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Today marked the beginning of a conference filled with ideas and enthusiasm for healthcare education. Tired souls from around the world, many of them leaving behind better weather, met to discuss their passions and professions.
The first day is always electric. People catch up with colleagues, crowd around buffet tables, and scroll through PowerPoints in desperate attempts to remember what they revised during their flight. Ideas flow as freely as the coffee, and as research may show, it could be the chaos that generates the ideas.
In 2011, Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks took a look at how the "time of day" impacted our abilities to solve problems. But "time of day" is really a misnomer: they were actually studying the impact of fatigue upon cognition.
results showed consistently greater insight problem solving performance during non-optimal times of day compared to optimal times of day...Time of day eﬀects on problem solving:When the non-optimal is optimal (You can read the complete study here.)
In the brain, the frontal lobe is the boss: it sets the agenda for the day, keeps you on task, and and puts resources to where they'll best be used. But, when your body is tired, that dopamine-hogging frontal lobe is one of the first areas to shut down. If you've ever been in a classroom after 3pm, you know what a tired brain looks like: chatty, not paying attention to the material, and all around distracted - it's the same at any organization, when the boss goes on vacation, the workers spend a lot of time on their 'side projects'.
The need for new insights
In a 2009 survey of over 1,500 CEOs by IBM, creativity was called "the single most important leadership competency for enterprises."
To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science. - Albert Einstein
It turns out, having an unfocused mind is fantastic for creative work. When ideas seem to 'come from everywhere', what may be happening is that your brain's boss isn't there to keep you on track. Without the frontal lobe poo-pooing every new thought, you're free to glide from one idea to the next. We fundamentally need the freedom for our minds to wander.
Anyone who does creative work for a living will emphasize that you cannot bottle inspiration. Hunter S. Thompson tired by waking at 3pm, binging as only Hunter could do, and hopefully being ready to write by midnight. That's not an option for those of us who love our livers.... Thankfully, it's not the only option.
A distracted mind is a creative mind
Maybe this correlation with problem solving and mental fatigue explains why people with ADHD have produced impacting, revolutionary ideas. Look at many of our great minds: Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Issac Newton, Beethoven, JFK, Walt Disney, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, Galileo, and Albert Einstein are all associated with a diagnosis of ADHD. All of these men changed the World through their insight, creativity, innovation and hard work. da Vinci himself explained that the only way to 'have a good idea' was "have a lot of ideas" and he advocated daydreaming about everything.
There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see. - Leonardo da Vinci
Perhaps we should embrace fatigue. Skip your morning cup of coffee and let your frontal lobe take a break. Allow your mind to wander. On the back of my office door, I have lists of tasks best accomplished in the morning and the afternoon. In addition to putting my lunch away, the morning is devoted to creative work and problem solving. Answering emails and returning phone calls can wait; I'll do that when I'm awake. Harness your creativity while you're tired enough not to know better.
Now, "creativity" and "innovation" are impossible to cover in 700 words. In fact I'll be expanding upon these topics in a series of articles. For now, to inspire new ways of thinking, I want to share a truly creative performance: Lin-Manuel Miranda performing at the White House.
Mr. Miranda takes a leap, and lands gracefully. His subject matter, delivery, and performance are so far out of the box that he's creating a new genre of his own.
Lead-in photo credit: Abby Lanes