Bring back quiet time and your ideas will benefit

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. – Einstein

Theresa Amabile, of Harvard, and her colleagues conducted a study in which they tried to capture creativity in the wilds of teams and companies by asking participants to reveal their activities in Daily Questionnaires. These surveys were aimed at monitoring what participants were doing on a daily basis in their teams and projects to distill how creativity really happens – thus trapping the elusive critter Creativity in action.

Entering the study, the conventional thinking was that imminent deadlines and crisis thinking would lead to more innovative and novel solutions. The power of urgency right? As Theresa’s colleague Leslie Perlow demonstrated in a 1999 study, the vicious time-work cycle of crisis mentality, rewarding individual heroics, and constant interruption, is considerably less conducive to fostering real creativity and innovation, than good old-fashioned focus and uninterrupted attention.

In Amabile’s study she introduced a mandatory quiet time, followed by collaborative interaction, then another quiet period of work and implementation. Overwhelmingly, the engineers reported a higher level of both productivity and creativity when the strict quiet time was imposed. Sadly, six months after the study concluded quiet time had vanished, and within a year the old habits of constant interruption were back in force. I might get an email from the Getting Things Done guru David Allen on this next point, but Therese Hoff Macan showed in a 1994 study that although time management training and tools could bring greater satisfaction, contrary to popular claims, time management training was not found to be effective in job performance.

Bring back quiet time, and uninterrupted work. How we spend our day is how we spend our life. We are the sum of what we pay attention to. What we focus our attention on determines our skill, experience, knowledge, amusement, fulfillment, joy.