The importance of taking breaks for creativity

Taking a break is not a waste of time. On the contrary, this moment of relaxation can produce new ideas. 

A break is not just an untimely distraction. It is often crucial in order to put employees in a state of mind conducive to innovation. Enjoying a relaxing activity, such as playing table tennis, spending a few moments in the sun or even taking a shower seems to encourage unexpected associations of ideas. By contrast, a person sitting in front of their computer, focused on their work, is probably less likely to have an original idea.

A happy employee is also likely to prove creative. Mark Beeman, an American cognitive psychology expert, has shown that people who had just watched a funny video were 25% more effective when it came to solving logic tests requiring creativity than those who had had to watch a boring or sad film. Breaks are a chance to laugh with colleagues. 

Conscious daydreaming

Daydreaming also promotes innovation. Cerebral imaging studies have shown that this triggers the exchange of extremely strong electrical impulses between several parts of the brain which do not usually communicate. Some scientists claim that this unusual activity helps us notice connections which have gone unnoticed up till then, and to associate concepts from very different areas.

To be productive, daydreaming must be semi-conscious, according to experts. You need to be just attentive enough to be able to stop when it results in an interesting idea. That way you can jot the idea down before you forget it. The American psychologist Jonathan Schooler recommends spending half an hour a day taking a walk, during which you should let your mind wander. He argues that this time-limited daydreaming has the advantage of being conscious. 

Waking up

The first few minutes after waking up are another moment of well-being which can be exploited. Still half asleep, the brain seems open to all kinds of unconventional ideas. That’s why it’s worth it to set your alarm a few minutes earlier to take advantage of these few moments of increased creativity. 

The 15% rule

The American company 3M, which has been inventing new products for 75 years in a multitude of sectors (from computer screens to kitchen sponges), has understood the importance of these moments of relaxation. It encourages its employees to take regular breaks, be this a walk in the park or a game of pinball. It also introduced the “15% rule”: each employee is entitled to spend 15% of their working hours on researching and testing new ideas. The model has since been copied by Google, which calls it Innovation Time Off. In particular, this led to the invention of Gmail and the advertising platform AdSense. Nearly half of Google’s new products have emerged as a result of this method

Sources: Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Quotes about creativity

“Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”
Albert Einstein, who developed the theory of relativity

Last modification 17.07.2018

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