Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Does productivity hurt creativity?

ProductivityEdward KiledjianComment

I love the Chinese concept of yin and yang. It reminds us that all things in the universe must be in balance. Good with bad, positive with negative and productivity with creativity. What?? You heard right, productivity and creativity are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The part of your brain that handles organized productive thought is the opposite side of the one that comes up with the crazy out of the box thinking that creates revolutionary shifts.

I often hear comments like “I was on the plane and all of a sudden, I had this great idea”. People seem to be most productive when they are disconnected from the world and not working against a fixed timeline.

Productivity is a creativity killer!

A Silicon Valley startup even moved its operations (temporarily) to Hawaii to gain more creativity and come up with breakthrough ideas. 

We all have “dead time” in our lives. Time we spend waiting for the bus, subway. Waiting at a checkout counter or restaurant. Before the era of always connected smartphones, many of us used this time to think about issues that needed to be thought about. Today we spend that time trying to be more productive by responding to emails and conducting web research on the go. Smartphones are a great help but if you need creativity, you should learn to put it away once in a while and just ponder and day-dream.

There was an interested 2009 article about the benefits of ineficiency for creative thinking.

My approach

As the Chief Information Security Officer of a large multinational, my job demands efficiency and control [most of the time]. Yet to truly add value for my company, I need to come up with Big Hairy Audacious Goals that push everyone outside of their comfort zone but that deliver the real long term strategic wins.

When I want to be creative, I follow a flow:

It’s play time

I block out a 4 hour chunk to play with my ideas and often lock  myself in my office. I decide on my first main idea and then use mind mapping to develop and flow. Non-judgmental, honest and fast moving. I have tried mind mapping software but for truly creative thinking, nothing works better [for me] than an analog experience on a whiteboard.


Allow yourself to daydream. Whether it means starring out from a window, bouncing a ball on a nearby wall or taking a random walk, allow yourself to be “non productive”. This unproductive time has been shown to spark big-picture thinking. It allows your brain to process thousands of pieces of unrelated information and produce a masterpiece of original thought.

Some may feel like they are wasting time but this couldn’t be further from the truth. As mental activity decreases, valuable brain activity increases. This has been proven in countless research papers and is the main concept behind meditation. Give your brain a chance and it will amaze you. It will interconnect unrelated bits of information and then will bubble up wonderful ideas to your conscious mind.

Trust that it will happen and get out of the way. Allow yourself to daydream.