I'm convinced that I'm creative because as a kid I was bored to death at church. My dad was the pastor, so I had to sit with my mom and sister on the front row of the sanctuary every time the church doors were opened. As a little kid, I was bored out of my mind, so I went through two stages. The first was counting. Looking around, I counted ceiling tiles, chairs on the stage, choir members -- anything that could be counted. The second stage was daydreaming. I learned that in the most boring situations -- church, my sisters dance recitals, funerals -- whatever, I could think up some amazing stuff.
The problem is that today, we don't have time to daydream. Waiting in the doctor's office or standing in line, we can check our email, play Angry Birds, or Twitter. There's a trend with businesses to make waiting rooms more interesting. I was at a car dealer the other day who had a complete playroom for kids, computers for mom and dad, and an arcade area for teens. They told me that their customer traffic had doubled since they put in the distractions.
There are more smartphones and TV sets in America than we have people, so we have a television in every room in the house. There's literally no downtime anymore. No time for well, just thinking.
Creativity doesn't happen to people obsessed with "productivity." It doesn't happen during sessions of "Angry Birds." Creativity happens during the down times -- those moments when your mind wanders and makes connections you wouldn't normally consider.
As I write this, I'm sitting on a plane next to a guy who's played a card game on his Android phone for the last 3 hours. I doubt much creative insight is coming out of that.
There's no question that a new generation will have to deal with how technology is filling our time with trivial pursuits instead of deep thinking. But until they do, never forget the value of boredom.
Those moments when you don't have anything to do, may be the most productive moments of all.
Follow Phil Cooke, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/philcooke