Columns
June 24, 2017
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Mind Body and Spirit

Steven Campbell
Innovation requires no effort
June 15, 2017

Emma Seppala, Ph.D. wrote a wonderfully encouraging article  in Psychology Today which I am passing onto you.

While we assume that innovative thinking comes from tortuous angst, it is just the opposite! Dr. Seppala discovered that the biggest breakthrough ideas often come from relaxation!

How do you know????

History shows that many famous inventors have come up with novel ideas while letting their minds wander. 

• When inventor Nikola Tesla had fallen seriously ill in 1881 on a trip to Budapest, a friend took him on walks to help him recover. As they were watching the sunset on one of these walks, Tesla suddenly had an insight about rotating magnetic fields—which would in turn lead to the development of modern day’s alternating current electrical mechanism.

• Friedrich August Kekulé, discovered the ring-shaped structure of the organic chemical compound benzene while daydreaming about the famous circular symbol of a snake eating its own tail. 

• Our own Albert Einstein famously turned to music—Mozart in particular—when he was grappling with complex problems and needed inspiration.

• My ‘aha’ moment for Making Your Mind Magnificent came while I was walking our dog, and many of the highlights in my presentations originated in the bathtub!

Simply put, creativity often happens when your mind is unfocused, daydreaming, or idle. 

Research at UC Santa Barbara  finds that people are more creative after they have been daydreaming or letting their minds wander. Other research  found that when people learn a challenging task, they do better if they work first on an easy task that promotes mind-wandering, and then go back to the more difficult one. The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.

The Age of the iPhone

Many of us can go entire days without putting our brains on idle. At work, we’re intensely analyzing problems, organizing data, writing—all activities that require focus. During downtime, we immerse ourselves in our iPhones while standing in line at the store or lose ourselves in Netflix after hours.

However, we need to find ways to give our brains a break. 

If our minds are constantly processing information, we never get a chance to let our thoughts roam and our imagination drift. Luckily, there are several ways to boost your creativity.

First, emulate creative geniuses like Charles Dickens and J. R .R.Tolkien and make a long walk—without your iPhone—a part of your daily routine. 

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that people who went on daily walks scored higher on a test that measures creative thinking than people who did not, and that people who went on outdoor walks came up with more novel, imaginative analogies than people who walked on treadmills.

Second, get out of your comfort zone. Instead of intensely focusing exclusively on your field, take up a new skill or class. Travel to new places, and socialize with people outside your industry. Learn a new musical instrument! Research shows that diversifying your experiences will broaden your thinking and help you come up with innovative solutions.

Third, make more time for fun and games. Stuart Brown points out in his book Play that humans are the only mammals who no longer play in adulthood. That’s a shame, because research by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity, shows that play, by boosting positive mood, makes us feel both happier and more inventive. So spend some time playing fetch with your dog, join the kids for a game of Twister, or join an improv group or soccer club.

Lastly, alternate between doing focused work and activities that are less intellectually demanding. Adam Grant, Wharton School management professor and author of Give & Take, suggests that organizing your day this way can help give your brain some much-needed downtime. The better to make room for your next big idea.

 

Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent” and conducts “The Winners Circle” every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. Contact Steven at 480-5007 or go his website at stevenrcampbell.com to ask about his one-day free monthly seminar.