The past is already set: it’s not going to change (though how we understand it certainly can change). The present is really the result of the past: what was set in motion then becomes today’s now. And the future will be the result of what we do today. At first glance, it seems like a closed system: at one level at least, everything’s predetermined. The action-reaction chain has already begun, and it’s simply playing out.
How, then, can one change the time sequence? From the fourth dimension. Something has to come from outside the normal time system to alter its course. That something, I propose, is nothing.
Aristotle says in his Nicomachean Ethics, that “the best activities are the most useless.” For instance, a true friendship is enjoyed for its own sake, while a gas fill-up is appreciated for its ability to get us to the next location (as you might imagine, this isn’t exactly the example Aristotle uses.) When something is appreciated for its own sake, that appreciation begins to change everything else. From that appreciation comes newness that couldn’t have been anticipated and which alters the composition of the present. And by connection, the future.
Children understand this principle, though perhaps not consciously. They are going through periods of rapid change: from a completely helpless, not-connected-to-their-enviroment state, to an apprehension of the world around them, an ability to interact with it, to communicate with others, and to make an impact through the exercise of their will. The way they go from zero to hero is through sheer enjoyment of a thing: this is why peek-a-boo is fascinating, or something as simple as light streaming through a window can be mesmerizing. All these moments of wonder and enjoyment, all moments of “nothingness” to some eyes, are really the things that make everything else that comes after possible.
This is why dreaming is important. Dreaming is a way of forming the future. The science of the brain shows us that the brain carves new pathways while we’re dreaming. And I’d add, it’s so that when we wake, we can walk down those new pathways that literally weren’t there the day before. Our wakeful moments are the product of our sleeping life, our dream life. The “nothing” moments of non-productivity are what actually enable regeneration of the existing and generation of the new.
This is also why constant activity is stunting. Constant activity prevents us from changing our future. If we never take time to do nothing, we’ll always be doing the same thing. Doing nothing can take the form of an undirected walk, a simple sitting still in a quiet place, a listening to random music, a playing around with paints; something done with no other purpose than itself. This is part of my concern about our current use of technology: it allows us to almost completely eliminate “nothing time” — we can stay engaged constantly. My suspicion is that this can prevent, or at least inhibit, our ability to start new cycles.
What does any of this have to do with accounting? If you’re doing “accounting for the brave,” you’ll be moving into new territory. Just like a child, when you’re moving into new territory, you need time to play: to appreciate something for its own sake. Don’t think about that new process, that new software, that new product, solely from its utilitarian value. Utilitarian thinking can only get you so far, because it’s an extrapolation of what’s known. Give yourself permission to just play around with it, just for the purpose of playing around with it. Only from sheer enjoyment comes the unforeseen. Always leave room for wonder, because…
Playfulness is the source of innovation.
Adrian G. Simmons is a CPA innovating ways to put money in its place. After working as an auditor out of college for KPMG, he joined his father in public practice in 2002, and now acts as the Chief Creative Designer there. With the team, he looks for ways to help their customers become financially strong, so that they can focus on what truly matters in life. Adrian likes tech, uses a fountain pen, successfully attempted a half-marathon (and may try another), and prefers dark over milk chocolate.