Relax, it might give you your next big idea

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It might be worth it, staying home for breakfast with the kids.
It might be worth it, staying home for breakfast with the kids.
Image: Getty Images/Sean Gallup

Go ahead, let the workers daydream on the job.

Recent studies reveal that the trick to creativity often lies in walking away from a problem, giving the mind the freedom to wander and the space to make new connections, an idea explored in a Wall Street Journal article this week.

The strategy appears responsible for many a revolutionary idea—and successful business. Twitter’s genesis came when Jack Dorsey wanted to find a way to send short messages to colleagues that the whole office could see. Car service Uber was founded when Garrett Camp wanted to solve San Francisco’s taxi problem, one that he knew well as a city resident. Sarah Blakely came up with the idea for Spanx when she cut the feet off her pantyhose, and she credits this not as luck but part of her habit of sitting—and thinking. Nike got its start when Bill Bowerman wanted to make a running sneaker without spikes that would still grip artificial turf. He got the idea for rubber soles from a waffle-maker during breakfast.

Venture capitalist Paul Graham, also the co-founder of  business incubator Y Combinator, advises: ”The way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It’s to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.”

We tend to think of pragmatism and creativity at the opposite ends of the spectrum. One born out of practical, life experience, the other, from intelligence and cognition. But perhaps their intersection is in openness.

The WSJ article also cites a study that says personality matters:

People who rate high in openness to new experiences in personality tests also may be more distractable and curious, according to a 2010 study in Creativity Research Journal. Among 158 college students, those who were less inhibited and more receptive to lots of stimuli also were able to generate more ideas than others, says the study by British researchers.

Quartz recently reported on a study that found that the ideal day consists of 82 minutes socializing, 78 minutes relaxing and only 36 minutes of working. This may sound extremely skewed and impractical but if a little extra loafing can generate a $10 billion idea, it’s probably worth it.