Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lehrer on Concentration and Creativity

Jonah Lehrer considers the link between concentration and creativity in the February 19, 2011, edition of The Wall Street Journal. Excerpts:
We live in a time that worships attention. When we need to work, we force ourselves to focus, to stare straight ahead at the computer screen. There's a Starbucks on seemingly every corner -- caffeine makes it easier to concentrate -- and when coffee isn't enough, we chug Red Bull. ... In recent years, however, scientists have begun to outline the surprising benefits of not paying attention. Sometimes, too much focus can backfire; all that caffeine gets in the way. For instance, researchers have found a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity -- people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas. Other studies have found that employees are more productive when they're allowed to engage in "Internet leisure browsing" and that people unable to concentrate due to severe brain damage actually score above average on various problem-solving tasks.
Read the whole thing. I'm a type-A, gotta-get-it-done-now sort of guy given to filling all available slots in my schedule with at least quasi-profitable tasks. I like to think this is an efficient way to run my life, but such an approach proves woefully lacking in one area -- writing. Perhaps some of you fine folks can compose on demand, filling pages with profitable stuff at a moment's notice. It doesn't work that way for me. Usually about half of my scribbling time goes into dead-end sentences, circuitous revisions and general existential angst. However, sometimes the process flows, and that usually happens when I've mulled over a narrative for a while, often while driving or shaving or some such similarly mindless task that lets one's mind wander. Perhaps I ought to take Lehrer's advice and set aside some wasted time.

(Picture: CC 2010 by shekouvillage)


Scattercat said...

Hell, at this point I'm a professional daydreamer, assuming that you count comments on a blog as payment.

Loren Eaton said...

When you publish your first novel, I'll give you both comments on your blog and cash money. Sound like a deal?