July 13, 2011
I read someplace that the brain needs some boredom during the day to process thoughts and generate creativity. That sounds right. My best ideas always bubble up when I’m bored. And my period of greatest creative output was during my corporate years when every meeting felt like a play date for coma patients.
So what would happen if everyone in the world stopped being bored? You might be there already. I know I am. If I have access to my phone, or my computer, I’m never bored. If I’m watching TV, I can fast-forward through commercials. If I’m standing in line at the store, I can check email or play Angry Birds. When I work out, I listen to my iPod. I wake up in the morning and walk straight to my iPad to browse the headlines while my coffee is brewing. The last thing I do before shutting my eyes at night is browse the news again on my phone.
As recently as a year ago I would drive my car in silence and cook up all sorts of ideas on the go. Now I have satellite radio and can always find some auditory diversion. The only reliable place to be bored these days is in the shower.
Now let’s suppose that the people who are leaders and innovators around the world are experiencing a similar lack of boredom. I think it’s fair to say they are. What change would you expect to see in a world with declining boredom and therefore declining creativity?
I’ll take some guesses.
For starters, you might see people acting more dogmatic than usual. If you don’t have time to think for yourself, and think creatively, the easiest opinion to adopt is the default position of your political party, religion, or culture. Check.
You might see more movies that seem derivative or based on sequels. Check.
You might see more reality shows and fewer scripted shows. Check.
You might see the bestseller lists dominated by fiction “factories” where ghost writers churn out work under the brand of someone famous. Check.
You might see almost no humor books on the bestseller lists except for ones built around a celebrity. Check.
You might see the economy flatline for lack of industry-changing innovation. Check.
You might see the news headlines start to repeat, like the movie Groundhog Day, with nothing but the names changed. Check.
You might find that bloggers are spending most of their energy writing about other bloggers. Check.
You might find that people seem almost incapable of even understanding new ideas. Check.
To be fair, there might be lots of reasons why the world appears to have less creativity. Some of it is simple economics. A movie studio can make more money with a sequel than with something creative. A similar dynamic is true in every industry.
And also to be fair, sometimes things seem to be getting worse when in fact you’re only noticing it more. It seems as if folks are more dogmatic than ever, but maybe that’s not the case.
Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on the link between our vanishing boredom and innovation. It’s the sort of thing that could literally destroy the world without anyone realizing what the hell is going wrong. If it reaches critical proportions, we probably won’t recognize the root cause of the problem. A lack of creativity always looks like some other problem.
Do you think the world is becoming less creative?