I read someplace that the brain needs some boredom during the day to process thoughts and generate creativity. That sounds right. My best ideas always bubble up when I'm bored. And my period of greatest creative output was during my corporate years when every meeting felt like a play date for coma patients.

So what would happen if everyone in the world stopped being bored? You might be there already. I know I am. If I have access to my phone, or my computer, I'm never bored. If I'm watching TV, I can fast-forward through commercials. If I'm standing in line at the store, I can check email or play Angry Birds. When I work out, I listen to my iPod. I wake up in the morning and walk straight to my iPad to browse the headlines while my coffee is brewing. The last thing I do before shutting my eyes at night is browse the news again on my phone.

As recently as a year ago I would drive my car in silence and cook up all sorts of ideas on the go. Now I have satellite radio and can always find some auditory diversion. The only reliable place to be bored these days is in the shower.

Now let's suppose that the people who are leaders and innovators around the world are experiencing a similar lack of boredom. I think it's fair to say they are. What change would you expect to see in a world with declining boredom and therefore declining creativity?

I'll take some guesses.

For starters, you might see people acting more dogmatic than usual. If you don't have time to think for yourself, and think creatively, the easiest opinion to adopt is the default position of your political party, religion, or culture. Check.

You might see more movies that seem derivative or based on sequels. Check.

You might see more reality shows and fewer scripted shows. Check.

You might see the bestseller lists dominated by fiction "factories" where ghost writers churn out work under the brand of someone famous. Check.

You might see almost no humor books on the bestseller lists except for ones built around a celebrity. Check.

You might see the economy flatline for lack of industry-changing innovation. Check.

You might see the news headlines start to repeat, like the movie Groundhog Day, with nothing but the names changed. Check.

You might find that bloggers are spending most of their energy writing about other bloggers. Check.

You might find that people seem almost incapable of even understanding new ideas. Check.

To be fair, there might be lots of reasons why the world appears to have less creativity. Some of it is simple economics. A movie studio can make more money with a sequel than with something creative. A similar dynamic is true in every industry.

And also to be fair, sometimes things seem to be getting worse when in fact you're only noticing it more. It seems as if folks are more dogmatic than ever, but maybe that's not the case.

Still, it's worth keeping an eye on the link between our vanishing boredom and innovation. It's the sort of thing that could literally destroy the world without anyone realizing what the hell is going wrong. If it reaches critical proportions, we probably won't recognize the root cause of the problem. A lack of creativity always looks like some other problem.

Do you think the world is becoming less creative?

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Sep 10, 2011
I totally agree with you on this. We all are trying to get more done within 24 hours. There are too many distractions and too much on your mind. How does one focus let alone be creative. Great post!
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Jul 20, 2011
replace internet radio with regular radio; iPad with tabloids; and skipping ads with soap opera gossip. welcome to Elbonia -- I mean Brazil!
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Jul 18, 2011

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Jul 17, 2011
I know my creativity is way down from 5 years ago because from first thing in the morning to last thing at night I have entertainement at my finger tips.

Even conversations with random people seem pointless, they'll just be full of opinions or bias, no facts, no links to research, why bother.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 15, 2011
I completely agree with you. There are so many distractions, there is no time for silence. I personally think the brain needs the lack of noise in order to reset, go deep within itself to be "creative." As more and more electronics enter life, I notice that I crave the quiet more frequently. It becomes that I have the radio off when I drive to work; the radio/TV is NOT on in the morning; I do not watch TV at night. During my "on"/work hours I have become more easily distracted - checking emails/FB/anything more frequently. I have to make myself shut off - to deliberately make myself "tune out" to hear the inner voice which I believe creativity lies. And I think that's why a lot of the c---p we see around today is simply recycled; no one is giving themselves time to *think*.
Jul 15, 2011
@glennisaac: I would turn your attention to DaVinci, who worked for patrons on specific and non-specific projects. He would design weapons they wanted as well as come up with inventions they didn't know they needed. On the side, he also worked on projects that he was interested in. Because of his other successes, most patrons were willing to overlook his (mis?)use of time.

I recall some post of Scott's where he or a commentor mentioned some corporation that allowed their employees (engineers) a certain amount of time to work on projects that interested themselves, at work, on the clock. And how some of their better products / improvements came from this work.

Ultimately, I agree with you: employers who want quanifiable productivity all the time reduce or eliminate creativity in their employees. Those who are willing to give their staff some flexibility (as Google reportedly does) become the innovators/pack leaders. It's a difference of the industrial-age mentality v. the renaissance-type mentality, or something along those lines.
Jul 14, 2011
You'll never be bored at a meeting again when you can make balls shoot out of your boss's nose:
Jul 14, 2011
<two cents>


I don't believe creativity is at a low or a high, or ever really fluctuates that much.

