boredom, creativity and…. iPads and search engines

Peter Bregman has an interesting hypothesis:  we are too connected to information, and we need “boredom time” to be creative and productive.

He makes the case that carrying an always connected device (in his case an iPad) allowed him to be too productive, that is, productive at any time of the day or night.  He allowed work and activity to fill all the time in his life because he had a device that made that easy.  In other words he discovered an aspect of  Parkinson’s Law.

I think he is on to something, but I’d like to suggest that it is really the over-ease of access to information that is the problem.  With Google (or any other search engine) on every device we carry with us, there is never a need to ask “I wonder if…”.  We never have to think about that question, we can always get the answer immediately.

When was the last time that any dinner time (or work time) question remained contested?  In other words when was the last time you had a discussion, an argument (in the classic sense) about a question of fact?  It is too easy to immediately answer those questions, and therefore we are losing the ability to question authority and make creative arguments to support our positions.

I believe that the reverie of a chain of “I wonder if…” questions can lead down some very creative pathways, and too many of us are short-circuiting that process.  Science fiction is some of the most creative literature around, in terms of “ideas per page”, and it requires the creation of “what if…” chains for which you choose muliple non-obvious answers.  Easy access to information, too soon, short-circuits the creative process that can lead you into those great “out of the box” ideas that make all the difference.

So, it’s not always about getting those hours of uninterrupted time, it’s about making some of that time unconnected and unstructured time.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the sysadmin community about turning off your email client to get those uninterrupted hours to make progress on projects.  I believe that we also need to turn off search engines to get unconnected and unstructured thinking time.

So don’t always focus on time management throughout your entire life, and give yourself permission to explore “what if…” on your own.

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