception of Phineas and Ferb, I've grown tired of the crap that passes for television on the Disney Channel.  As a parent, I want my kids growing up with an appreciation for great writing and acting, where the adults don't look stupid, where a great plot and amusing characters can carry themselves. That's why I'm grateful for Hulu. My girls are now being introduced to The Addams' Family (the mid-1960's version starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones).

For those who grew up under a rock and unfamiliar with the Addams' family, go watch a few episodes and then come back and read the rest of this post. For the rest of you, wasn't that show a riot? The Addams clan was amusingly macabre while being extremely gracious to their visitors. They had no idea their norms made other people extremely uncomfortable.

Last weekend, I started teaching a class in Creativity at Drake. I gave my students the standard line: "I won't knock you out of your comfort zone; I'll drop-kick you." Discomfort is key for creativity. When you're uncomfortable, your mind starts racing. I see it in the face of students coming up with an excuse. I see it in project resources who failed to meet a deadline. It's evident in the faces of the guests of the Addams family as they try to extricate themselves from the spooky mansion.

My good friend, Kevin Eikenberry, had a great post about discomfort a couple of weeks ago. Among his five reasons was this gem:

Discomfort promotes creativity. Creativity is borne of necessity. People create new things, ideas, concepts and products when they have a problem – or in some way are outside their comfort zone. Often creativity is tapped to help regain comfort, which is great. The point is that when you feel or notice some discomfort or lack of satisfaction with your situation, you will likely be driven to innovate and be creative to find a remedy. If you want to be more creative, look for your discomfort.

Well said, Kevin. Now, my question is why we don't actively seek discomfort more? I'm amused by people who have a status quo fetish. They are petrified of discomfort. How can we EFFECTIVELY make others uncomfortable? Gomez and Morticia have some of the answers:

  • Assume discomfort is the norm: The Addams crew sees nothing wrong with housing a lion and an octopus, let alone a man-eating plant and an uncle who powers light bulbs with his mouth. When you go against the flow of normal on a daily basis, it takes a lot more to make you uncomfortable.
  • Be gracious in the midst of discomfort: Watching Gomez and Morticia, they make all their guests welcome and go out of their way with generosity. If you're going to make others uncomfortable, do it with a smile and an open hand.
  • Be balanced: the Addamses pursue multiple interests; they don't rely on just one technique to make others uncomfortable. Wreck a toy train or two. Learn the harpsichord. Try fencing. Just doing the same thing over and over won't make anyone uncomfortable; it will probably just make them mad.
  • It's temporary: each episode lasts 22 minutes. Yeah, television is not an accurate reflection of reality. However, discomfort doesn't have to last long either. If we embrace it, discomfort can be short-lived as well.

Just remember: discomfort doesn't have to be a bad thing. It is absolutely essential to those who really want to seize the accomplishment, as you won't carpe factum without it. So when discomfort knocks on your door, just open it and in your best Lurch voice, ask, "You rang?"


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