It’s spring here in BookDesigner territory, and it’s reminded me that, like nature, it’s up to us to start over regularly to keep our writing, our book design and our presentation fresh. And that, in turn, reminded me of a story.
Years ago I had a friend who did something really unusual that I’ve never hear of anyone else doing.
Every month he would move all the furniture in his house.
Maybe he would move it a lot, like taking a couch from one side of the living room to the other. Sometimes he would only move a little, shifting a chair 12 inches in one direction or another.
I asked him why he did this. After all, I counted on the furniture in my house staying exactly where it is. Otherwise I would be bumping into it all the time.
As it turns out, that was the reason he did it. He told me that it was human nature to slowly and imperceptibly stop noticing things that don’t change. Pretty soon you can walk through your living room in the complete dark without hitting anything. You could walk through it in your sleep.
He said when he changed everything, he had to be extra alert to his own assumptions. If he assumed the couch was in the same place, it could have painful consequences.
Assumptions are no less dangerous outside the living room. When I’m forced to see things differently—when the couch has moved—it changes my whole perspective. This is a way to keep ideas circulating, to keep our perception and our ideas fresh.
When we rearrange our furniture, or our way of doing things, we see aspects that we’ve been unaware of. I didn’t know the couch looked like that from this point of view, I’ve never seen it from here before.
Likewise, trying something new at work, at home, or in the way we approach problems, can bring surprising revelations and new ways of thinking.
How can we use this idea in our own lives? Here are some ways we can “move the furniture” and reap the rewards.
Change of routine—instead of the order in which we do things, do them in a different order. It can be as simple as making the coffee before getting the paper, instead of after. Or taking a slightly different route to work. Trying something for lunch you’ve never had. These habits and routines are so ingrained in our lives that small changes can sometimes yield remarkable results.
Change of workflow—we’ve all learned to do our jobs over a period of time. Maybe we learned at school, combined that with tricks we picked up from co-workers, and then found some great approaches ourselves. However we arrived at our current way of doing things, I bet you haven’t changed your approach to your work in some time. Here also small changes can make a big difference.
Recently I got frustrated with the method I was using for file importing. Ordinarily I would just grumble to myself while doing it, and try to get it over as soon as possible. Instead, I stopped and thought about it for a moment, and decided to try a completely new way to do it. After exploring options provided by my software, I discovered a completely different workflow that was much more pleasant and quicker than the old way I had cobbled together over the years.
Change of company—meeting new people is one of the best ways to stretch our own assumptions. Whether it’s online or offline, expanding ourselves to include the new ways of doing things, the new ways of being we learn from others is a certain way to also expand our outlook. Fresh insights come from fresh relationships and the new influences they bring into our lives.
I’ll never forget the first opera I ever went to, almost against my will. It was Strauss’ Salome and at the end I felt like I had been hit with a 2 x 4. For the next ten years I became an enthusiastic operagoer. It was brought into my life by meeting one person who dragged me off to the show that night.
Why Move the Furniture?
What do you get when you shake yourself out of the usual way you have of doing things? You get an influx of new ideas, you see things from a new perspective. You might make a connection you never made before, or see something from an entirely new angle.
I’d love to hear your ideas for keeping things fresh. Do you “move the furniture” in your life once in a while? What’s that like?
Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, a book designer and blogs about book design, self-publishing and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com. He's also the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where he helps publishers and authors who decide to publish get to market on time and on budget with books that are both properly constructed and beautiful to read.