Are you someone who struggles to focus on problem solving when there’s a stack of ironing that needs doing, or a lawn that needs mowing? Relax – the lastest scientific research says that performing simple non-demanding tasks can free up your creative brain and actually help you generate more aha moments.
In the recent documentary ‘The Creative Mind’, BBC Horizon reported on a psychological experiment by Prof John Schooler at Santa Barbara University, California, to explore how we can all become more creative. Based on a simple test of divergent thinking, participants were given two minutes to list as many uses as they could think of for an ordinary house brick. Those who could only manage ‘use it to build a house’ were classed as ‘not very creative’. Those who saw its potential as a paperweight, a weapon, a unit of measurement, an object of art, etc. (you get the idea) were at the higher end of the spectrum.
After the test, the guinea pigs were then invited to do one of three things. The first group took a rest and did absolutely nothing for a few minutes. The next group were asked to sort out a pile of lego bricks according to colour. The final group used the lego bricks to design a model house. Then they all had to perform the divergent thinking test again and think up some more uses for the house brick that they hadn’t previously considered. Who do you think came up with the most new suggestions?
Those who did the worst were the ones who’d been given the most demanding task of modelling a house. The most new ideas, by a significant margin, came from those who’d performed the simple colour sorting task.
This fascinating experiment confirms the popular conception that we get many of our best ideas when we least expect them. So if you want to generate more aha moments, you need to walk away from the problem – literally. Take a walk, go for a swim, have a bath, do the washing up. By tuning your mind to a more creative state, you will create more ‘ahas’ for yourself.
So here’s an interesting test of divergent thinking: how many applications of this finding can you think of to make employees more creative in your workplace?
This blog post first appeared on www.purplebeach.com on my ‘Beach Writing‘ blog