Researchers recently confirmed the creative power of “boredom” by subjecting one group of study participants to the mundane task of copying the telephone book for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, the study subjects were given a standard creativity test 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 copying from a phone book. The telephone book copiers were more creative. While perhaps not a conclusive study, it provides interesting fodder for today’s company managers.
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 which requires other strategies and action.
What is the Takeaway for Employees and Managers?
The author of the telephone book study, Dr Sandi Mann, commented that “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.”
Therefore, managers or company personnel who demand or expect 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 feels like a hurried and stressful environment.
Getting more creative
Besides requiring boredom which is, of course, unrealistic here are some things your employees can do to enhance creativity.
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.
2) Get out in nature.
Take a walk. Depending on the weather and applicable areas, have a meeting outside. Being outside can add energy and stimulate the imagination.
3) Write using pen and paper.
Try visually displaying the problem. Within the academic community, there is a debate on what it better, electronic devises or pen and paper writing. Electronic devices are efficient to collect and store information. But with email, Facebook, 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.
Meditation practice is a step to being more creative. With meditation benefits of increased focus, increased concentration, calmness, clarity, insight and in the moment thinking, creativity is enhanced with meditation practice.
5) Mind mapping.
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 of the best ways to capture your thoughts and bring them to life in visual form. Beyond just note-taking, mind maps can help you become more creative, remember more, and solve problems more effectively.
I use the mind mapping technique allot and have discovered Coggle which is a Google tool that is a simple mind mapping application. Sign in with a Google account and you are ready to access Coggle.
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”. Then go back over the notes and see which ideas are worth keeping.
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 we work with and get to know them it leads to a more trusting relationship and the potential of a more, relaxed, sharing environment.
This is my particular favorite. I find taking time on the treadmill and in the weight room 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.
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.
I recently took a creativity class and one of the assignments 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, corpse pose and downward facing dog among others facilitate creativity. Even just physically stretching can offer a big boost.
12) Get enough sleep.
If you’re trying to solve a problem, think about it before you go to bed and keep a recording device 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, at work, find a safe, private and quiet place and take a short power nap, which also stimulates and regenerates brain activity.
This list is a start and I am sure as you and your team explore ways to enhance creativity you will add your own unique ideas.