In Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson posits that “the more disorganized your brain is, the smarter you are” in reference to the results of a neuroscience experiment by Robert Thatcher.
Across the board, in Johnson’s book and other sources it seems pretty clear that creativity is messy.
Ideas need to be sloshing around or crashing in to one another to produce breakthroughs:
- Johnson cites research showing that the volume of ideas bouncing about make large cities disproportionately more creative than smaller towns.
- Having multiple hobbies allows your brain to subconsciously compare and contrast problems and solutions, forming new connections at the margins of each.
- Similarly, reading multiple books at the same time vs serially lets your brain juxtapose new ideas and develop new connections.
- Wandering minds are more creative.
- Studying a field “too much” doesn’t limit creativity — it does the opposite. More ideas banging about just produces even more ideas.
- The “accept everything” mantra of brainstorming doesn’t work. Debate is far more effective. Let those ideas fight.
- ADD and bipolar disorder are both associated with greater creativity. When you’re drunk or exhausted your brain is poised for breakthroughs.
- Even with teams, it’s better to mix up experience levels, familiarity with one another and other factors to keep things rough around the edges.
At the end of his book Johnson recommends:
Join over 180,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
Read next: How to Overcome Creativity Roadblocks