What the Icelandic Word for Stupidity Can Teach You About Creativity
The word stupidity comes from the Latin word “stupere” which means to be numb or astounded.
In Icelandic, the word for stupidity is “heimska.” It’s derived from the word “heim,” meaning “home.” It’s originally from Old Norse, “heimskr.”
In Old Norse, “heimskr” meant that you were foolish and silly because you had never sailed away from home. To us, it means staying home, refusing to learn about new things happening over the horizon from your farm.
Personally, I like the idea that our language tells us that staying home will make you dumb. You won’t learn anything new and you’ll end up a naive ignoramus that refuses knowledge.
However, it’s ironic that a nation of 340,000 people stuck on an island in the North Atlantic believe this. It’s not like it’s the easiest place to set out to explore from. But that’s why it’s so great our language reminds us in this way. It’s because it’s harder that makes it all the more important.
Although we’re technically stuck on an island, our ancestors were… well, let’s call them “zealous travelers.” The Vikings discovered “America” before promptly forgetting about it again. They raided random parts of Europe. They even had had settlements as south as present-day Sicily. So, sweeping the bloodshed under the wool rug, the Vikings discovered things they realized they could never have known by staying home. As an Icelander who’s been to over 15 countries, this is oddly comforting. Except for the whole Viking Warfare of course.
Staying home does not teach you anything real about the world. Researching can shed some light on the subjects you wish to know about, but it is no substitute for living. There’s truth to this that isn’t only applicable to what you define as your home. You can also think about how it relates to your comfort zone as a creative.
If you never get out of your comfort zone or try new things, you won’t learn anything new. If you don’t travel, you won’t experience other countries or cultures. The best case scenario is that you’ll end up being a bit boring and won’t have much to add to the conversation. The worst case scenario is that you’ll end up a racist xenophobe. I’d prefer you become neither.
Traveling changes you because the memories of those places become a part of you. You incorporate the feelings of your travels into your sense of self. You learn new things and understand the world and other cultures better. In a way, you realize that in every country, we are all the same. We are all trying to get by with what we have.
How to Avoid “Heimska” as a Creative
Avoiding “heimska” can also lead to increased creativity when you’re producing music.
To be creative, you must be open to new creative opportunites. The only way you create unique things is through mixing a few different things together. Mix writing and drawing together and you get graphic novels. Mix photography and painting and you get Mixed Media. Mix old swing records from the 1930s with electronic dance music and you get Electro Swing. Although those are simple examples, creative combinations are endless.
Albert Einstein famously said (if you believe quotation sites on the internet):
“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
Not to dump on Einstein but there’s more to it than that. It’s not only that you learn how much you don’t know. You also learn how things fit together in a new way. Getting outside your comfort zone means you’ll learn how to put unrelated art together in creative ways. It wasn’t obvious that you could put hip-hop and rock together to make a new genre. But those who experimented with it first reaped the rewards of discovery.
The opposite of stupidity is not wisdom. The opposite of staying stupid is the willingness to learn. Although staying stupid is easier, it’s still an action you’re taking, whether you know it or not. By not taking the action of being open to new things, you’re taking the action of staying stupid. If you strive to push the boundaries of the comfort zone, try new things and learn new skills, you’ll grow wise.
What Can Starcraft Teach You About Expanding Your Creative Comfort Zone?
Think of your untapped creative potential as the fog of war in a game of Starcraft.
When you start, you’re stupid. You don’t know anything because all you know is your home base.
“Heimska” in its purest form.
You don’t even know what’s out there. Maybe the Zerg are right outside your door. The only way to learn new things is to venture out beyond the comfort of your home and break the fog of war. Before, the fog of war was there and you couldn’t see the creativity ahead of you. Afterward, you understand how much you don’t know. More importantly, you’ll understand how you’ll never want to go back to “heimska.”
The same applies outside my antiquated video game example. When you’re starting out as a producer, engineer or artist, you don’t know anything. You’re stupid and don’t know where to start.
Stay Stagnant. Stay Stupid.
No accomplished artist is happy staying stagnant in their development. If you get out of your comfort zone and learn new skills along the way, you’ll grow in creative ways you never thought possible.
Expanding your horizon is easy. As a homes studio musician, it’s dirt simple. Study new genres or musical instruments.
Don’t know how to mix drums because you’re always working with pre-mixed beats? Then read a book and watch some videos to learn how to make punchy drum sounds.
Don’t know how to mix big vocals because you’re always working on instrumental music? Then find a tutorial that includes a lot of in-depth vocal mixing tricks to make your vocals leap out of the speakers.
The thing is, staying stagnant leads to creative stupidity. So take a page from the Viking Playbook. Sail away from your creative home base and expand your creative potential along the way.