However, I do believe the spending habits of patrons of creativity do shift. I would argue that patronage of the arts has generally fallen away from the financial economy and toward a pure attention economy (which doesn't feed the creative, though it does and always has fed our egos). In other words, people are pretty damn cheap nowadays.

The lack of financial support drives creatives to work for "employers" rather than simply be creative (in the expectation that eventually, they'll at least be able to eat off that creativity). Employers are quite different than patrons - as employers will often command the "graphic designer", while patrons pay the artist almost regardless of their output.


</two cents>
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2011
I think this suffers from the "When I was a kid" fallacy. When I was a kid, stuff was pretty new then too, as was stuff when my Dad was a kid, or when my Grandmother was a kid. This idea that literature and art didn't have garbage back in the day is ridiculous. Plenty of flop films were made several decades ago. Studios began remaking their own films in the 50s. Sure, the overuse of the trilogy was born with The Matrix, but this idea that imagination is dying is silly.

As noted in Adam's post, a lot of what we see via non-creative isn't about boredom, but about profits. Why make a risky plot strong movie that could fail when you know Transformers 3 will rake in hundreds of millions regardless how bad it is. Television has switched to Reality programming not because of a lack of creativity, but rather because reality programming is cheaper to produce. And the major stations have tons of CSI, L&O programs because it is established ratings, hence advertising revenue.
Jul 14, 2011
When learning to meditate, I recall something about how the mind is "afraid" to let go of control and will distract you in an effort to hold onto the control it normally enjoys. If I have NOTHING to do, I get anxious and fidgety until I find something to do. But if I give my mind a task to do that it has to keep track of, but doesn't have to concentrate on (knitting is good, or as I and many others have discovered, showering), my mind will quiet right down and let the creativity flow. I need some sort of sensory input if I want any kind of output, but it can't be so high that it gets my full attention.
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Jul 14, 2011
Back in my days as a magazine writer, I found that I had my best creative moments in the shower before heading to work.

I used to keep a pen (erasable) on the shelf in the bathroom. While scrubbing away, or just standing under a steady fire-hose stream of water (after removing the "water saver" screen), I would have a moment of inspiration. I would jump out of the shower, and write notes on anything -- walls, cabinets, toilet paper -- it didn't matter. I would transfer it later to a notepad I kept with me during the day.

I would use these ideas from time-to-time. My fellow co-workers would say, "How did you think up that?!" I would say, "In the shower!" The boss told me he was going to put a shower in my office, but never did. Tease!

I would not say that people are losing creativity. They are too distracted. They can't focus. Do you have 30 min in the day to just think?
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Jul 14, 2011
I've noticed that walking the dog is a fairly creative time for me so sometimes if I'm stuck on something I'll take the dog for a walk to see what I come up with, if anything. I have also found that while riding a train I was generally both creative and productive; probably something to do with the absence of major disturbances coupled with the slight distraction of changing scenery outside. Finally if I have a hard problem where progress has been slow I often summarize the issues and information then review them before going to bed and as often as not I have some new insight into the problem when I wake up.
Jul 14, 2011
Imagination is a gift-giver. And after you ignore her gentle knock for the millionth time, she finally gets it through her head that you do not want to know her. She stops bringing you gifts.

Don't worry, her gifts are not lost. She spins them into her art, which you call dreams. And she shares these with the others of her kind. The gifts of the multitude are thus given to the few willing to accept them.

If you want the gifts of imagination, you have to listen for her, and be ready to accept her gifts when she offers them. Treat them with a little respect and she'll bring you more.

Go to a beautiful, and if possible ancient, place; because those are her favorite places. A lake will do, or a river, or a forest, or a mountain. If none of those are handy, at least go out under the sky and look up.

And be still and quiet for a while, because she is a little shy - having been ignored and rejected by you so many times in the past.

Ultimately, though, if you are patient, she forgives.
Jul 14, 2011
I don't know whether it is exactly 'boredom', perhaps wiggle room for the brain. I admit I rarely watch television without another occupation for my brain now because it is tedious, or at last what my wife prefers to watch does not entertain.

