“When you look at where insights come from, they come from where we least expect them. They only arrive after we stop looking for them. If you’re an engineer working on a problem and you’re stumped by your technical problem, chugging caffeine at your desk and chaining yourself to your computer, you’re going to be really frustrated. …Instead, at that moment, you should go for a walk. You should play some ping-pong. You should find a way to relax.” Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works
6AM, Monday Morning: Started to get up. Stumped. Thought about ping-pong. Found self taking walk through English countryside, playing ping-pong wth a giant purple paddle with Raquel Welch dressed as she was in One Million BC. Then paddle turned into a piece of lasagna. Thought about what that meant. Stumped. Then snooze alarm went off again.
8AM: Chained to computer at work, trying to whip this room-temperature cold fusion problem. Stumped. Remembered Einstein said that key to creativity was to stop thinking about the problem. Thought about other things to think about. I could think about baseball but I’m a Cub fan. Stumped.
10AM: Jonah Lehrer’s new book says that 3M executives get 15% of their time to pursue whatever they want, as long as they share it with others. This leaves them “in charge of their intention.” But if their boss says they have to use 15% of their time on whatever they want, then is it really THEIR intention? Sounds like they are doing what the boss wants them to do anyway. What if what you were doing already was what you wanted to do? Does that count toward the 15%? Can they go home 15% early? My head hurts.
12PM: Lunch. Lehrer says the most creative people may be bipolar. Maybe I have failed to solve the cold fusion problem because I am too sane. I should have ordered something a little crazy, instead of this turkey club. What would be a more bipolar lunch? Surf and turf? Steak salad? Fried ice cream?
2PM: Lehrer’s book says it is not the experts that have the great breakthroughs, but outsiders who generally know what the problem is, but who are unaware of all the stumbling blocks. Struck up conversation with Luis, the maintenance guy, asked him if he was generally aware of what we do here. He said yes. I asked him about cold fusion. He said he takes Benadryl usually, with a bloody mary, and tries to sleep it off.
4PM: No progress on the cold fusion problem. Lehrer’s book says traditional brainstorming doesn’t work. Found that groups that were free to criticize each other’s ideas did much better. I went over to Jim’s desk and asked him what he was working on. He said he was working on solar energy breakthroughs. I told him he was stupid. Felt 25% more creative.
6PM: Another day with no breakthrough. But Lehrer says that creativity is not all about ping-pong and Einstein going sailing, that even after you have the breakthrough there is lots of painstaking depressing work to refine the solution, and even before you have the breakthrough, you have to work yourself into being stumped. …I just had a breakthrough. I am a genius at the getting stumped part. I get stumped faster than anyone I know. No need for lots of painstaking work; I start out 50% of the way there by Lehrer’s criteria.
Tomorrow, five minutes’ work to get to stumped status. Then ping-pong and lunch with Luis.