Saturday, July 16, 2011

Creativity and Boredom

While going through Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ blog the other day, I came across an interesting idea: boredom breeds creativity. I had never thought about it this way before, but since I read that article I realized I could explain a lot of what is happening in the world today with this single idea.

Essentially the idea is very simple – the brain generates new ideas when it is bored, and with the modern lifestyle we have reduced the periods of boredom to near zero. We have hundreds of TV channels to choose from, we have the Internet with e-mail and chat and Facebook and Twitter to keep us boredom-free every moment of the day. Even when we are traveling, we have our iPods to listen to music or smartphones to browse the Internet on the go. In short, we are never bored. Consequently, Scott speculates, we see an abundance of creations that are less creative, like reality shows and sequel movies.

In my childhood days, the TV had only one channel, and you had to imagine the colour. The transistor radio in our house didn’t work, and the radio programs in Allahabad weren’t worth listening to anyway. That was when I started on drawing and painting to spend time, and also took on origami. Looking back at more recent periods of my life, I also realize that I started writing this blog when I was bored out of my wits sitting idle in my office, and that was the time I started taking photos as well. And when one of my favourite bloggers, Kuntala, describes herself in her profile as “Bored” she unknowingly divulges the biggest secret of her writing ability.

After typing the previous paragraph, I went to Kuntala’s blog to get the hyperlink. I read the latest post there and by the time I was finished writing a comment, I had lost the chain of thought that I had for my own blog post. This is a very good illustration of what happens when our brains have too much of stimulating stuff. No wonder the frequency of my blogging has gone down since I came to the US and particularly in the last few months when I got a walkman phone. Instead of thinking up blog posts at the gym or during the times I travel, I now simply listen to music. In the last few weeks I could have written blog posts on the July 4th fireworks show, the latest Mumbai bomb blasts or the photography exhibition in Kolkata that showcased five of my photographs but I did not. It’s true that I have been busy with my paintings and some other research-related work, but five years ago this would not have deterred me from writing. Thank God I don’t have a smartphone yet or I would probably stop blogging altogether.

So I have decided to spend some time getting bored from now on. If I want to remain creative and generate new ideas, be it about blog posts or anything else, I must get time to think. This American lifestyle is getting on my nerves. I have to spend some quality time doing nothing or else… I will be unable to do anything worthwhile.

I think that’s what Jorge Cham, creator of PHD Comics refers to as “The power of procrastination.”

And yes, among the lack of creativity predictions that Scott Adams made on his blog was an increase in the number of blog posts that discuss other people’s blog posts.

Do I need to say more?


  1. Please don't get a smartphone. Let us keep our machines stupid so that we don't end up being their slaves.

    This is really interesting. So the problem is not boredom, the 'lack' of boredom? Makes sense.

    I closed my Youtube playlist after reading this post. Thank you.

  2. Hi Joy,

    Good point made. Even I started my blog 5 years ago when I had nothing else to do. That also reminds me of Bertrand Russell's famous essay - In praise of idleness

  3. "Gorge Cham" or "Jorge Cham"

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  5. True Yaar. Its been more than 6 months that I even wrote a blog. Badly need to get bored to put some creative thoughts together

  6. @Kuntala: At least you are more regular with blogging than me. But yes, I have taken this a little seriously and last week I did something else too when I was bored at a conference: I took a pad and pen and wrote down a blog post on paper. I realised my handwriting has deteriorated and I can't write a sentence without making a mistake! I am yet to type out that post here, but I think I need to write more.

    @Raveesh: Welcome to this blog, and thanks for the link!

    @Ankur: Thanks! Corrected!

    @Ajit: Yes... get bored and write some good stuff. :)