The curious paradox of creativity and productivity

1st February 2017

It may be easy to judge productivity when you’re manufacturing objects, less so when people are having ideas.

People don’t just have more and better ideas by simply working harder. This creates a paradox because the habits that are bad for productivity may be good for creativity.

In a recent Ted Talk, entitled ‘The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers’, the business psychologist Adam Grant identified the challenges associated with this paradox, not least that many of the most original thinkers are habitual procrastinators. “People who wait until the last minute are so busy goofing off that they don’t have any new ideas,” he says in his talk. “On the flip side, those who race in are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they don’t have original thoughts either. While trying to put these findings into a book, I decided to teach myself to procrastinate. I woke up early the next morning and made a to-do list of how to get nothing done. As was scheduled, I one day put the book away in mid-sentence for months. It was agony. But when I came back to it, I had new ideas.”

So, maybe one of the ultimate causes of the UK’s enduring productivity gap is the desire to put more hours in, to do more, to make ourselves busy when what we really should be focussed on is how to be more creative and have better ideas.

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