Your idea might be half baked, but it also might be fully genius. So you ask the bartender for a pen, scribble it down on a bar napkin, and continue laughing with friends over a cocktail. You never really know when the muse will visit, which is why the “back of the napkin idea” has become a universal adage.
For some, it’s while at the bar. For others, it’s while in the middle of a long run. For many, genius strikes while in the shower.
So, why is it that some of our best ideas come when we’re not sitting attentively at our desks waiting for genius to strike?
1) Sometimes problems need to marinate before they’re solved.
Think about a problem like a beautiful steak. Before you even think about putting it on your plate — let alone on the grill — there’s plenty of work that goes into it. You trim the fat, add the seasoning, and then you have to let it marinate.
When you face a problem and want it solved right and fast, it’s going to be on the front of your mind at work. But sometimes, you can’t force a solution into a convenient one-hour meeting. Sometimes you need time to sit with the problem.
Because even after you’ve done all the prep work, you still need time for that protein to soak up the flavor. That’s what makes an idea good and juicy. So take a break. Take a walk. Go play softball with your friends. Go to a sip & paint session. Refresh your mind with a little bit of deliberate play, and trust that the good ideas and flavor come to you.
2) Playful activities stimulate the brain’s learning receptors.
Ever noticed how refreshed and focused you feel after just a quick walk to lunch? Or how much better your team works together if they actually enjoy each other’s company?
That’s because playful moments actually stimulate the brain for better learning, creativity, and problem-solving. It’s not surprising when you think back to your childhood, when your favorite educational television programming, shows like Sesame Street, made learning FUN rather than a bore / snore / chore.
And it’s not just physical play that improves creativity and problem-solving. It’s play of all kinds — puzzles, mental challenges, or just tossing some corn hole with friends or coworkers at happy hour. So if your meetings and conference calls aren’t getting the creative results you need, it may be time to take a break and try something new. Might be time to put a company picnic, office olympics, or happy hour on the schedule.
3) Creative people are more playful. Playful people are more creative.
And round and round we go! If you think about it, it’s easy to see that the most creative people on your team, in your office, or in the world also tend to be the most playful. Why is that?
Well, it’s science.
So, slugging away at your desk will probably not produce the next great, game-changing idea. You need to shake it up. When we purposefully break rules, norms, and conventions, we see new ideas emerge. And one of the low-risk, high reward ways to break from the routine is to just go play.
So, when you’re feeling yourself in a creativity rut, don’t punish yourself with longer but less productive hours staring at a keyboard. Leave your desk. Go play on purpose. Just don’t forget to bring a pen because you never know when or where inspiration might strike.