If you’ve visited our offices lately you may have noticed we have table tennis, as well as a lovely new kitchen to keep everyone fed and watered.
Although this is about making our office a nice place to work, it’s also connected to the nature of the creative work we’re here to do.
Like many organisations, we’ve always valued a bit of down time during the busy working day as a way of keeping our brains fresh and our ideas flowing, but have been conscious of the need to justify this approach to clients. However, we’re pleased to say that science has now proven the value of down time in the creative process, and this was highlighted in a BBC Horizon documentary.
The programme shed new light on the nature of creativity, exploring some fundamental questions: what is creativity and where do creative ideas come from? Why is it that some people are more creative than others, and how can creativity be developed?
Interestingly, scientists have discovered that ‘zoning out’ is one of the most important elements in the process of being creative.
Zoning out allows creative ideas to arise while doing tasks which don’t require a great deal of concentration, but which allow the mind to wander freely. It’s thought the brain’s frontal lobes go into a ‘temporary sleep mode’ allowing ideas to flow from the subconscious to the conscious, leading to more and better insights.
Large companies like the BBC and Google have long recognised the value of down time, which goes some way to explain the quirky, fun décor of their premises. However, most businesses don’t have the space for slides and meeting pods – our approach has been to install our much-loved table tennis table which is already proving its worth in allowing us to temporarily switch off from the task in hand. Equally we could go out for a walk, sort out our files or make everyone a cup of tea, anything which diverts the brain temporarily from the work we’re trying to produce.
Perhaps this research explains why we can’t always think of the right creative solution during the working day. Some of our best ideas have arrived while we’ve been driving home, cooking dinner or simply waking up from a good night’s sleep. The mind, it seems, needs time to absorb and process the task in hand before it can create the ideas we’re searching for.
Of course, it’s not always easy to await this insight, especially when trying to work to a deadline, and probably helps to explain why some projects are more challenging when we try to force ideas. Although it seems counter-intuitive, too much analysis can limit the number and quality of ideas. Another good reason to step away from your PC and let your mind wander.
Interestingly, experts also cited the importance of changing perspective or broadening your horizons to assist the creative process. They say that trying something new, or breaking everyday routines, enables you to build new connections in the brain, helping you to generate new and original ideas. Even small changes such as taking a different route to work or having lunch in a different spot can help.
The other critical factor, it seems, is to limit distractions, which delay thinking about the task in hand. While mindless activities allow your brain to wander, distracting activities force your brain to think about something other than the creative solution you’re searching for.
Of course, if you’re in a creative role or if you enjoy creative activities in your spare time, it’s likely you’re pre-disposed to thinking in an ideas-generating way.
But if you want to improve your creative thinking, don’t be afraid to zone out for a while. And if it helps to play table tennis for a while, just get in touch and we’ll gladly give you a game!