On Saturday, Jonah Lehrer published an article in the Wall Street Journal called “Bother Me, I’m Thinking.” The article’s premise, based on a couple of university research studies, suggests a caffeine-fueled, laser focus, is not the proper road to creativity. Instead, the piece claims people who are inattentive and easily distracted are more creative. There’s some truth in the article, but it brought to mind three dirty little secrets about what creativity is, how to release your creativity, and solid research:
1. Everybody’s creative.
Yes, you’re creative, even if you think you aren’t. Want proof? What’s something you REALLY LOVE to do? Maybe something that would never be considered a creative pursuit….like fishing, cleaning the house, or exercising. In those areas, I bet you have all kinds of hacks, personal strategies, and ways of going about it that nobody else does, right? See, you’re creative! What is the definition of creativity? Creativity is simply going outside the bounds of what or how everybody else does things. It doesn’t have to be painting, music, or writing. With this definition of creativity, it can apply to everything.
The WSJ article addresses a couple of recent university studies pointing to the creative advantages of daydreaming, attention-deficit disorder, and getting distracted by objects – shiny or not. The central point was difficulty in focusing on specific details allows an individual to wade through a much wider range of creative stimuli. Absolutely true, and part of the reason I’m always writing about the importance of diversity. But you know what? There are people (and times) where focus and time along are essential as well. The dirty little secret is the creativity exercises and techniques to release your creativity are HIGHLY dependent on how you’re trying to be creative RIGHT NOW. Don’t get locked into just a few creativity exercises. Have a bunch of creativity exercises you can use until you find the one working for you this instant.
3. Just because it’s called “research” doesn’t mean it tells you anything of value.
The university research efforts in the article were based on studying 60 and 86 undergraduate students, respectively. 60 and 86 undergraduate students? In the business world, we wouldn’t have reported with much confidence how pickup and delivery drivers in a 5 state area were doing at their jobs based on fewer than 100 randomly selected customer interviews. There is so much “research” coming out of universities which purports to help us understand the world. In reality, these projects barely help us understand students at that university. These provide, at best, interesting observations. They don’t predict what will happen in the world.
Today’s Creativity Wrap-up
You are creative and whatever creativity exercises work for you to release your creativity are great, so don’t let any researcher tell you differently! – Mike Brown
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