Jonah Lehrer examines the research behind creativity. I'm biased since I have become an Angry Birds addict. And I sometimes wonder – as I'm in mid-blog and take a break – if my web-addled brain is self-medicating. Maybe it is. One study had two groups brainstorm solutions to simple problems. The group that played a silly video game for two minutes came up with their most innovative ideas about 55% of the time – more than double the other group's 20%:
How can the rest of us get better at identifiying our best ideas? One key lesson from this research is that distraction and dilettantism come with real benefits, as they give the unconscious a chance to assess its new ideas. This reminds me of a wise piece of advice from Zadie Smith, which she dished out to aspiring novelists:
When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second — put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal — but even three months will do…You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in twelve different versions.
Smith, in other words, is telling writers to forget about their work, to give the mind some time to weigh the worth of all those words. And that’s because we have no idea which ideas are worthwhile, at least at first.
By the way, the latest installment of Angry Birds, based on the Chinese New Year, kicks ass. I have three stars on every level on every game, including the Seasons and Rio versions. What I do know is go through all of them, trying to up my scores and crawl up the global winner list. If only all those South Korean schoolkids would just give me a break.