by Sam Naylor
When was the last time you were truly bored?
This is the question investigated by Manoush Zomorodi, host of the WNYC podcast New Tech City. She goes on to mention, “I kind of realized that I have not been bored since I got a smartphone seven years ago,”. For many the feeling of boredom has been systematically decreased over the years, negatively correlating with an increase in new and smaller tech devices. But recently boredom, or engaging in monotonous tasks, has been shown to increase creative thinking. Zomorodi and her team have been testing methods to get people to use their smartphones less, hoping to increase environmental awareness, and possibly unlock the creative inspiration that comes from being bored. As architecture students we systematically differ in our measure of ‘homework’ versus other disciplines. Often tasked with inventing something or creatively solving a problem, the projects we work on require non-linear thought and flexible methods.
Creativity is an is an obvious necessity for our work, but not thought of are the process in which creative thinking is incubated. For Albert Einstein the idea of spacing-out or being bored was instrumental to his thought process. Not only did he engage in ‘hard-thinking’, that time you set aside to solve a problem or collaborate with others, but he also understood the inspiration to come from ‘soft-thinking’. This is the time you might be engaged in an activity, either enjoyable or mundane, and are able to let your mind wander. For Einstein it was the violin, for Jack Donaghy it was staring out the window, and for me it sometimes comes when I am on the toilet. These activities generate what we may call ‘epiphanies’ or ‘lightbulb moments,’ times of sudden inspiration or subconscious problem solving that are essential to our discipline.
Whether it requires you to put down your smartphone, shutdown your laptop, or turn off the tv; a lack of stimulation, however seemingly contradictory can lead to increased creativity. I would challenge all of TSA, when stuck on a floor plan dilemma, formal problem, or otherwise; to, after exhausting all effort head on, to step back and forget about the issue at hand. Lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling for an hour, make a large dinner, go on a walk.
Consider the times you would otherwise pull out your smartphone, on the bus, in the elevator, while waiting on a friend; and dare to be bored. The solutions to creative challenges will be aided by this kind of purposeful inefficiency. The trick is to force yourself to continue persevering even after an idea has been generated. Singular moments of ‘ah ha’ are romantically propagated as the creatives’ tool for discovery, but I am would argue for a series of moments, thoughts, and ideas generated. Thus, hard work must be applied to times when it seems like you are not working at all. It will be difficult, but straining to fight back against social cues that make it seem weird to be sitting without looking at your phone can be a rewarding battle. Doing nothing could be the most productive ‘thing’ you accomplish all day.
Dare to be bored, and not only will you soon realize the distraction of constant entertainment is possibly harmful, but also that doing ‘nothing’ can inspire the greatest ideas.