Musings on Business (NOT) as Usual

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Boredom Recommended as the Recipe for Creativity

Remember being bored as a kid? We were pushed outdoors and told to “go play.” And then what happened? Out of boredom came unspeakable adventures and untold risk. Play took over and cool stuff got created. With our release into nature and our blissful freedom, magic occurred. We built dams, climbed trees, created caves in the woods, and built lemonade stands in the front yard.

In this space of “no agenda” lives a highly underrated commodity…our creativity and genius for invention and innovation. When given unstructured space, our playful curiosity begins to experiment, which leads to creative adventures as varied as nature itself.

When is the last time you played with an idea, notion, an inkling—without trying to make it into something concrete right then and there? Or looking into the void, where possibility lives; playing simply for the fun of playing; taking a shower just because you feel like it; running for the joy of it, unencumbered; walking in the woods; or driving untethered to our electronic devices. All these experiences open a space for unexpected observations and intuitive insights that show up in our newly quieted minds.

As creatives, our best work is often done when we are in our preferred natural state of being left alone. Interrupted with endless questions; people poking into our projects; or being forced to attend endless meetings, is not supportive to the creative process. We all know the answer to the question, what’s a camel? A horse designed by committee.

Focused and intentional work is possible when we are left alone. Google was a pioneer with an in-house incubator program encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship by giving engineers 20% of their time to work independently on their passions. Why don’t more companies adopt this policy to nurture their creative talent, enhancing the intellectual capital of their organizations?

Feedback is critical to creatives; none of us lives in a vacuum. At the right time, a trusted listener may be welcome…not as a problem solver (we’re not there yet), but rather, as someone who is invited into our process to listen, see, and ask probing questions. Most likely, this confidante will ultimately be able to see and share the picture, the vision, the new product, or service that once dwelt only in our imagination. He, or she, becomes a safe haven to test ideas and openly discuss the challenges at hand—often while taking long walks.

What really is creativity? Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance, defines very clearly the difference between problem solving and creating. Fritz states, “Problem solving is taking action to have something go away. Whereas creating is taking action to have something come into being—the creation. Getting rid of what you don’t want is different from creating what you do want.”

It is the creator who must first birth the child before exposing it to the larger “family.” The job of the successful manager for creatives is to back off and let the process naturally unfold and breathe. This does not mean insensitivity to deadlines. The rules of project management are a given, and creatives are typically self-disciplined, responsible and accountable. The challenge for structured management is to allow creatives to look and act differently at the process of creating and finding solutions. Our goal-oriented society has little experience or tolerance with the creative process. Our cultural sense of urgency, impatience, metrics, and linear thinking explains why results typically trump the process. Too often, we bypass the creative process altogether, and end up with pedestrian and unimaginative solutions.

A word about brainstorming: some believe the more creative ideas, the better. In reality, brainstorming and creativity are like oil and water— a toxic cocktail. The creative process is NOT brainstorming! Brainstorming is, in fact, far from a supportive strategy for creativity, invention, imagination and innovation. Brainstorming generally delivers the lowest common denominator by consensus; the willfulness of the loudest voice in the room; or the alpha power position that the group is afraid to differ with. Brainstorming can be useful in the marketing and sales process, but it must be carefully facilitated in order for all ideas and voices to be heard without interruption or judgment.

In lieu of brainstorming, I recommend mind-mapping as the tool for gathering all of the possible ideas. With this tool, there’s a placeholder created to track all of the ideas as they spill and tumble from the group. With mind-mapping, the silly or “stupid” idea often creates the crucial stepping-stone to the ultimate solution. Without the “stupid” idea, the process might have been truncated, thus causing a less innovative result.

Recognition of the positive role of creative imagination is slowly coming to be more widely respected. As a result, we are at a crossroads in business with a danger that traditional management does still not fully understand, or have the patience to nurture and allow the creative process to occur. Time for “failure” and learning from failed attempts needs to be built into the timeline and funding of all creative projects.

So now, get off your devices, and take a hike! New research studies report that time spent in nature increases performance of creativity by 50% in all age groups. Value yourself and your employees with outdoors play-time. Counterintuitive? You bet! But unstructured play is the incubation lab for breakthrough thinking and innovative solutions.



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