Is Technology Making Us Less Creative?

The other day, I was reading the 5 factors John Cleese listed in his 1991 lecture to make your life more creative.

1.Space (“You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures.”)
2.Time (“It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time.”)
3.Time (“Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original,” and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.)
4.Confidence (“Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”)
5.Humor (“The main evolutionary significance of humor is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”)

—  John Clesse on the 5 Factors to Make Your Life More Creative | Brain Pickings.

And the focus on space and time made me start wondering about the impact of multitasking on creativity. Because if you’re doing lots of things at the same time where is the space and the time to let your mind work?

It didn’t take long for me to find out that the two don’t mix. Which is pretty much what I expected.

Managing multiple tasks at the same time requires a lot of working memory and “executive control” – the ability to direct and focus your attention, says a 2010 study in the journal Intelligence. But working memory and the ability to focus actually work against the cognitive processes that generate light-bulb moments, says a 2012 study at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Too much focus can actually harm creative problem-solving,” preventing the diffuse, open thinking required to come up with new approaches and novel connections, the study says. Multitaskers may have to work harder than others to block out time for the daydreaming, exercise or mind-wandering that generate “aha moments,” the research suggests.

— Why Multitasking Block Creativity — The Juggle  | WSJ

But it is what I read in the next article that I chose that got me thinking about how our use of technology — always being connected (texting while we’re walking, supposed to be talking to other people, and working; keeping out ear to the phone, checking e-mails at every ping ) is blocking our creativity.

As James O’Toole notes on the strategy+business blog, the dangers of multitasking are as multifarious as they are nefarious.

  • Multitasking stunts emotional intelligence: Instead of addressing the person in front of you, you address a text message.
  • Multitasking makes us worse managers: The more we multitask, the worse we are at sorting through information–recall the broadcast news kerfuffle above.
  • Multitasking makes us less creative

–What Multitasking Does To Your Brain | Fast Company

Technology companies seem to follow John Cleese’s advice. The most innovative ones tend to give employees an environment that includes the space and time factors Cleese mentions. Their employees have the confidence to create because their efforts are supported (all of this is generally speaking, of course).

But the people who use the technology are running the risk of becoming less creative. It’s a situation that’s easy to rectify, however.

Want to become more creative? Start today by disconnecting.


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