Leaf it to the Turkeys
How a little less noise in our lives can allow us space to make insightful inspirations
One day, on Facebook, I noted my neighbour having a bit of a rant about people who use leaf-blowers. I get on well with her and had to admit to her that while I rarely used it, I did in fact own one. Now if I am going to use it, I call out to see if she is home.
‘Oh, sorry. Just wanted to see if you were out. Wanted to use the leaf-blower’
Noise in our lives can be distracting, both literally and metaphorically. In a recent conversation with architect Troy Smyth, he gave me a very interesting insight into how distractions can lead to insights. Routinely during his working day, he would take a coffee break and sit on a wall, under some trees across from his office. This short time for reflection was often interrupted by a gardener cleaning the footpath with a leaf blower. A minor irritation, yet just another bit of noise in the constant din of his life.
One day, he was sitting there and, for various reasons, the volume on the background noise of his life had been muted, and for once he was not ruminating about endless problems.
On one corner was the regular leaf-blower, keeping the footpath (sidewalk for my US readers) clean and leaf-free, when he noticed that the adjacent property also had an immaculate footpath. But the tidiness of the second nature strip was the work of a brush turkey*.
*Note for those overseas: a brush turkey is a native Australian turkey, also called a scrub turkey or a bush turkey*. Scrub and bush are both Australian for the forest.
The brush turkey, though protected, is considered by many to be a pest because they rake up all the leaf litter and garden mulch to make huge mounds for their nests. The observations that Troy made were two-fold. One was around the impact many things have that we are not aware of. The man operating the leafblower with his earmuffs on was not really conscious that he might be disturbing others. The brush turkey was totally unaware of the process of making its nest was cleaning up the footpath.
The second observation was that often when we set about tasks, we can leverage our efforts. This applies to so many different aspects of our life and work, as well as our creativity. Many artists make sketches before undertaking a larger work but then sell the sketches. Famously, this was the way that the great installation artists, the late Christo and Jean Claude worked. They actually self-funded their projects by selling the conceptual drawings, both developing the idea and paying for the major work at the same time.
As my own creative leadership practice grows and gets busier, I am learning to get better at doing one thing that can be reused. My paintings become the illustrations for my articles and are also sold. My words are repurposed into newsletters, medium articles and social media posts, as well as the content becoming the material for my workshops and masterclasses.
Personally, I don’t mind leaves in the gutter and on the footpath. My daughter Camille has a high sense of ASMR, the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. ASMR is that thing that advertisers use to heighten the senses with the sound of the crunch of a chip or a rustle of the bag. It is those sounds that give you a tingling sensation from your crown downwards. I have always been more of a visual person, so I never really thought about it until one day when I was walking Camille to school. She stopped, and very carefully stepped on a pile of dried leaves, and the pleasure she got from the sound was palpable, so much that I felt it too. I now find myself seeking out piles of leaves and seedpods to give them a good crackle and savour the emerging scents and sounds.
One man’s leaf litter is the source of another man’s pleasure.