23 Mar Daydreaming: A Key to Creativity
I recently listened to a podcast featuring Chuck Klosterman—one of this generation’s big thinkers—on whether the Internet was having an impact on daydreaming, and what that’s meant for creativity.
Klosterman’s recent book, But What If We’re Wrong, wonders if some of the most accepted principals we believe to be true—including gravity—are incorrect. Seems silly at first glance, but reading his argument you kind of understand what he’s proposing. For hundreds of years, people believed that we were held to the ground simply because that was how God intended it to be. But then Newton came along and proposed his law of gravity and it was accepted (after he provided proof, naturally). Who’s to say that in few hundred years someone won’t come along with another theory that disproves or alters Newton’s law of gravity?
I was fascinated by Klosterman’s question. When was the last time that I daydreamed? Does having a smartphone and immediate access to the Internet impede daydreaming? Gone are the days of standing in line and getting lost in thought. Today, if forced to wait in line, out comes the smartphone to check email, Slack, Facebook, etc. Creativity suffers in our highly-connected era, for it is while daydreaming that your thoughts wonder off and turn into ideas.
If Newton was watching cat videos, would we still be wondering why we don’t simply float into space? If Edison was tweeting about local politics, would we still be in the dark? If Marie Curie was busy taking selfies, would we have X-ray technology today? If George Washington Carver was telling stories on Instagram, how long would it have been before a way to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings was discovered, if ever?
After Klosterman made his point, I turned off the podcast and listened to ambient music the remainder of the five-hour car ride to Dayton, Ohio. While not exactly daydreaming to the point of my eyes glassing over—as that would have been dangerous to my fellow motorists—I found that a flood of ideas washed over me, from how to help a client recruit teachers to how to keep school communities engaged. It also occurred to me that many of the best ideas I come up with happen while I’m on long car rides, unable to be distracted by the Internet. Certainly, none of these ideas are as critical as inventing the light bulb, but without taking time away from Internet, including social media, these ideas may have never occurred.
It’s probably just a coincidence, but two of the songs that played during my trip to Dayton were titled “Daydreaming.” I’m going to take it as a sign that moving forward, I should make a point of spending less time on the Internet, and instead using down time to allow thoughts—yes, actual thoughts—to percolate in my brain. I would invite you to do the same, for who knows where the next big idea will come from. I can say with certainty that it won’t come from looking at cat videos.
So, if you ever see me waiting in line and I’m staring zombie-like at my smartphone, feel free to whack me upside the head, because I’m just wasting time when I should be daydreaming.
Joe DiBenedetto is a senior director leading the education practice at Lambert, Edwards & Associates.