I always think of great stuff in the shower – ideas for stories, solutions to problems, explanations of intricate concepts, brilliant ways to word things. Ever since I read Frank Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune, I’ve wanted one of those nifty Ixian devices that Leto uses to record his thoughts. That would be so handy in the shower, or while driving, or in any of the other inconvenient places I seem to do my best thinking.
Researchers have been studying why this sort of thing happens and have discovered that we’re most intuitively creative when we aren’t really focused on problem-solving. When our attention is relatively diffuse (as when relaxing) or partially directed elsewhere (as when driving) little bits of our brain that have been working in the background on different aspects of an issue have a chance to compare notes. Et voila! Eureka! A brilliant idea is born.
Now that they better understand the mechanisms behind this phenomenon, I hope that scientists will work on ways for us to capture the amazing insights we have at those awkward moments when pencil and paper or digital recorders aren’t readily available. Until then, I guess I’ll have to get some of those wax pencils we used to write on beakers in high school science and start taking notes on the glass shower doors.
(The research mentioned above is from Jonah Lehrer’s book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, as discussed in the Wall Street Journal article, “How to be Creative.”)