Freeman Dyson, who has carved out a career over 50 years in theoretical physics, was interviewed as a subject on “Creativity”(See Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi "Creativity"). He was the only one out of 91 who at the time of the interview process, wasn't up to much. I don't know about you, but I can find that space of "not being up to much" as a very scary place. His quote about so called "idleness" was a revelation to me, and it now sits on my laptop keyboard as a reminder.
The quote is full is: “I’m fooling around not doing anything, which probably means that this is a creative period, although of course you don’t know until afterwards. I think that it is very important to be idle. So I am not ashamed of being idle.”
Something we can all forget is that our mind is never idle. Practises like mindfulness have evolved to calm and slow down the mind, as it is a hive of constant activity. The reality is that we are aware of only part of our thinking, the conscious part, and less aware of the subconscious part. This subconscious part ensures we breathe in and out, drive our cars in straight lines and carry out our everyday business. But unbeknownst to most of us, it also is a savvy problem solver, piecing together fragments of ideas and solutions to problems over time. The solutions that pop "out of nowhere" come from the subconscious, provided there is some downtime to process the problem or idea. NLP, or Neuro Linguistic Progamming is a modality that I teach that shines light unto our unconscious thinking patterns, and is a fabulous way of understanding our habits, work or otherwise.
Although we are classed as human beings, we tend to be human doings..... action oriented and focused on outputs which are tangible and visible to others. Thinking time is not often valued in business, and that is a shame because we are a society that depends more and more on intellectual property to adapt and survive. The most productive thinking for generating new ideas has been classed as semi-automatic, i.e. thinking which carries on as we are engaged in a task that doesn't require much thought (walking, showering, housework, etc.) There can be some comfort in the idea that we are never actually "doing" nothing, but is it time we were more open about the fact? Is it time we prioritized a bit of productive downtime? A great resource on semi-automatic activity is the BBC Horizon programme on The Creative Brain.
Sometimes the shortest route to creative problem-solving is the easiest. Put the pen down, go for a walk, or sort some laundry. I personally get great ideas when driving. What about you?