We often feel guilty daydreaming. The time spent in an extra-long shower or staring out the window feels wasted. But daydreaming is a critical component on the path to a creative breakthrough. The activity that takes place inside of our brains while we believe we’re daydreaming is unique and activates a part of our brain associated with insight. Lehrer describes the “3M attention policy” that has been credited with several innovations over the course of that company’s history. The policy was based on an intuitive understanding of creativity that has since been validated by modern brain research.
The science of insight supports the 3M attention policy. Joydeep Bhattacharya, a psychologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, has used EEG to help explain why interrupting one’s focus–perhaps with a walk outside or a game of Ping-Pong–can be so helpful. Interestingly, Bhattacharya has found that it’s possible to predict that a person will solve an insight puzzle up to eight seconds before the insight actually arrives. … What is the predictive brain signal? The essential element is a steady rhythm of alpha waves emanating from the right hemisphere. While the precise function of alpha waves remains mysterious, they’re closely associated with relaxing activities, such as taking a warm shower. In fact, the waves are so crucial for insight that, according to Bhattacharya, subjects with insufficient alpha-wave activity are unable to utilize hints provided by the researchers.
Want to think deeply, preach soaringly, counsel wisely, write elegantly? Go for a car-ride and daydream. Start reading a fun book and then get lost in thinking. Set out for a run and follow whatever creative trail emerges.
I’m sure we think well by concentrating hard, too. But don’t underestimate daydreams.