As I wrote about earlier this week, Ideas Island is an island run by Swedish creativity speaker Fredrik Haren where he invites people working on ideas to come stay for free. Guests come from all over the world, work in a diverse set of professions and pursue a variety of projects. As happened to me, many of them arrive with one intention but then find the island takes over. Here is a smattering of their experiences.
Sam Jenkins, 29, and James Springall, 37, London
Professions: freelance advertising creatives, No to Normal
Stayed: Vifarnaholme, June 2015
Project: A children’s book
Sam: It was very much a stab-in-the-dark, crazy thing to do. It seems kind of unbelievable, too good to be true that someone would let you go to this island, theoretically for free but giving the money to charity. Because the info they provided was very sparse — we got a PDF with some pictures and a map and a photo of what the boat looks like and the pin for the padlock — it aroused feelings of adventure, of being a child again and going off into the unknown. We made good friends with the neighbors living across the water and had a lot of drunken dinners and then we would have to row the boat back over at 1 or 2am.
James: For us it was less important that we produce an enormous amount of work and more important that we had time to envisage future projects. I’m a collage artist, but I didn’t bring all the materials I would need to make collages — magazines, scissors and glue — but I did come back with an abundance of ideas as to how I may take certain ideas forward.
Sam, on how ideas came up: It was the stillness, the emptiness of there being no other stimulus or shroud of crap you have to do day to day hanging over creativity. You don’t have all the mod-cons that you gathered growing into adulthood, whether physical, mental, or things you worry about like email, bills.
It’s a bit like being given a blank canvas at first. It can be a bit daunting. All of a sudden, we had all this time. You’re always like, I wish I had time to do this, or I wish I had time do that, but when you’re given the time, you’re a little stunted almost by the vastness of it.
Frances Brown, 31, Cambridge, England, with three friends
Profession: Mentoring and course director, the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme
Stayed: Vifarnaholme, August 2015
Project: write her PhD dissertation
We explored, we hunted, fished, [chopped logs], and ate almost everything cooked on the fire on the beach and swam every day and played like children. I was there with two police officers, one of whom was really very quite high up. By day two, we had reverted to kids. We had long conversations about work and about how we should be more playful and say, ‘I’m not going to work today. I’m going to sit here and enjoy the view or spend time with my friends.’ Just being away from all those things that take your attention away made us realize what was important — spending time with your friends and actually listening what they’re saying, not checking your phone or having to rush off anywhere. When I first went to the island, I thought I should be doing work 10 hours a day, and then I quite quickly chose not to and to enjoy the island for what it could be. I worked for four hours, but it still felt good enough to stop. Afterwards, it became quite clear from past guests and from Sofia that that’s Frederick’s plan: you go there to work and the island takes over.
Two of the girls live in Scotland, in Dundee, and I’ve been living in cities for the past 10 years, so we got a bit feral. We were chopping down trees and fishing and at one point, accidentally, one of the girls was fishing, and the duck swallowed the hook. We tried to rescue it, but we couldn’t. We said we can’t just cut this duck loose and leave it to die, so we killed and cooked it. But we were traumatized we accidentally hooked the duck and felt really guilty. I ran away. The other two quickly hammered it, plucked it, hung it upside down and properly butchered it, and one of the girls had hunted with her dad so she knew how to prepare it and we cooked it on a griddle over the campfire. I remember the other girls that were not part of killing it at first were like, oh no, we don’t want it, but then we realized that was ridiculous. If we can’t eat something that we know exactly where comes from … and yeah, it was the best duck we’d ever eaten.
I teach this course for online leadership for 120 young people. While I was there I decided to write a module which boiled down everything I was learning on the island such as the science behind having your best ideas when you let your brain relax — like how you have your best ideas in the shower. When you stop thinking about what you’re supposed to think, your neurons meet up and get great ideas, and that’s what I found on the island. I wasn’t pushing myself. I was so distracted doing all these other things I really liked, that by the time I got up the next day, all these ideas were pouring out.
When I put the module out, I was worried about what kind of response this would get, because my students come from all over the world — 70 different cultures and backgrounds and opinions about things — and I thought either they’re going to really gonna love this or they’re going to think, ‘She’s crack. She went to the island and has come back a massive hippie.’ But it has turned out to be the most popular module we’ve done in the whole course this year with the most assignment hand-ins. We called the module The Island.
