CreativityEngaging Culture

Distraction May Be a Good Thing!

The Wall Street Journal reports studies by universities as diverse as University of Memphis, University of Toronto, and Harvard that indicate daydreamers may be some of the most creative people, and best problem solvers.  In an age where we spend so much time on productivity, being UN-productive may actually be a useful tool.  The bottom line is that people who are easily distracted don’t have the ability to “tune out” the outside world.  But rather than hurt, it actually helps, because they’re getting input from a wide variety of sources.  The result is a richer variety of experiences.  As Jonah Lehrer writes in the Journal: “Because these people struggled to filter the world, they ended up letting everything in.  They couldn’t help but be open minded.”

Certainly focus is good.  In the classroom, at work, or listening to instructions, it’s important to tune out distractions.  And all this isn’t to say that A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. isn’t a serious problem for a lot of people.

But the research is a great reminder about the power and importance of daydreaming.  In my own case, I’m almost obsessed with “Getting Things Done” programs and productivity apps.  But if had I known this 30 years ago, I would have spent a lot less time feeling guilty, and a lot more time being creative.  Letting your mind wander can bring enormous new information and ideas to the table.   So maybe it’s time to cut back on the Red Bull, worry less about focus, and more about easing up.  As Lehrer concludes:  “Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is surf the Web and eavesdrop on that conversation next door.”

I’d love to know your experience….

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  1. I totally plug into this! As a script writer, I “noodle” (daydream) and it is time well spent. If someone is looking at me they may think I’m wasting time, but I’m not. The best ideas come from people/conversations/situations/etc. that fly by and get snagged in my mind! I learned to how to write dialog by listening, listening, listening to the random conversations whirling around me wherever I was. Such good training!
    Anyway, thanks for posting this Phil. I feel affirmed. 🙂

  2. As a 68 year old experienced daydreamer (from Grade One), I question whether daydreaming reflects an attention deficit. Too many leaders and demagogues want compliance with their view of the situation. They want disciples and memorizers, and are dissatisfied with people who don’t immediately follow their lead. To them, daydreaming looks undisciplined and inattentive.

    Instead, I believe daydreaming represents a different kind of attention. It requires the ability to take something important, and instead of being indoctrinated by the usual “facts”, holding it up and looking at it from multiple points of view. In the true/false test it is the ability to see the true in the “false” and the false in the “true”. In the multiple choice quiz, it is the ability to see how all four or five choices could answer the question.
    In a world of systematic theology memorized by obsessive- compulsive white-knuckle theologians, it leads to the ability to see why the old ways of communicating the faith message don’t work for many today, and to find new ways to communicate the possibility of awakening in faith. It can lead from an obsession with right doctrine as an end in itself to a curiosity about what doctrine is supposed to lead to. It is a kind of attention which can lead to a fresh encounter with Christ. It can result in transforming a dead letter into a living faith.
    God knows my theology college needs more of it!!!

  3. wow I like there a link that shows about the study?
    I’m having a hard time focusing when I have too many good ideas at hand, don’t know where to start, there is always something better that comes up…this is nice, I’m not alone

  4. Anybody ever read Freud’s work on “Creative writing and Day Dreaming”? Had to read this for a literary criticism class years ago in college. You may find this interesting.

  5. In moments of lot of stress, with lot of worries and work to do, I always stop for a few minutes to forget about it and ¨lose time¨ doing something that has nothing to do with that activity. Surfing the internet, drawing, writing, even anything meaningless, helps me to recharge my pace, to settle faster and better. That is creativity.

  6. Thanks for releasing the freedom.  As you alluded in the article, I too have often felt guilty for mind breaks, but I also find that I am able to see better solutions when my mind takes a little time off.

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