Innovating in Your Dream and With a Drink |



There are a few reported approaches to boosting human creativity.

Some of them are very proper. Perhaps the most popular is taking a shower — especially if followed by going to the garden and sitting under the apple tree. Another is practicing mindfulness meditation, an action 10-12 minutes of which are claimed enough not only to reduce stress but also generate better solutions to creative problems.

Other approaches may carry a stigma with them. For example, it was reported that moderate procrastination may lead to higher creativity ratings in test subjects. The authors of the study speculate that procrastination can set in motion a mechanism of problem restructuring, which results in the production of more creative ideas.  

Procrastination is generally frowned upon in the marketplace. But in its defense, I will say that the average productivity of American workers has increased 400% since 1950; yet we’re working the same 40-hour workweek, at least on paper. Don’t we have a right to treat our brain to an occasional spell of a quiet, unrushed deliberation?

And how can we justify, on the moral ground, the fact that human creativity can be stimulated by the consumption of moderate amounts of alcohol (resulting in a blood alcohol content of approximately .075, i.e., just below the U.S. legal limit)? The authors of the respective study hypothesize that people under the influence are more susceptible to so-called mind wandering, which means losing some focus but gaining the ability to see a “bigger picture.”

As I argued before, in contrast to many narcotics or drugs, ethyl alcohol is a simple chemical molecule, whose behavior in the human body is quite well understood. Using this relatively simple model, researchers may start identifying specific neurochemical reactions in the brain that are responsible for creativity.

Recently, a new entry has been added to the list of factors boosting creativity: an interrupted nap. When people fall asleep, they first go through the nonrapid eye movement sleep stage (or N1), often described as “the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness.” A group of French researchers showed that spending at least 15 seconds in N1 — and then being awakened — boosted the creativity of test subjects: they were significantly more likely to find a creative solution to a math problem than test subjects who proceeded past N1 without awakening or those who didn’t fall to sleep at all.

I strongly suspect that the positive effect of mindfulness meditation is realized through the same, N1-dependent, mechanism. I also suspect that alcohol stimulates creativity by chemically “firing up” the same brain structures that get activated during N1.

It’s only a matter of time that researchers identify the sections of the brain responsible for creativity — along with safe and efficient ways to stimulate them on demand. And we all will have a choice regarding how we prefer to innovate: in our sleep or with a drink.

Image credit: Mert Kahveci on Unsplash

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is the Founder of (WoC)2, an innovation consultancy that helps organizations extract maximum value from the wisdom of crowds by coordinated use of internal and external crowdsourcing.