The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece on what inspires creativity. The secret? Distraction.
Although we live in an age that worships focus—we are always forcing ourselves to concentrate, chugging caffeine—this approach can inhibit the imagination. We might be focused, but we’re probably focused on the wrong answer.
And this is why relaxation helps: It isn’t until we’re soothed in the shower or distracted by the stand-up comic that we’re able to turn the spotlight of attention inward, eavesdropping on all those random associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain’s right hemisphere. When we need an insight, those associations are often the source of the answer.
This research also explains why so many major breakthroughs happen in the unlikeliest of places, whether it’s Archimedes in the bathtub or the physicist Richard Feynman scribbling equations in a strip club, as he was known to do. It reveals the wisdom of Google putting ping-pong tables in the lobby and confirms the practical benefits of daydreaming. As Einstein once declared, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”
I’m a human genius, so coming up with ideas isn’t ever really a problem with me (this is all untrue). I actually find that tricking myself into not thinking about whatever I’m supposed to be thinking about with games really helps me get gather my thoughts. So, um, next time you’ve got a deadline, play some Modern Warfare or something. It’ll make you smarter, promise.