Increasing your creative output by embracing boredom at work
A couple of weeks ago, I published Embracing the Idle Mind — an ode to the creative power of boredom. The article focuses on the immediate benefits that occur once we allow our brain to zone out. However, I also came across research revealing the delayed effects of boredom that did not make it into my first post.
In early 2013, Dr. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman from the University of Central Lancashire published a study on boredom and it’s impact on creativity. Test groups were given the mundane task of copying numbers out of a telephone dictionary. Afterwards, the researchers tested the creative abilities of the participants revealing that the test group became more creative afterwards. Feeling bored during their exercise helped the participants engage in daydreaming which in return encouraged divergent, creative thinking.
In other words, the researchers were able to make people more creative by first making them bored. Also, participants were able to transfer their increased creative abilities to an unfamiliar external task, not limiting their creativity to their to existing, internal train of thought.
Applying these findings to the workspace could help us unleash new creative potential in many areas.
Getting creative when the meeting reminder strikes
So far, I haven’t experienced a meeting starting with people copying phonebook content; and I do not promote to start doing so. Still, there might be other ways to leverage the study results.
When creative thinking sessions are set up as just another long meeting at the office, the participants’ thoughts will be all over the place as they are trying to make sense of their busy day. Most likely, the meeting’s topic will still be tackled head on to not waste any time. While this focused approach surely feels more efficient, it might limit the creative output of the participants — no time to be bored for even a second.
I’ve participated in workshops where professional moderators handled the situation differently. They made the participants experience some boredom by waiting just a bit longer before they cut off the group’s sporadic small talk to start the workshop. I cannot say wether they did this on purpose but it created a feeling of anxious excitement among the group to finally get started which got the workshop off to a good start. Considering a slower start into meetings that seek creative exchange could thus pay out at the end.
Diverse groups with diverse creative abilities
When groups consist of experts of various disciplines, boosting the participants creative potential can be especially useful. Diverse groups have great potential to come up with novel solutions to problems. However, not everyone in the group will be familiar or will feel comfortable in the creative terrain which is build around rapid idea generation and ideation. Enabling everyone to be more creative can help the group overcome this hurdle.
Boredom as your personal creativity booster
It doesn’t need to be a workshop or a brainstorming session that requires you to be creative. Every day, I am confronted with decisions that call for some sort of creative problem solving. Working on some dull tasks throughout the day could help keep creativity at a high level — start thinking about that travel expense form as the 5-hour energy for your creative resourcefulness.
I’m sure every workplace comes with at least some tasks that qualify as mundane enough to get a little bored. And if not, here is an exercise that works for individuals and groups alike: Go to your office kitchen, get a pot, fill it with water, watch it boil …
I surely wouldn’t mind seeing this exercise replace awkward ice breaker openers in workshops at some point in the future.