Anyone who thinks they have the next best invention since sliced bread, but who isn’t yet sure what it is, can take some tips from science to get the creative juices flowing. There is apparently a better time of day to think about innovating and a better way to make it happen. All would-be innovators and entrepreneurs need to take a hike – literally.
Everyone knows that the after-lunch nap is common. We come back from a meal, ready to tackle the afternoon’s tasks, only to find that are eyelids want to tackle the darkness. However, after lunch is actually the best time to be creative, according to Shane O’Mara. O’Mara is a neuroscientist and a professor at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. He’s also the author of In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration, which dives into the brain and when it can be more creative.
O’Mara, who is also a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator, explains that there are two forms of thinking, referred to as default and active modes. Active mode allows the brain to accomplish task-oriented jobs, such as creating a schedule or washing the car. Default mode is where the real, life-altering ideas are born, and this mode is activated more when people go out for a walk.
He explains, “It’s the idea that the core online function of the brain has these two flickering modes, one where we pay close attention to the task, sometimes called the dorsal attentional network, and it turns off the big picture network. When you focus on the detail it is very hard to focus on the big picture. Our waking life is predominated by flickering between these states.”
The fact that people are more creative after lunch makes sense, when you break down the nuances of creative thinking. Developing a better mousetrap means thinking outside the box. In order to do that, it’s important to have a mind that is clear of the clutter than consumes most of our routines – making breakfast, answering business emails, meetings, etc. Having an unrestricted mind is fundamental for being able to see things in completely new perspectives. If you need real-world proof, just look at Jeff Bezos.
O’Mara thinks that, if people want to be more creative, they should finish their lunch and then head out to go for a walk. This could be the best way to really upend innovation, or even help individuals create solutions for the next big marketing campaign or the next best-seller. He adds, “I like writing when I’m just a little bit tired. I feel my defenses are down a little and I can rabbit on a little more and be a little less inhibited. You have to figure out what your kind of method is during the day.”
At the very least, breaking the afternoon cycle will lead to a change in routines. This, in itself, has a lot of positive outcomes. At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps it will lead someone to figure out how to make a real flux capacitor so we can travel through time.