When are you ever in situations where no one’s looking at you? We noticed that really quickly that we lost constructs that we live in — like, that we are professional women — and we found as the week went on, they just fell away. One girl said, I’m going to go topless a little bit so I don’t get sunbathing straps, and we said, okay, all of us. Then she said, I’m just going to bathe in this thong, and we were like, yup, us too. And by the end, we were basically naked the whole time.
Angel Trinidad, 30, Amsterdam, with boyfriend
Profession: editor and writer
Stayed: Vifarnaholme, July 2014
Project: writing a book on Swedish coffee and cake culture
When you’re there, you’re more calm. Time is super slow and you have all the time in the world to flesh it out. It’s more productive because there are no distractions. You can’t go to the mall or anything. We didn’t leave the island for seven days. We got food for the whole stay and just stayed there.
It was a peaceful and worry-free time, which is really important when you’re trying to create something or trying to think of new ideas just to have the time and space to just be. The first few days, I was like, I should come up with something now — that kind of pressure — but after a few days, you feel more at ease with it and then I realized I could just sit here and let it come to me.
I thought seven days sounded like a long time. I thought I would be bored or have a lot of idle time. … But it’s the perfect time for becoming, for taking the time to develop.
Idriz Zogaj, 40, Gothenburg, Sweden, with one friend
Profession: memory coach and entrepreneur
Stayed: Philippines, 2012
Project: children’s book, educational materials for schoolteachers and a board game
We didn’t have generated electricity, we had solar panels, so you [wake] up when the sun goes up and you go to sleep when the sun goes down. Even when you wake at 6am, you feel completely rested. It makes you calmer. So you work in a completely different rhythm. I could focus on work and then relax and do something I really love, like snorkeling. After a couple days, you completely lose track of time. You’re there to finish this task and you work when you want to work.
You don’t have to go to Ideas Island to experience the feeling. You have to make time in your calendar and have no obligations to anyone else.
Diego Signoretto, 30, Montagnana, Italy, with girlfriend
Profession: musician and guitar teacher
Stayed: Vifarnaholme and Svanholmen, August 2015
Project: to record music
It was like food for the mind. There are no distractions. The first days, I was really tired from my job. I just relaxed and started to enjoy the place. I read a lot, enjoyed the island, swam, played some guitar and took a lot of photos. To record, I needed to use the computer and I didn’t want to come back to technology immediately. On the third day. I was more relaxed. I connected the cable and started to record without thinking about it, so I was ready.
Ninety percent of the work was the island because it’s impossible to do something well if you must do it, if you can’t take your time. I wasn’t worried about [anything]. I forgot where I was, where I came from.
Mark Philpott, 50, Gold Coast, Australia
Profession: writer, speaker, full-time caretaker, philanthropist, and administrator for men’s online support groups
Stayed: Vifarnaholme, 2013
Project: after selling most of his possessions, he traveled the world for 18 months and spend his time on the island reflecting on his life and the journey he was just beginning
The island’s tranquility and peace came at the right time for me to reflect on all the things I was trying to get out of my trip. It gave me time for reflection — I was trying to connect with nature, so I built a small pathway that led down from the bottom end of the island to the bay. I spent days there in the trees, working on that and getting in touch with nature and working with Mother Earth, which was really quite spiritual in a sense. There were days I paddled the boat out to the middle of the lake and sat there watched the sunrise and sunsets and had those experiences alone that a lot of people dream about but never get to have.
Peter Sandberg, 48, Stockholm
Profession: Internet entrepreneur
Stayed: Vifarnaholme, 2012
I applied to work on my startup and writing, but when I finally got there, I mostly did drawing. It’s easy to go there with the mindset that now I’m really going to get stuff done but it’s also really easy to procrastinate. But I was happy that in my procrastination, I did something that was also creative and productive, which was drawing. When I was a kid, I loved drawing and I thought that I would become a cartoonist, but that never happened.
You almost never get that kind of seclusion, and you feel a kind of calm that you don’t experience if you are still at your home or office or studio, because you’re completely left alone and undisturbed. Some friends came by with their boat and one evening, some people living nearby had caught so much fish and they asked if I wanted some spare fish for dinner. That was very nice, but other than that, it was a rare opportunity to be left alone, not be alone, but left alone — and not have other trivial stuff from your everyday life sneak up and bother you.
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