Highly structured lives, busy schedules and constant communication mean that employees today have less of a propensity to be creative. We think we have to buy tools, refurnish offices, and hire consultants to help us be creative, when what we really need is a little old fashioned downtime.
Ironically, the innovation that has led us to this point is what’s stopping us from continuing. We need to get back to the basics to be creative.
Here are three forgotten ways to boost creativity.
Remember when you were a kid and you told your parents you were bored? What was their response? While today’s parents would hand over an iPhone to play with, the old-fashioned response would be something to the effect of “A little boredom will do you good.” It turns out they were right. A study by Mann and Cadman reported in the Creativity Research Journal shows that being bored can elicit divergent thinking — the generation of new and different ideas. In other words, boredom can lead to creativity.
Does this mean we should be bored at work if we want to innovate? Well, yes, at least sometimes. Forget increasing employee engagement and productivity for a moment. Perhaps you need to let your employees disengage and do nothing for a little while to harness their creativity. When we are too busy, we don’t have time to let our minds wander — and that is what creativity thrives on.
So when your boss comes in and catches you daydreaming, tell her you’re harnessing your creativity.
Stop distracting yourself with mindless chatter. Creativity requires time to think. When you direct your attention to e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, you’re not giving yourself time to think. Take a look at the creative people you know. Chances are, they are more reflective and less obsessed with what’s trending.
In fact, a study conducted by David Strayer suggests that unplugging and reconnecting with nature can increase creativity. Meditating can also lead to greater creativity. Creative film director David Lynch is a perfect example. If you’re more of a techie than a yogi, evidence is mounting that simply taking a break from Facebook can also lead to more creative and productive practices.
But don’t let the research sway you. Use your common sense to avoid distracting nonsense.
Creativity doesn’t happen on a schedule. Your creative inspiration may take hours, days, or weeks to occur. Scientists call this the creative “incubation period.” Contrary to popular belief, time pressures stifle creativity, according to Teresa Amabile, a leading creativity researcher. Amabile also says that too little pressure might lull people into inaction — reinforcing the notion that boredom at work is useful sometimes, but not all the time.
Patience is almost nonexistent in today’s work culture. It’s an old-fashioned concept developed much before the time of Instagram. But some things can’t be hurried. For true innovation to occur, we need to let connections within our brain occur and that can be at unpredictable moments. We need to have faith in ourselves and our employees that these moments will occur. Given time, they will.
When it comes to rushing your employees to innovate, give them a break—literally.
In sum, go ahead and disengage, stop responding to emails, and come back at some later unspecified time with a creative idea your boss will love (or something like that).