Under what conditions are we most creative?

While we might not love the idea of deadlines, they can be cause for some of our greatest creative work.

TINA BROWN: Well, I think writers and photographers and all creative people do need a deadline to get anything done.

It's remarkable to me, including myself, if someone isn't saying to me, I want this piece, I'm not going to write it. I'm just not. It's too hard. Writing is too difficult. And doing any creative work takes such intellectual sort of tussle that if there's any way you can escape from it, you will.

So deadlines, I think, are a critical point of extracting great work. And interestingly, some of the best work has been done under deadline. For instance, the great photographer, Richard Avedon, he always liked to do both kinds of work - his deadline work, his journalism work, his fashion magazine work, and then his artistic shows. His best art was actually the stuff he did for magazines. I mean, it was better than anything he did on the slow burn of his shows. There was something about the adrenaline. There was something about the discipline of knowing that you had an audience as opposed to simply being a museum show or whatever that actually brought out the best work in his artistry, I think.

And I think that's often true, that sometimes the best work is done under the gun - somebody writing at warp speed. I think that, interestingly, the journalism that was done right after 9/11 was some of the best journalism that we've seen in the last 25 years. It was like writers and photographers and editors, so energized by the need to get this content done, there wasn't any wasting of time or sort of frothing it all up or whatever, they did their best work. They were really inspired to do their best work. And that was done under the gun with a need to get it done. There's nothing like the urgency of subject matter, content, and passion.

I actually think sometimes you can do your best work when you're up against the wall. I mean, sometimes we create some amazing cover when we lost our big star, just by being creative.
And in fact, one of my mottos as an editor was, if you haven't got a budget, get yourself a point of view. It's like you have to be cleverer with no budget. And you have to, perhaps, come up with some angle, some creative idea that will get you over that hump.

I always rather like working with TV producers, actually, in my role at Women in the World because they have to fill that seat on the program. Otherwise, it's just empty screen. So that makes them a bit less procrastinating, frankly, than people working in a situation where they've got another way out. If you have to get somebody there, you've got to figure out, well, I haven't been able to get that big guest. I've got to find this other guest who's going to be as interesting, but perhaps in a completely different way. That takes a bit more creativity.

  • Creative individuals produce better work when there's a deadline involved, says media mogul Tina Brown.
  • To extract great work, you shouldn't have the option to escape it. Deadlines add a level of pressure that makes for better results.
  • In Brown's opinion, some of the best journalistic work was done in the period after 9/11. The combination of subject matter, content, and passion rallied creatives to put forth incredible coverage.





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        "We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

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        fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

        Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

        The experiments

        The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

        You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

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        The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

        However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

        The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

        As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

        The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

        The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

        "We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

        Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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