Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

Being bored (and zoning out) at work can make us more creative?

English: A bored person

English: A bored person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having written about the problem of boredom at work (where an individual’s skill level surpasses the challenge of the tasks), lets turn now to one of the possible benefits of boredom… creativity! The following article was very interesting indeed: Being bored at work can make us more creative. Some excerpts follow:

Most of us think of being bored at work as a negative experience, but a new study suggests it can have positive results including an increase in creativity because it gives us time to daydream.

I do find that daydreaming fuels my creativity, although I can imagine this generally being a tough sell to employers. Also, it turns out that zoning out can also help boost creative problem-solving (see More Than Just ‘Zoning Out’: Exploring the Cognitive Processes Behind Mind Wandering). Even better huh? Continuing on with the article:

…more passive boring activities, like reading or perhaps attending meetings, can lead to more creativity — whereas writing, by reducing the scope for daydreaming, reduces the creativity-enhancing effects of boredom.

This account of differences between activities that require less focus with those that require more for inducing boredom sounds right on target. Few things can be more boring than meeting overkill I say!

Dr Mann says: “Boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity. What we want to do next is to see what the practical implications of this finding are. Do people who are bored at work become more creative in other areas of their work — or do they go home and write novels?”

The question of whether or not bored workers generally become creative in such a way that benefits their employer is a good question. I believe there’s plenty of evidence that resultant creativity can also be expressed in a counterproductive manner (such as pretending to work perhaps?), and this is an issue that needs to be considered. For more details on this problem, see When the Bored Behave Badly: An Interest Enhancement Model of Counterproductive Work Behavior (Skoronski, 2008).

Finally, here is a video by Thriveworks which contrasts short-term boredom with long-term boredom (a significant distinction that needs to be made as the latter is the problem – consider Workplace Boredom: The Silent Killer of Employee Morale). The video also sums up the upside of boredom quite nicely:

So what do you say? Have you experienced a bout of creativity that you can attribute to a preceding period of boredom or zoning out? Please share!

Coming soon: News about the upcoming Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 video conference on enhancing collaboration of virtual teams!

These educational video conference series are geared towards organizational leaders wishing to learn more about improving collaboration and productivity through the use of online tools. Visit the Better Collaboration website or the Better Collaboration meetup page for more information! On LinkedIn? Join us at the Better Collaboration LinkedIn group, a group is for innovative managers, HR professionals, collaboration consultants and solution providers who are interested in sharing and learning about best practices and technologies that help dispersed teams collaborate better!

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2 responses to “Being bored (and zoning out) at work can make us more creative?

  1. Regan May 9, 2013 at 4:24 am

    Interesting. Couldn’t agree more that meeting overkill is the ultimate in boredom. I like the idea that boredom could provide a bit of a blank canvas for creativity though.

    • Lynn Patra May 9, 2013 at 4:57 am

      Yes, I find the assertion that constant stimulation is not ideal very compelling. Can you imagine “Boost Your Creativity” workshops that require you to devote some time to daydreaming or zoning out? Ha!

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