By Henry Foenander
In the months before SCA, I had a job.
I’d wake up at five in the morning,
drive my mate and I to an industrial park,
put on a disinfected PVC lab coat, a hair net and a beard net,
take my place on the assembly line,
and spend the next nine hours screwing lids onto bottles of posh shower gel.
It was the most painfully boring experience of my life.
Bottle, after bottle, after bottle, after bottle. There was no music allowed, no talking, no breathing, no thinking. Every half a second, a new bottle would shoot down the line and I’d have to twist on a cap and hope I hadn’t jammed the machine, otherwise I’d be demoted to packing (which was pretty similar to bottle-cap-screwing but without the luxury of a seat).
The reason I wanted to write a SCAB about this isn’t because I’m looking for sympathy, even though I definitely deserve it, but because I think it was probably the most creative environment I’ve ever been in.
When you have absolutely nothing to entertain you, that’s when you’re forced to be the most creative. The phrase ‘only boring people get bored’ isn’t exactly true, it’s more like:
‘Only boring people stay bored when they’re bored’.
Back in the factory of dread, I was forced to create individual stories for each and every bottle I capped.
That bottle there, the one that’s overflowing a little bit, that’s Trevor Luckman, he’s way to full of himself, and his overconfidence will likely be his downfall. To bring him down a peg or too, I left his cap loose, there’s nothing more embarrassing for a bottle than having a loose cap.
In two months I came up with backstories for hundreds of bottles of shower gel, why? Because I had no choice.
In terms of what this means for creativity, I suppose there are a few nuggets of knowledge I can take from this.
Firstly, you have all the tools in your head. You don’t need a shiny mac, or the latest version of Adobe Illustrator, you just need imagination, and luckily, that doesn’t cost a penny.
Secondly, the right environment for creativity isn’t always what you think. You can go jazzy and have neon lights and gold plated ping-pong tables in your office, but it won’t mean jack if you can’t engage with the creative parts of your brain. This is where I genuinely believe meditation might be a useful tool. Not meditation as in “let’s go look at all the clouds, smoke some weed and lick a daffodil”, but setting some time apart in your day to reflect and explore your own headspace (hint).
Also, my time in the assembly line of soul death, made me wonder if everyone else working there were making up bottle personas. I bet a lot of them were, and I bet none of them knew there’s an industry where that talent is actually very useful. What if the next Steve Jobs is casually packing soap into cardboard boxes and pretending one of them is angry that he didn’t make the cut for luxury packaging?
Finally, being bored is nothing to be ashamed of, like any emotion, it can either subdue or trigger a creative reaction. I’d go as far as to say it’s a creative technique, force yourself to be bored, read the apple terms and conditions, listen to anything by Coldplay, watch Arsenal play football, and when you’re bored enough, force yourself to be un-bored.