“Toys and games are preludes to serious ideas,” Charles Eames once observed. Realizing that creativity is often sparked when least expected, Eames encouraged the staff of the Eames Office to find time to play a game or pose for a silly photo. But if inspiration can strike anywhere, then why do so few people find that place to be the office?
Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine, believes it’s because people don’t have time for creativity at work. Chaining yourself to your computer in search of an answer, Lehrer argues, is only going to leave you frustrated. “You may look productive, but you’re actually wasting time.” Instead, he advices “go for a walk. You should play some ping-pong. You should find a way to relax.”
Scientific research backs up Lehrer’s advice, finding that people who are relaxed and in a good mood are more likely to have innovative or creative thoughts. And companies like 3M are taking advantage of this fact. With a track record of innovation, 3M gives every engineer an hour a day to use as he or she likes. Some tackle side projects, while others indulge in a personal hobby. The only catch is that they must share what they pursue during those hours with colleagues.
It worked for Charles Eames and has paid off for 3M. When will more companies realize the creative spark that catches fire may just be an hour away?