Thoughts on economics and liberty

Believe and dream. And have a drink. That’s the secret to creativity.

Thanks to Vishal Singh of Freedom Team for linking to an excellent article about how children believe. It is in a way the opposite of dreaming, but the combination of believing (trusting) and dreaming perhaps explain creativity. Entrepreneurship and innovation is perhaps the next level: the one who believes, dreams, and DOES.

Extracts from the New Scientist:

Daydream your way to creativity, 18 June 2012 by Richard Fisher

Concentration is overrated. Psychologists are finding that if you let your mind wander it may well stumble upon better ideas

As you read these sentences, your mind will almost certainly wander at least once. In fact, according to some estimates, we may spend nearly 50 per cent of our lives drifting away from the present moment into the world inside our heads.

Today, we know it is the sign of a healthy mind, allowing us to plan for the future by imagining different events, for instance. 

Drifting, it seems, is a sure sign that our creative juices are flowing. When it comes to arriving at brilliant ideas, the ability to concentrate is overrated. If a person's mind is wandering, they outperform their peers in a range of tasks where flashes of insight are important, from imaginative word games to exercises in original thinking and invention.

The psychologists researching the benefits of daydreaming would never claim to have found a formula for all creative achievement. But their results suggest that learning how to tread the line between focusing in and zoning out could help you to arrive at a breakthrough you might otherwise have missed.

people's minds wandered from the words for more than 20 per cent of the time, often without them realising. When faced with other tasks, our capacity for distraction seems even greater; a recent study asking people to report their state of mind at random intervals during the day – via a smartphone app – showed that their attention was wandering from the task at hand a whopping 47 per cent of the time (Science, vol 330, p 932).

a host of studies have shown that people who can focus well tend to ace analytical problems: they are whizzes at arithmetic and verbal reasoning tasks, and often have a higher IQ. If you wanted to be clever, it seemed that you would need to learn how to concentrate.

Yet there were hints that concentration wasn't all it was cracked up to be. While people with a high level of working memory are good at analytical problems, they tend to struggle on tasks that require flashes of inspiration. "Often the best way to solve a problem is to not focus," says Jennifer Wiley.

In one test, people are asked to spend a couple of minutes coming up with a range of creative uses for an object, such as a brick. One study showed that people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder – who have lower working-memory capacity and are prone to zoning out – did better at this test than those without ADHD.

The experiment took place in three stages. First, the volunteers spent 2 minutes dreaming up unusual uses for a brick. Next, some were given a mindless task to complete, such as watching for letters on a screen. Others were given a much trickier test that required their full attention. As you might expect, subsequent questionnaires revealed that people drifted off significantly more in the mindless task. Finally, unexpectedly, all participants were asked to take another crack at the unusual uses task. This time, those whose minds had been wandering came up with, on average, 40 per cent more answers than on their first go. Those who'd had to concentrate on their task barely improved at all. 

as you drift off into memories, thoughts of food or plans for your holiday, your brain is busily mulling over potential solutions for whatever problem you are trying to solve.

Brain scans of the non-focused mind: periods of mind wandering correlate with activity in a the default network. This network has only recently been discovered. For years, researchers had been placing people in brain scanners and failing to note a surge in activity during the supposed resting moments between experimental tasks. The drifting mind also activated some parts of the brain that tend to be associated with the executive functions, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These regions might be recruited to keep track of the important ideas in the fire hose of thoughts released during wandering.

In 2003, Shelley Carson studied people who had written a published novel, patented an invention or had art shown at a gallery. In computer tests that required participants to screen out irrelevant information – latent inhibition tests – she found these high-achievers were less likely to disregard inconsequential details and focus on the task, compared with an average person. In other words, their minds more frequently wandered from the task at hand, a tendency that may have left them open to novel or left-field ideas.

Anxiety leads to the exact opposite of the freewheeling mindset you need to create something original. "An anxious mood comes with a high degree of focus."

Instead of forcing yourself to concentrate, the best approach when a deadline looms may be to loosen your grip and take a quick break. People in a relaxed mood were more likely to find creative solutions to word puzzles. Even listening to jokes helps.

If all else fails, a stiff drink can lubricate the mind's cogs. The tipsy students found themselves drifting more often than sober participants. That may explain why students stoked up on a vodka-crannberry mix were better able to solve a series of tricky word puzzles that require creative, rather than analytical, solutions. They solved them faster, and in grater number, than those on soft drinks.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Sanjeev Sabhlok

View more posts from this author
10 thoughts on “Believe and dream. And have a drink. That’s the secret to creativity.
  1. Saurabh Agarwal

    Dear sanjeev,

    Are you saying that one should not focus in order to solve a problem?

    If yes, that would be against the ‘Objectivist’ position that “focus” is a proper state of a purposeful human being (OPAR, pp. 55-62).

    How would you reconcile that?

  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok


    I don’t know how far Ayn Rand’s statements on EVERY subject under the sun are valid.Rand was NOT an oracle

    Do read about System 1, System 2, for instance, and many other recent discoveries about the human brain. Then we can talk about the word “focus”.

    Let’s avoid mixing up issues. I’m talking about creativity and recent findings on this subject. Focus is good for robots, not for creativity.


  3. Saurabh Agarwal


    One reconciliation (these are largely my own hypotheses) could be as below:

    – Focus is key to success in solving any Problem. The right question to ask is Focus ‘on what’?

    – For Creative Problem Solving, one needs to focus on generating ‘Causes’ that create the desired creative ‘Effects’. My view is that proper brain science needs to focus on unravelling this Cause-Effect relationship. And preferable Deductively. They need to get into the ‘Nature’ of Creative problem-solving.

    – Right now, your article seems to rely on Inductive findings to make the case that do certain things and wait for Creative inspiration to strike. This, I think, is like mysticism.

    Note: The above is my understanding/judgment based on my best effort as of now. I am more than happy to change it, if right evidence/logic is given.

  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Saurabh, please read about the many recent findings about the human brain. This is a fascinating area of discovery. Many things often criticised in the past (day dreaming) are critical to human survival. You are most welcome to advise brain scientists through a properly peer reviewed publication re: cause-effect, etc. Nothing is off the table.


  5. Saurabh Agarwal

    Thanks Sanjeev. I will consider the ‘Journal publication’ route too.

    My approach is to identify the Philosophical principles involved in ‘Ideas’ and critically assess them.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial