“I have always spent most of my time staring out the window, noting what is there, daydreaming, or brooding.” Joyce Carol Oates
One of the themes that prolific writer Jonah Lehrer develops in his upcoming book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” is that daydreaming can enhance creativity and innovation.
That quote by author Joyce Carol Oates is from my post Developing Creativity by Staring Out the Window – which briefly touches on this topic.
Biographer Walter Isaacson notes Einstein “was slow in learning to talk. They called him the dopey one in the family… But he did thought experiments in his head, what we call daydreaming.” [From my post The inspiration of Einstein.]
Einstein was expelled from school (in 1894) for “undermining the authority of his teachers and being a disruptive influence.” A teacher described him as “mentally slow, unsociable and adrift forever in his foolish dreams.” [From my post Developing creativity by nurturing divergent thinking.]
The Crayon image above is from the post Classroom Creativity by Jonah Lehrer, in which he comments:
“The classroom isn’t designed for impulsive expression – that’s called talking out of turn.
“Instead, it’s all about obeying group dynamics and exerting focused attention. Those are important life skills, of course, but decades of psychological research suggest that such skills have little to do with creativity.
“Look, for instance, at daydreaming. It’s hard to imagine a cognitive process that’s less suitable for the classroom, which is why I was always castigated for staring out the window instead of looking at the blackboard.
“In a culture obsessed with efficiency, daydreaming is derided as a lazy habit or a lack of discipline, the kind of thinking we rely on when we don’t really want to think. It’s a sign of procrastination, not productivity.”
But, he adds, it has now “become clear that daydreaming is actually an important element of the creative process, allowing the brain to remix ideas, explore counterfactuals and turn the spotlight of attention inwards. (That’s why increased daydreaming correlates with measures of creativity.)
He quotes a passage in Virginia Woolf’s novel “To The Lighthouse” about a character named Lily: “”Certainly she was losing consciousness of the outer things. And as she lost consciousness of outer things, her mind kept throwing things up from its depths, scenes and names, sayings, memories and ideas, life a fountain spurting over that glaring, hideously difficult white space.”
Video: Jonah Lehrer on the Surprising Benefits of Daydreaming
Innovative thinking and action
In his book, Lehrer describes how Procter and Gamble had a problem years ago coming up with a new floor cleaner, despite the company being “deeply invested in research and development. At the time, the corporation had more scientists on staff than any other company in the world, more PhDs than the faculties of MIT, UC-Berkeley, and Harvard combined.”
But the company “was still selling the same lemon-scented detergents and cloth mops; consumers were still sweeping up their kitchens using wooden brooms and metal dustpans. The reason for this creative failure was simple: it was extremely difficult to make a stronger floor cleaner that didn’t also damage the floor…”
So they consulted design firm Continuum.
“I think P and G came to us because their scientists were telling them to give up,” says Harry West, a leader on the soap team and now Continuum’s CEO. “So they told us to think crazy, to try to come up with something that all those chemists couldn’t.”
You can read more from the Introduction of the book at the Amazon site: Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer – just click on “See all Editorial Reviews.”
Encouraging so-called crazy ideas is one form of “thinking outside the box” – but creativity and innovation also develop from “thinking inside the box” – using inner-directed attention that is one of the assets of highly sensitive people.
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Last reviewed: 23 Feb 2012