Surely though the balance of boredom is returned by the increasing tediousness of the entertainment on offer, at least to those of us who have observed it all before (I do sound a bit old now)? My best time is the 40 odd minutes it takes me to ride my cycle to work (I don't wear headphones being scared I won't hear a juggernaut bearing down on me, unlike half the cycling population). All the issues of the day float through my head in a random manner, not productively, but things do occur to you.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 14, 2011
I wish I'd been creative enough to write this blog entry, but since I didn't write it, I settled for tweeting it.
Jul 13, 2011
Maybe that's part of the reason why religious people spend time meditating or praying. In addition to any spiritual benefits, maybe praying or repeating the same chant forces your mind to be bored so you can make insights to your situation. If you can make your mind ultimately bored, then you might be able to make it ultimately creative.

"Do you think the world is becoming less creative?"

Yes, but there's more than one reason for a lack of creativity. I think part of it is a lack of challenge. If you don't need to be creative to stay alive, you lose that killer instinct of creativity. Take square enix. When they were two different companies, square was known for putting out good storylines. Final Fantasies 4-10 save one or two more or less had compelling stories and something called character development. Then came the merger and we get a chick-flick, a copycat MMO, a single player game based on an MMO, a disappointment, and one of the worst MMOs to come out in awhile. But they can ride their brand name to overall profitability despite some setbacks so they don't really need to come up with new and good ideas to stay alive. Final Fantasy got its name because the company was going out of business and they thought that this last game was going to be their swan song. They needed creativity or had nothing to lose by being creative and they made a franchise that lasted over 25 years, 12 main titles, 2 MMOs, and a number of spinoffs.

I think part of creativity loss is lack of boredom (or quiet time) and part of it is a lack of need.

Take politics. If you are a democrat and you parrot the party line, you are usually good enough for 45% of the vote if you don't screw something up or the other guy isn't that much better than you. If you are a republican, you do the same thing and you get 45% of the vote. Then both parties try to put out the same generic poll-tested slogans for the last 6% they need to win. Basically politicians don't have to show any creativity to get elected so they don't have to use any, they just need to get attention and win a popularity contest. Take the last election. Obama was the uber liberal for the DNC primaries, McCain acted like a conservative for the one time in his career for the RNC, and for the general election they both pretty much said the same thing. In which case the bad economy left by Bush helped the attention getting Obama beat the boring old McCain. I'm really starting to believe Douglas Adams assertion that winning an election is nothing more than being better at drawing attention away from the real issues than the other guy.

Or take the automotive industry. We live in the digital age and could probably drive our car just as well with a PS3 controller as we could with a steering wheel and brakes. We could even attach a dongle to the PS3 controller and take it with us when we exit to make operating a stolen car a little more difficult. But because detroit doesn't need creative steering and theft-deterring ideas, we don't get any.

The last time the auto industry really got creative was in the creation of SUVs because they couldn't make station wagons for hauling things anymore. They needed something to fill the old niche in a way that would get around the fuel efficiency standards (thank you washington for forcing us to have less fuel efficient vehicles all in the name of conserving fuel).
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2011
I absolutely require mental downtime to be creative. Here is what I find alarming. The WSJ had an article today on TV shows for young boys. The article mentioned that 55% of kids between the ages of 6 and 11 have TV's in their bedrooms. 55%!! This means that more than half of all parents have lost their minds and are allowing their kids to slowly asphyxiate theirs. I don't even have a TV in my house. Unfortunately, my kids do now have computers and smart phones. Fortunately, they still read. They still know how to hang out with friends without electronics and to play sports that were not organized by adults. If adult creativity suffers from lack of downtime (and I believe it does), then what does it mean for the mental development of kids who never take a break from pre-packaged, always on, entertainment?
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 13, 2011
Hey scott, I agree with most of this blog except the use of the word "Boredom". I think the condition you mean is more sensory deprivation.

All the examples you give of how people relieve boredom is actually filling the mind with the sensory equivilent of squirting expanding foam into a mouse hole. it occupies the space, but that's all it does. the mind is engaged just enough on the menial task that the imagination doesn't get free.

meditating or relaxing are great times to have unexpected bursts of clarity or creativity. No boredom involved there.

I was going to try to figure out a way to slip in some derogatory reference to Womens Libbers, Mens Libbers, Gun owners and people who've had a humour bypass or have reading comprehension issues but the radio is going and work, emails keep popping up on screen and I can't concentrate enough. Ah well, next time.
Jul 13, 2011
Of course, creative people are more easily bored than other people, so they create interesting stuff. Also, there may be less creative stuff out there because there's more stuff, with less creative input than there would be if there were, say, still only three networks.
Jul 13, 2011
I have no idea why, but always find myself most creative whenever I'm not trying to be creative
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