Follow any ‘creative industry’ person on social media and you’re sure to get intermittent links to things like, “7 ways to inspire better ideas,” or “How to do your best thinking,” or “How to trick yourself into A-ha moments,” and so on. There are a whole lot of people who now make their living off of [shudder] trying to think outside the box, and so of course they all want tips on how to do so more often or more easily. As a natural consequence, there’s another whole economy of people willing to help them try via their magazines, seminars, make-a-thons or *cough* blogs.
Here are a couple I enjoyed recently. This one is basically telling me to sleep in to be more creative:
In a study published in the journal Thinking and Reasoning last year, researchers Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks reported that imaginative insights are most likely to come to us when we’re groggy and unfocused. The mental processes that inhibit distracting or irrelevant thoughts are at their weakest in these moments, allowing unexpected and sometimes inspired connections to be made. Sleepy people’s “more diffuse attentional focus,” they write, leads them to “widen their search through their knowledge network. This widening leads to an increase in creative problem solving.”
This one, from my favorite dreamy science writer Jonah Leher in Wired, takes it even further with a raise of the glass:
According to the data, drunk students solved more [insight-based] word problems in less time. They also were much more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight. And the differences were dramatic: The alcohol made subjects nearly 30 percent more likely to find the unexpected solution.
Once again, the explanation for this effect returns us to the benefits of not being able to pay attention. The stupor of alcohol, like the haze of the early morning, makes it harder for us to ignore those unlikely thoughts and remote associations that are such important elements of the imagination. So the next time you are in need of insight, avoid caffeine and concentration. Don’t chain yourself to your desk. Instead, set the alarm a few minutes early and wallow in your groggy thoughts. And if that doesn’t work, chug a beer.
What a great world it would be if being slower to rise or knocking back a few were the secret to success! We could shorten the work day and provide delicious beverages and spend all our time having epiphanies left and right until every whiteboard in the building is just covered with scrawled-out genius.
Unfortunately, this part of our jobs that we like to think of as central, chasing those magical creative-insight eureka moments, is really only a small fraction of anyone’s duties. An inspired thought is great, but then there’s all that work it takes to do something with it. 99% perspiration, remember? Do we need a whole cottage industry of people figuring out how to help us with that measly 1%? I think we sometimes just enjoy reading about how to do more creative thinking to avoid having to do the work part of the work that comes from creative thinking.
Not that I wouldn’t take the fewer-alarm-clocks, more-happy-hours approach if offered.