In a recent story in Wired Magazine, How Being Bored Out of Your Mind Makes You More Creative, author Clive Thompson describes two recent studies that suggest that working on boring tasks is good for creativity.
“In one [study], researchers asked a group of subjects to do something boring, like copying out numbers from a phone book, and then take tests of creative thinking, such as devising uses for a pair of cups. The result? Bored subjects came up with more ideas than a nonbored control group, and their ideas were often more creative. In a second study, subjects who took an ‘associative thought’ word test came up with more answers when they’d been forced to watch a dull screensaver.”
The psychologists Thompson spoke to speculated that boredom may create a “seeking” or “daydreaming” state that can lead a person to become more inventive.
Now, I don’t think the researchers are suggesting that you copy numbers from a phone book as a way to think more creatively. To me, the takeaway is that we are more likely to generate creative thinking when we allow ourselves to be a little less busy and stimulated. We don’t exactly have to be bored, despite the title of that article, but I do think we are most likely to think creatively when we surrender ourselves to some silence and, perhaps, a repetitive task. Maybe it’s weeding. Maybe it’s walking, or running without music.
What could we do with that new creative juice? From a coach’s perspective, one creative task that most of us could benefit from would be to mull over who we are now, and give some attention to how we want to show up and what we really want do with the rest of our. . . fill in the blank. Week? Month? Next five years?
We might find ourselves making a habit of this, by putting the phone away for a half-hour at a certain time of day, to see what ideas bubble up. Or, if we can find the time, we can take a day. One very successful coach I read about actually sets aside 5–7 days every year to take a long walk alone, and while she does she asks herself challenging questions about how she is living, and who she wants to be.
Even if your ‘bored’ time only happens when you are washing dishes, consider taking that time to set aside your phone and even conversation, and see what contemplative thoughts bubble up. They might just be the creative ideas you’ve been looking for.