The Creativity of the Wandering Mind
Do you have a numbingly dull job, one so monotonous that you frequently find your mind wandering? Well, congratulations: without realizing it, you have boosted your creative potential.
Mindless tasks that allow our thoughts to roam can be catalysts for innovation. That’s the conclusion of a research team led by Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s META Lab (which focuses on Memory, Emotion, Thought and Awareness).
Their research, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests putting a difficult problem in the back of your mind won’t, by itself, lead to creative thinking. The key seems to be performing some simple chore while it’s lodged there.
Baird and his colleagues describe an experiment featuring 135 people, ages 19 to 35. Their creativity was measured by performance on the classic Unusual Uses Task, in which each participant is given two minutes to come up with as many uses as possible for a specific item, such as a brick. Besides the sheer number of responses, their answers are judged on originality, flexibility, and level of detail.