Be Creative. Take a Break.


Joe had a problem. He had cashed in some investments and quit his job to create a new product. Only it didn’t work yet. The technology was ground breaking, but they needed a ridiculously simple communication tool to make it usable. So he went to the beach.

As he sat relaxing in the sun, combing his fingers through the sand, he recalled using Morse code in the army. Dot, dot, dash, he drew lines down in the sand from each. The light bulb came on. Instead of dots and dashes, different widths of lines could represent numbers. In that moment N. Joseph Woodland created bar codes.

Innovation and creativity are coveted commodities in this global and instantaneous economy, but how do we have more of those moments of insight? They seem to come at the oddest times, as we are about to drift off to sleep, in the shower, during a walk in the woods, or on the beach.

1. Relaxing actually does allow you to be more creative. By setting aside the problem and doing unrelated activities we give our subconscious an opportunity to work on problems. One group of researchers at Drexel University found that they could anticipate by as much as 8 seconds who would have a moment of insight. It was based on their levels of alpha waves which are closely related to relaxation. Yes, there is a case to be made for the Foosball table in the lunch room.

2. From Aristotle to Thoreau, many through the ages have believed that taking a walk can boost your creativity. A recent study at Stanford University found that walking, indoors or outdoors, can enhance your creativity by as much as 60%.

3. Many report that simply being in nature can put your brain into the “default network” where creativity is thought to take place. Researcher, David Strayer of the University of Utah, believes that being in green space allows your brain to take a break from intense cognitive function and provides “attention restoration.”

4. Exposing yourself to a diversity of ideas and experiences gives you more experiences to draw from. For creativity to happen we must have either completely new inputs, or connect two inputs that were never combined before. So go to a museum, try a new route to work, experience a different culture, learn sign language or begin playing a musical instrument.

So much of our work requires focused concentration. Pivoting to a different mode of thinking can revive your sense of well-being AND provide meaningful business contributions. Sometimes the most productive thing to do is to take a break.