Thanks to the endless distraction of the internet, smartphones, game boys, portable music, and so much more, we’re less bored than ever. However, that may not be the best thing—it turns out boredom might be useful after all.
A study presented at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society has found that boredom can produce creativity. In one test, researchers asked a group of forty people to do something boring: copy out phone numbers from a phone book for fifteen minutes. Then, they and a control group who didn’t have to copy phone numbers were given two polystyrene cups and asked to come up with creative ways to use them. It turns out, the people who were first bored came up with more creative ways to use their polystyrene cups than the others.
In another test, half the participants were given the boring task of copying phone numbers, but the other half were given the even more boring task of just reading phone numbers. This time, the group with the even more boring task came up with more creative ways to use their polystyrene cups.
Of course, the million-dollar question is: how useful is this? Should a manager schedule a boring meeting in the hopes that employees will respond with creativity? Maybe not. It occurs to us that we come up with plenty of creative ideas in meetings, but they tend to be about a new wood-working project or the most spectacular way to run the company into the ground.
On the other hand, boredom might be useful in your personal life. And even if it isn’t, we sort of like the idea of having nothing to do—no project, no event, no errand—on a Saturday morning.