Playful Distractions at Work Pay Off!

As recounted in the fabulous book The Best Place to Work, by Ron Friedman: Dutch researchers conducted a series of experiments to determine whether it’s better to think long and hard about a challenge that requires a difficult decision, or better to distract yourself by doing something else. The results overwhelmingly showed that when faced with less complex decisions conscious thinking about the alternatives and options produced the best results. But when faced with a more complex choice (say choosing between models of cars when presented with 12 features per car), distraction definitely led to better decisions – three times better! The reason: Unconscious thinking is thought to be better at seeing the big picture and processing large pieces of information simultaneously. 

Other studies show that when people are distracted – say with a word scramble game – before a creative exercise, the distracted teams come up with more creative solutions than the teams who Balancing pencilthought consciously about the challenge before hand. Distracted thinking leads to more lateral thinking and unusual associations being made.

This is likely why Steve Jobs and Ludwig van Beethoven realized tremendous benefits from taking long walk, why Aaron Sorkin (creator of The West Wing and The Social Network) and Woody Allen take frequent showers when they’re creatively stymied, and why Albert Einstein often turned to his violin when he got into a mental jam.

So whether you need to shake out the old cobwebs or leap over a creative roadblock, take a break to do something completely unrelated to the task at hand. And if you want to make better decisions and generate more creative ideas, definitely don’t discount the importance of taking five minutes to play before your next meeting.

Michael Kerr, March, 2015. Michael Kerr is an international business speaker and trainer, a very funny motivational speaker, and the author of “The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank.”  www.TheHumorAdvantage.com

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