112 university students were given two minutes to come up with creative ideas that might alleviate a mundane problem: improving the experience of waiting in line at a cash register. The subjects were then divided into two groups: Half of them went straight to work, while the others were first instructed to perform an unrelated task for two minutes. (They played a silly little videogame.) The purpose of this delay was to give the unconscious a chance to percolate, to let that subterranean supercomputer invent new concepts for the supermarket queue.
Here’s where things get interesting. After writing down as many ideas as they could think of, both groups were asked to choose which of their ideas were the most creative. Although there was no difference in idea generation, giving the unconscious a few minutes now proved to be a big advantage, as those who had been distracted were much better at identifying their best ideas. (An independent panel of experts scored all of the ideas.)
While those in the conscious condition only picked their most innovative concepts about 20 percent of the time – they confused their genius with their mediocrity – those who had been distracted located their best ideas about 55 percent of the time. In other words, they were twice as good at figuring out which concepts deserved more attention.
For what it’s worth, my preferred method of taking some time between creating and editing involves me playing a game about horses on my iPhone. It’s awesome.