Relaxing in the bath helps creativity: insights from the 2012 GEO conference

Robyn Scott

Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms?! This would be the first conference I have ever attended where I have been encouraged in a lifelong propensity to daydream! Those ‘easily distracted’ and ‘too much time spent daydreaming’ comments on early school reports were framed positively as useful attributes by Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, at an inspiring breakfast plenary at the GEO (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations) conference held last week in Seattle, USA.

True grit matters … a lot. Jonah kicked off the second day and got my brain up and running fast – coincidentally, he is also a neurobiologist. His opening plenary helped elucidate the absolute value of persistence in achieving our goals. Grit is a long-term metric and, though difficult to measure, it is a truer indicator than IQ or NCEA scores and other static quantitative measures of the potential to achieve ultimate success. I thought of the countless stories I have read about or personally encountered in the lives of people who, despite seemingly unbearable obstacles, accomplished amazing things in their lives. Time and again, they persevered in the interest of a dream or goal that they were often told was unreachable or unrealistic; including Dick Fosbury, developer of the famous ‘Fosbury Flop’ style of high jumping.

Relax … and take a shower. It’s also not often that we come away from a conference being encouraged to take long showers – or relax in the bath, or laze on the beach – but Jonah did just that. True insight and creativity come when we are relaxed and our mind is wandering, not when we are wired on Red Bull and double-shot lattes! Too often when problem-solving we try to focus, focus, focus while staring at the computer screen. But it’s during the walk around the block or while staring out of the window to the distracting landscape that we can thaw out the brain freeze and go for the breakthrough.

And the shower … well, it’s just about the only place we can’t bring that smartphone – another respite that allows our thinking to really flow. Jonah gave a number of wonderful examples of where and how breakthrough ideas are born. He pointed to the power of ‘outsider’ thinking that works without the conscious and subconscious constraints that come with experiences; and he reminded us of Albert Einstein’s belief that ‘creativity is the residue of wasted time’.

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