Absence is the catalyst that unleashes your creative energy. When expected elements you take for granted – plants in a garden, colors in a painting and all kinds of sensational stimuli in an amusement park – disappear, your senses are first taken aback but swiftly adapt to the new situation – the absence of expected elements – and start filling the void on their own. That resilience is what we call creativity. When you unleash your own creativity, you feel fulfilled and no longer need any extra support. You are satisfying yourself, and the sense of accomplishment and happiness becomes self-sustaining.

But in today’s world, absence is not easy to find because it is often judged as “inefficient.” It is considered a waste of time and space that is incapable of generating any value. Of course, this is not true, but it is also undeniable that it takes a little more time and effort to unleash your own creativity leveraging the power of absence. It is not instantaneous like a video game that provides immediate sensations. An efficiency-driven economy does not want to tolerate that “little bit of time,” becomes impatient and starts outsourcing most of the creative process to professional creators. Today, we as consumers, no longer create. We just wait for the product to be delivered.

The problem is, when satisfaction is delivered that relies on someone else’s creative efforts, it is short-lived. So we have to renew it frequently. When one satisfaction expires, we introduce other source of stimulus to reinstate it. When it expires, we introduce yet another stimulus. It is a never-ending cycle. In doing so, we forget how to leverage absence to feel happy and accomplished. When we are left on our own to use our creativity to feel satisfaction, we feel restless and anxious because we no longer know what to do.

So we need a small amount of external stimulus that can help activate our abilities. As we reviewed in the “generation effect” experiment in chapter 4-2, our memory can perform better when we are presented “hot – c” instead of “hot – cold.” By trying to compensate for the absence after the letter “c” in “cold,” our senses and cognitive capacities work hard, and end up remembering the entire word better than when we just read “hot – cold.”

When there is enough support from external stimuli (left), we don’t have to mobilize our own abilities in order to accomplish something. We simply read “hot – cold,” and then easily forget about it. So we reduce external stimulus to leave enough void. Cold is reduced to “c.” Our creative senses start working toward the void, and remembers the word.

The Cupnoodles Museum eliminated those sensational elements that we assume are necessary in an amusement park for children. The Ryoan-ji rock garden leveraged the fewest number of rocks to stir people’s imagination.

All successful work of absence leaves a sufficient – not too small, not too large – void that functions as “c” for “cold.” The size and magnitude of absence varies from project to project, but you’d have to have a very clear idea as to what to eliminate and what to keep. In a sense, it is a process to crystallize and condense the essential elements that you want to keep. As the void becomes greater, the more condensed the element becomes.

A this point, any other frills will become distraction.

Relying on the now-familiar Yerkes-Dodson curve, you are distracted when surrounded by more external stimuli. As you eliminate them one by one, your senses become keen and concentrated. Your creative energy is now ready to be unleashed. The end result is a boundless excitement, deep satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

Absence bell curve

Absence is the mother of creativity.