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Why Wasting Time Is a Key to Generate Creative Ideas

How to smartly spend a decent amount of time to come up with the most innovative and original ideas

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí. (Photo: Flickr)

I really dislike the first sips taken from the water bag’s straw during a hike. It’s relatively warm at first, after staying in the straw for a while. But I force myself to drink it anyway to stay hydrated. Then comes relief when I reach the water from the bottom of the bag and it tastes better again, finally quenching my thirst.

Like water, like ideas.

The first ideas are almost never the best ones that you can come up with. The first ideas of any kind — innovations, solutions, strategies, headlines, names — are simply the preparation of the brain for diving into the topic. Yet if we stop the ideation process right after the preparation, instead of deepening the thinking and reaching below the surface — we’re missing the treasure ideas.

If you’ve ever attended a session where the ideas that were brought up remained boring and unexciting rather than innovative and creative, there’s a high chance that someone didn’t allow enough time for the good ideas to start flowing. Either you quit too soon or paused too often and let in distractions. Whichever it was, the result remained the same: the warm-up ideas stole the show, whereas waiting patiently would have produced the real stars of the show — the new, rare, unconventional ideas.

Research is actually demonstrating this point clearly enough. For example, it has been found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to a task after an interruption. In another experiment, researchers found that the distraction of an interruption made test takers 20 percent more likely to make a mistake.

People might think that putting extra hours in a thorough (and long…) ideation process is just a waste of time, when ironically — giving too short of a time interrupts the thinking process right before it gets interesting, meaning that the new ideas are never brought to the surface or you have to take several attempts (more time) to get to them.

Take the time for an ideation process (OK, maybe not that long). Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

What can we do to enable a good flow of creative, unique and truly original ideas?

Take the time to prepare the setting

Clean off the desk, make your favorite drink, bring any needed materials (sheets, markers, sticky notes — you name it) with you. When your setting is well prepared, you can avoid unnecessary interruptions to go back and forth for the little yet important details.

“Waste” some time on a check-in

A check-in is a great method to bring not only the body but also the mind into focus for any sort of a meeting or a thinking session. Both a group check-in and a personal one is about bringing the attention to our current state of being (how do we feel, where do we come from, what are we looking forward to, etc.).

With a group of people, it could be useful to have a circle of check-in, limited in time yet spacious enough for expression. The participants’ need to connect is being met, and attention and focus on the relevant topic will highly increase.

A self check-in could be done similarly with a guiding question, yet the purpose is to connect to ourselves prior to the ideation process. When we check-in individually in an intentional way, we set the stage for a more effective thinking mode that is potentially “protected” from other concerns.

Waste some more time on a ridiculously long list of mediocre ideas

One of the important rules for an outstanding brainstorming session is: aim for quantity, not quality. You want the good, the bad and the ugly ideas on your initial list. You want all the crazy, unfeasible, unreasonable ideas that you can possibly come up with. You need to have this long list to move on to the next stage — building up on those ideas with some more strange ideas. Only then, and it will probably require a few more rounds, will you start to generate the most creative, brilliant and innovative ideas.

Plan your breaks

If you’re human — you’ll need a break in some point, for drinking, eating, using the bathroom and stretching muscles. If you don’t need a break — please reconsider your priorities (seriously — everyone needs a break, even if the work is piling up).

The best thing you can do, for allowing suitable breaks yet minimizing disruptions, is to plan the breaks in advance. Whether it’s a team putting heads together or you by yourself — work breaks should be framed in the agenda and be as relaxing as possible. The purpose of a thinking-session break is to renew the physical energy and the mind’s capacity for processing. Therefore you want to reduce any activities that arouse your adrenaline, trigger your thinking (in other directions than the relevant topic) or bring new concerns to the surface.

Yes, you read correctly between the lines: no phone calls, texts, emails or other types of work are recommended within a break during a thinking process. Do you really want to start a new session with a head full of extraneous issues that require your attention?

Since we’re living in that era, it’s likely that this request is not always possible to be fulfilled. In that case, you could choose to limit your communication to only the necessary and make a hard-copy list (pen and paper) of what needs to be taken care of after you’re done. That way, your mind — knowing that the tasks are listed — will be free to pick up from where you left off in the ideation process.

Even a good break has its rules. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world”. Robin  Williams

Time spent on words and ideas is never wasted. Efforts put in capturing more suggestions pay off eventually. While giving extra time and effort to thinking of more ideas seems counter-productive, it’s exactly the opposite. Only by allowing our minds to engage in a thorough thinking process, that truly respects the natural flow can we really engage with our creative minds. When we minimize distractions and maximize patience we can tap into the treasure ideas that are waiting to be discovered.


Originally published at medium.com

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