Often seen as negative, being bored at work can increase creativity because it gives us time to daydream, Drs. Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman from the University of Central Lancashire discovered after conducting two studies.
In the first study, 40 people were asked to copy numbers out of a telephone directory for 15 minutes. Next, they brainstormed different ways to use a pair of polystyrene cups.
The 40 people who had copied telephone numbers showed more creativity than a control group of 40 people who had been asked only to come up with uses for the cups.
In its next study, the research team introduced a second rote task that allowed even more possibilities for daydreaming than the dull writing alone. In this study 30 people copied numbers as the control group, while a second group read the numbers instead of writing them.
Participants in the control group were the least creative, researchers found, but the people who had simply read the names were more creative than those who had to write them out. This suggests that more passive boring activities, such as reading or perhaps attending meetings, can lead to more creativity. Writing, by reducing the scope for daydreaming, reduces the creativity-enhancing effects of boredom.
"Boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity,” Mann said. “What we want to do next is to see what the practical implications of this finding are. Do people who are bored at work become more creative in other areas of their work—or do they go home and write novels?"