The Value of Doing Nothing

Well, maybe not nothing. But the value of taking time to contemplate, stare out the window, let ideas conjure, rest, and return to the thought again with a fresh perspective is frankly, undervalued. With every minute accounted for, billable hours become a tyranny of the mind; a vice grip on the space the creative process needs to develop and think through the most pertinent aspects of marketing strategy, brand development, or future possibilities for innovation and change.

Every day I see social posts about a new training course that promises to reveal the secrets of social media, SEO, or some other digital marketing activity that takes time and patience to master. Or, posts about how 4 hours sleep is enough, more than enough in some cases, to work a full day and build a side hustle, parent children, walk the dog, enact a full exercise regime, and bake a cake for the company picnic. Sure, that’s possible. Is it likely? In my opinion, nope.

On a daily basis, we are faced with the inevitable deluge of client demands, internal politicking, and changes to marketing platforms that happen with little to no warning. At some level, this is a reality of the job. At another, it’s a continuous flow of distraction that takes a toll on ones ability to focus, concentrate, and develop the creative ideas that help businesses succeed and make clients sing.


Doing nothing is a perspective. It’s a concept. It’s a method. I can’t tell you how many hours I stared out the window while writing my Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation. Those moments of reflection where I could clear my mind and, for a moment, value the trees, or contemplate the changes in the weather enabled me to accomplish something of note. Without the space, the time, the otherwise unaccounted-for or untracked room to breath I would’ve achieved little or nothing.

Agency life, as I know it, relies on employee tracking; relies on surveillance of various kinds. It relies on billing to the minute. What can you accomplish in one minute of tracked time? What happens when the client runs out of minutes because the team thought too hard? What happens when nothing comes of contemplation? These questions focus on the wrong aspect of job success. When reduced to the Fordist (or McDonald’s) mentality of part stamping or hamburger assembling, digital marketing becomes a rote activity of stamping, assembling, and fashioning. The end result… is it something that moves you? That speaks to your inner desires, your deepest motivations, your sense of self? Will it move the world towards a different future? A future where we see peak oil and then move past it?

Existential. Moments of reflection, space, peaceful contemplation can provide respite from the capitalism fuelled rage of accumulation and greed. We need time to reset. To do nothing. To value contemplation without the threat of retribution over hours billed versus time contemplated. I know, this is a creative’s pipe dream. I can anticipate the critiques. “You should work faster because you know what to do”. “You should do it perfectly the first time because you’re an expert”. Sure. Sure. It works like that IRL. Not.

“Surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action.” 
― Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

The Panopticon

I’m often drawn back to Michel Foucault and his writing on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The Panopticon, visualized really well by the HBO show OZ or the prison the Guardians of the Galaxy end up in, involves a central monitoring tower that looks over the prison population, shrouded in darkness. The reasoning for this arrangement suggests that if the prisoners don’t know if they are being surveilled they will adjust their behaviour at all times to ensure they are complying.

The panopticon as viewed by a prisoner.

“Visibility is a trap.” 
― Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

In reality, beyond prison theory, this doesn’t work. Constant surveillance through either overt open concept workspaces or mechanisms like minute-by-minute time tracking enact a “governmentality” or “audit culture” literally changing the nature of the worker in order to comply with the mechanisms with which they are tracked. It’s the apotheosis of creativity, freedom of thought, space to contemplate. It’s the death of growth and innovation.

The essence of audit culture

“Discipline ‘makes’ individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise. It is not a triumphant power…it is a modest, suspicious power, which functions as a calculated, but permanent economy.” 
― Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

The value of nothing, of clearing your mind defies the surveillance of the agency life that demands accountability. That demands sacrifices. That demands sacrificial thought and peace-of-mind. It takes slow thought seriously and contemplation as a valuable, if not philosophical, activity to push digital marketing and brand evolution beyond. Beyond what we’ve imagined, into futures only barley grasped. Are you with me?

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