Insights For Success

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Creative Thinking Tip #5 - daydreaming your way to creativity

Leadership StrategiesEdward KiledjianComment

If you haven't read my other articles in the series, read them before continuing: 


Even as children, most of us were told daydreaming was a useless activity and we were normally told to “snap out of it and concentrate on the task at hand”. Freud called daydreaming infantile. 

One of the more interesting studies I have read about daydreaming came from Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth from Harvard. Their study showed that people normally daydream 47% of the time while awake.

As cognitive science progressive, we are learning that daydreaming may actual be a useful cognitive tool. A study from the University of California at Santa Barbara ( by Schooler and Baird) provided a nice modern look at this “useless activity”. They chose 145 undergrads and gave them a standard creativity test called an “unusual use task”. For this test, the subjects are given 2 minutes to come up with creative uses of a boring everyday object like a clothes hangar, rope, etc. The subjects where put into one of four possible situations, 3 of which were: 

  • Resting in a quiet room
  • Performing short term memory tasks
  • Doing something extremely boring to encourage daydreaming

Subject assigned to the extremely boring task beforehand performed substantially better at the unusual use task (actually 41% better). The group that was allowed to daydream after being asked about the boring items did the best. It seems the incubation period (in the subconscious mind) cause by the daydreaming helped giggle the creative juices.  

"These data suggest that engaging in simple external tasks that allow the mind to wander may facilitate creative problem solving," the researchers wrote in the study.

What does all of this mean? Daydreaming should be encouraged. Whether this is done while taking a long hot shower, sitting in a quiet office or cutting the grass, allow yourself to float into the wonder of your mind and that unbreakable problem may just be solved.