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How Procrastination Can Help You Generate New Ideas (5 Steps)

By Som Bathla

Connect@sombathla.com

It was the most important evening for Martin Luther King in the year 1963, as the next day, he had to deliver his life’s biggest speech ever.

He was up till 3 a.m. rewriting, deleting, and improving certain portions of his speech.

Later, he was sitting in the audience and still scribbling his speech notes and making some tweaks here and there.

Then the time arrived, he was on the stage with his prepared speech notes.

But just a few minutes into the speech, he left his prepared speech aside and then uttered the four most important words that made history —

“I have a dream.”

These words were not part of his prepared speech.

By procrastinating the preparation of his speech till the last hour, he allowed a longer thinking time for his mind to let the ideas develop well.

That’s what procrastination does when it comes to creativity.

It gives you enough time to consider divergent ideas, to think in non-linear ways, and to make unexpected moves.

We all have heard enough that procrastination is the culprit that stops us from taking action and moving towards our goals.

But here is the key point:

Procrastination is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it becomes a virtue for creativity.

Adam Grant, in his famous TED speech, talks about how procrastinators develop more creative ideas.

The research comprised of few people who were asked to develop some new business ideas. Now, they were divided into two groups.

One group was asked to immediately get on the job.

The other group was asked to play some games for 5 to 10 minutes before they could think of specific ideas.

The people in the latter group were found to be 16% more creative.

Why was it so?

There was nothing special about the game they played.

The reason for them being more creative was that they were told about working on a problem and then they were allowed to procrastinate working on the problem — in this case, the task was still in the back of their minds, which allows the ideas to incubate in that space.

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said,“All great ideas come in the bus, bed, and bath.”

You may call it 3 B’s of creativity :-)

But the message it conveys is that the amazing ideas come when you are not thinking about them.


‘Eureka’ moment that made Archimedes run naked?

The most famous known example regarding creativity — that’s often referred to as Eureka moment relates to Archimedes, the Greek mathematician.

He was asked by a king, who was suspecting that a golden crown contained more silver than gold, to device a method whereby one could know the purity of a metal.

Archimedes spent days and nights on this problem, but couldn’t find the answer.

Then he thought to keep the problem aside and went for a hot bath in the tub.

As he was relaxing in the hot bath, he realized that the water overflowed when he put his body in the water- and this created a unique solution for him.

He concluded that a pure gold crown would displace a different amount of water than the one made by an alloy.

The history records that he was so excited to find this answer that he ran naked out of his bed in the streets shouting “Eureka”! (I’ve found it!).


The Story of How Air-conditioning was invented

Let’s look at another interesting story to understand the power of procrastinating.

William Carrier, a twenty-five-year-old Engineer graduate, was sitting at Pittsburgh Railways station on a foggy day in year the 1902.

He was working on the problem of regulating temperature humidity in a printing company.

After spending intense time in the problem and not being able to find a solution, he thought to give it a break and therefore was waiting at a station to go for a vacation.

He was mindlessly gazing at the fog and mist at the railway station, and suddenly sparked the brilliant idea about the problem that he was working so intensely.

The answer to his problem was air-conditioning.

He thought to combine the two technologies, namely electricity and refrigeration.

His idea was to blow air through electricity through a fine mist generated through refrigeration, and that would act like a condenser drying out the humid air.

He discovered that change in the temperature of the mist would also alter the level of humidity. And that’s how the invention of air-conditioning happened.

You would notice here that Carrier didn’t burn himself out by consistently immersing under the problem until it was resolved, rather, he chose to procrastinate finding the solution to the problem — this allowed the required incubation period for his ideas.

In all the above examples, the principle of incubation worked.

Your subconscious mind is continually processing information when you have already done the hard work of loading your conscious mind with huge pieces of information.

It usually involves setting your problem aside for a few hours, days, or weeks and moving on to other projects.

Though you get away from the challenge, but your subconscious mind continues working on the original challenge in the background.

The more interested you are in solving a challenge, the more likely it is that your subconscious will generate ideas.

Incubation helps you put the challenge in perspective.

When you leave a problem and come back to it again, you will have a fresh perspective of looking at it.


Here is the step-by-step process for activating the incubation of Ideas through procrastination:

· Identify — What are the challenges you want to solve and how would the solution look like?

· Prepare — Prepare as thoroughly as you can from all the sources.

· Instruct — Instruct your subconscious mind to find the answer.

· Incubate — Now, leave the problem aside — don’t work on the problem, go and do something else. Maybe take a shower or go on vacations, etc.

· Eureka- the moment will jump out of air suddenly, and you will be supplied with the great idea that can transform your life.

How to Put this Process in Practice?

1. Whenever you come across a challenge, the first step that is needed is to do enough research about all aspects of the problem.

Read enough literature. Google all the information, search videos, blogs, podcasts on the subject.

2. The test that you have done enough research is that your head starts reeling with loads of information.

This means that you have loaded the frontal lobe of your brain called prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for learning new information.

3. Now, get away from the challenge for a day or two, or engage yourself into some other project.

This will trigger the incubation process, as all the research you have done will start getting processed in your head, and you might get a better solution than what you could have got by forcing your head to give you a solution.

4. Stay relaxed and wait for your Eureka moment.

It will come at a time and places generally when you least expect it to come.


Hope you enjoyed this email and learned something new.

Hit reply and let me know what did you learn or found interesting in this email. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Cheers

Som Bathla

​1001, 10th Floor,, Bestech Park View Ananda, Sector 81, Gurgaon, Haryana 122004

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