Daydreaming Supports CreativityThe two previous posts with quotes from Osip Mandelstam and his wife Nadezhda concerning how poetry comes to be were inspired by a recent Boston Globe article.
In "Daydream Achiever," Jonah Lehrer summarizes some of the research on daydreaming that scientists are currently conducting and reporting. Scientists have
demonstrated that daydreaming is a fundamental feature of the human mind so fundamental, in fact, that it's often referred to as our "default" mode of thought. Many scientists argue that daydreaming is a crucial tool for creativity, a thought process that allows the brain to make new associations and connections. Instead of focusing on our immediate surroundings such as the message of a church sermon the daydreaming mind is free to engage in abstract thought and imaginative ramblings. As a result, we're able to imagine things that don't actually exist, like sticky yellow bookmarks [a reference to the "Aha" that led to creation of 3M's Post-it Notes].Nadezhda Mandelstam's description of her husband's method of composing his poems sounds as though a form of daydreaming is involved:
As many poets have said ... a poem begins with a musical phrase ringing insistently in the ears; at first inchoate, it later takes on a precise form, though still without words. ...Note what Nadezhda says about the final stage "of listening to oneself in a search for the objective and absolutely precise unity called a 'poem'." This sounds like what Jonathan Schooler, the scientist whose work Lehrer describes in the most detail, suggests about the relationship between daydreaming and creativity.
... At some point words formed behind the musical phrase and then the lips began to move. I have a feeling that verse exists before it is composed (M. never talked of ‘writing’ verse, only of ‘composing’ it and then copying it out). The whole process of composition is one of straining to catch and record something compounded of harmony and sense as it is relayed from an unknown source and gradually forms itself into words. The last stage of the work consists in ridding the poem of all the words foreign to the harmonious whole which existed before the poem arose. Such words slip in by chance, being used to fill gaps during the emergence of the whole. They become lodged in the body of the poem, and removing them is hard work. This final stage is a painful process of listening in to oneself in a search for the objective and absolutely precise unity called a ‘poem’.
Schooler has shown a correlation between the amount a person daydreams and his/her score "on experimental measures of creativity, which require people to make a set of unusual connections." It is important, however, to note that
Schooler distinguishes between two types of daydreaming. The first type consists of people who notice they are daydreaming only when asked by the researcher. Even though they are told to press a button as soon as they realize their mind has started to wander, these people fail to press the button. The second type, in contrast, occurs when subjects catch themselves daydreaming during the experiment, without needing to be questioned. Schooler and colleagues found that individuals who are unaware of their own daydreaming while it's happening don't seem to exhibit increased creativity.Mandelstam's intense attention to the verbal object gradually emerging in his head, and then to burnishing it before declaring it finished, echo Schooler's thoughts on the creative form of daydreaming.
"The point is that it's not enough to just daydream," Schooler says. "Letting your mind drift off is the easy part. The hard part is maintaining enough awareness so that even when you start to daydream you can interrupt yourself and notice a creative insight."
You can read more about the work of Schooler and other scientists investigating how the brain produces fresh insights in the article Lehrer published in the July 28 issue of The New Yorker. A key point for businesses is that constant pressure on employees to produce will prevent them from developing innovative ideas. Employees need time for relaxed thinking in order to be creative.