In a study, researchers confirmed the creative power of the effects of boredom by subjecting one group of study participants to the mundane task of copying out the telephone book for 15 minutes.  This was a study done in 2014 when telephone books were more widely distributed.  After 15 minutes, the study subjects were given a standard test of creativity in which they were asked to list, as many as they could, uses for a plastic cup.  Their results were compared to those of a control group that hadn’t been subjected to the mundane task of copying from a phone book.  The telephone book copiers were more creative and came up with many more creative ideas on how to use a plastic cup.  While perhaps not a conclusive study and completed in 2014, it provides interesting fodder for today’s company managers.  For more information on this study refer to The Creative Benefits of Boredom by David Burkus, September 9, 2014

A follow-up study concluded that boredom plus daydreaming may even provide a greater productivity boost.

It is important to note that this study did not refer to extended periods of boredom and daydreaming, which in a company environment, would not be beneficial and would require other strategies and action.

What might we learn?

The author of this study, Dr Sandi Mann, commented “boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity.”  Boredom might not be the best word to describe downtime.  Since boredom can be a symptom of other issues.  What I think better describes this is downtime, quiet time or breaks.

Managers or company personnel who demand or expect to see constant busyness may actually be stifling their team’s creativity.  It appears that some employers are working under the assumption that any downtime is a problem that needs to be eliminated through increased activities, tasks, shorter timelines and what looks and feels like a hurried and stressful environment.  This type of environment can not only sacrifice creative solutions and thinking but also cause burnout for employees.

Besides requiring boredom or downtime, which is, of course, unrealistic here are some things managers can promote to employees to enhance creativity and develop a more creative working environment.

1) Take breaks. It’s great to be in the moment, engaged and productive but when you or your employees feel like they hit the wall a break is welcome and in the long run productive.  Take the imitative to encourage employees to take breaks.

2) Get out in nature. Take a walk or hike. Depending on the weather and applicable areas, have a meeting outside.  With the current pandemic most of us are on some type of online meeting platform so encouraging employees to take their laptops or devices outside, in enjoyable weather, could boost meeting morale and creativity.  Being outside can add energy and stimulate the imagination.  It can also cause distractions so test this in a small meeting if you are encouraging meetings outside.

3) Write by hand. Try visually displaying the problem. Within the academic community, there is debate on what it better, electronic devises or pen and paper writing. Electronic devices are efficient to collect and store information.  But with email, Face book, Twitter and a growing assortment of social media and apps it is also an opportunity for distractions and multitasking.

In the academic arena, recent studies show that students taking notes with laptops performed poorly on conceptual questions than if the students took notes by longhand.

How does this relate to creativity, the practice of writing ideas, problems and solution ideas by hand could help us better understand the information and therefore generate more applicable ideas and solutions?

Again, with online meetings, there are apps that allow capturing information and ideas immediately in various formats.  And participants can still write their own notes by hand and still watched the shared screen option on their online meeting application.

4) Meditate.  It is difficult to require or introduce meditation in the work environment because of the various personal meanings that this practice or work might imply.  But a meditation practice is a step to being more creative.  With meditation benefits including increased focus, increased concentration, calmness, clarity, insight and in the moment thinking.  Many companies and schools are talking about this practice and so just talking about it or communicating it in your meetings can help further the idea.

5) Mind mapping.  Mind maps are not for everyone and there are other forms of diagramming ideas or capturing ideas.  My favorite is Whimsical.

What Are Mind Maps? A mind map is a diagram that connects information around a central subject.  The center encompasses the main idea, and the branches are subtopics or ideas. Mind mapping is one way to capture thoughts and bring them to life in visual form. Beyond just note taking, mind maps can help your team become more creative, remember more, and solve problems more effectively. It is also a great way to engage meeting attendees when doing online meetings.

6) Write freely. Ask team members to take 10 minutes to jot down anything and everything that comes to mind without judgment, a technique called “free-writing” or “free association” before initiating your online meeting. Then review those notes and see which ideas are worth keeping.  Reviewing the ideas can be done in the meeting if team members are comfortable with that.  Otherwise, team members can review their notes and share ideas or points that are the most helpful.  This is an effective method when you are trying to solve an issue and you want each member of the team to think prior to the meeting about the issue and then offer their ideas in the meeting so everyone has the ability to participate and effectively present.

7) Encourage openness and acceptance of new and different ideas. Encourage employees to build on their ideas and those of other team members.

8) Engage and encourage social interaction. When we spend time with people at work and get to know them it leads to a more trusting relationship and the potential of a more, relaxed, sharing environment. Again, in the age of remote working and Covid19, there are still options to do a happy hour get together where work is not discussed.   Or try some of the many icebreakers to encourage participation and learn more about your team members.

9) Exercise. This is my particular favorite.  I find taking time on a treadmill and lifting weights helps me relax and come up with some of my best ideas.   It has been noted that regular exercisers performed better on creative tasks than their less active peers did.  Companies now are buying employees fitness trackers for their own personal use.  So, employees are encouraged to exercise during this remote working and gym closures.

10) Try something new. Doing things out of habit tends to stop our creative thoughts.  We get in the habit and just do the task without thinking or experiencing.  Encourage team members to come up with new ideas and develop an online sharing time to share those ideas.

I recently took an online creativity class and one of the suggestions was to eat something different.  A simple yet creative exercise to get participants open to new experiences and tastes.  Opening and searching for new, novel experiences is associated with increased creativity.

11) Yoga is another of my personal favorites.   Poses like child’s pose, supported bridge pose and downward facing dog among others facilitate creativity. Even just physically stretching can offer a big boost.  My yoga studio offers daily streaming classes and an online yoga practice library.  It is a wonderful resource and an encouraging way to start and keep a yoga practice going.

12) Get enough sleep. Of course, an employer, cannot mandate more sleep but it is still a great idea and one that is touted all over medical and self help outlets.   If you’re trying to solve a problem, think about it before you go to bed and keep a recording devise by your bed so in the morning you can write down the idea or solution before you forget it.  This might not always work but sleep does restructure new memory representations and can help us think about experiences and problems in a new way.  Or listen to one of the many sleep meditation sources to get your mind off everything from the day and onto a more restful night sleep.  My personal favorite is the Insight Timer app.  but there are lots of choose from.

This list is just a start.  And I am sure as you and your team explore ways to enhance creativity you will add your own unique ideas. I would love to hear those.  Please share those ideas with us at On Point Thinking