Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Boredom has its benefits

Most of the engineers I know who design and build vision-based systems would describe their work as creative and intellectually challenging. And although their jobs might often be frustrating and exasperating, few of them would describe their work as anything but boring.

However, while most of us might think of being bored at work as a negative experience, a new study suggests it can have positive results including an increase in creativity -- simply because it gives us time to daydream.

That is the finding of a study being presented today by Dr. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman from the University of Central Lancashire (Preston, UK) at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society Division of Occupational Psychology.

To reach their conclusion, Dr. Mann and Ms. Cadman conducted two studies. In the first, 40 people were asked to carry out a boring task (copying numbers out of a telephone directory) for 15 minutes, and were then asked to complete another task (coming up with different uses for a pair of polystyrene cups) that gave them a chance to display their creativity.

It transpired that the 40 people who had first copied out the telephone numbers were more creative than a control group of 40 who had just been asked to come up with uses for the cups.

To see if daydreaming was a factor in this effect, a second boring task was introduced that allowed even more daydreaming than the boring writing task. This second study saw 30 people copying out the numbers as before, but also included a second group of 30 reading rather than writing them.

Again the researchers found that the people in the control group were least creative, but the people who read the names were more creative than those who had to write them out. This suggests that 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.

Dr. Mann believes that boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but she thinks that it may now be time to embrace it to enhance our creativity.

So the next time that you are stuck for a novel solution to one of your customer's automated inspection tasks, perhaps you should take some time out to attend a meeting, read out numbers from the telephone directory or catch up on filing some old reports. If Dr. Mann is right, just 15 minutes spent doing so might work wonders!

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