Daydreaming Leads to Creative Insights

Apparently daydreaming and relaxation are key to finding creative insights to business problems. Think about that the next time you find yourself —or your employees — staring off into space.

Jonathan Schooler, a UC Santa Barbara psychologist who studies insight, has been able to demonstrate that people who consistently engage in more daydreaming score significantly higher on measures of creativity. According to Schooler:

“…It’s not enough to just daydream. Letting your mind drift off is the easy part. The hard part is maintaining enough awareness so that even when you start to daydream you can interrupt yourself and notice a creative thought.”

In other words, we need to let our minds wander, yet pay attention to those moments when our daydreams generate creative insights. To encourage this creative process, Dr. Schooler says, it may help if you go jogging, take a walk, do some knitting or just sit around doodling.

Relatively undemanding tasks seem to free your mind to wander productively. But you also want to be able to catch yourself at the Eureka moment.

Take the example of Post-It Notes.  Arthur Fry, the engineer at 3M who invented Post-It notes, was bored at church one Sunday. He let his mind wander back to a meeting at 3M where a colleague, Spencer Silver, presented an adhesive that was extremely weak. At the same time, Fry was looking for a way to bookmark his hymnal so that his little scraps of paper wouldn’t fall out. Because of his relaxed mind-wandering, he was able to connect the two ideas together.

Productive daydreaming requires a mental balancing act. Boredom can actually be harnessed into a relaxed form of thinking that leads to unexpected connections. But if you let your mind wander too far afield, it can easily get lost. While it’s easy to entertain oneself with random thoughts, you need an anchor to real world problems in order to have creative insights.

What do you think about this? Do you allow yourself enough mental space for creative insights to happen? Do you provide opportunities for your employees to “just think?” Or does this sound too much of a time-waster?

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