Boredom as the threshold of creativity

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor who is fascinated by conversation. This article on her ideas made sense to me.

Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.

Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, “the boring bits.” In software terms, they’re features rather than bugs.

Turkle is no technophobe but is concerned that the supposed connectedness we get through devices can detract from our capacity for that kind of conversation. I pretty much agree.

I’ve noticed that some of the very best bits of conversation happen just when I’m thinking of making my excuses and wrapping up… but decide to just stick with it. (I explored this more in this post a few months back.)

Coincidentally, Bruce Nussbaum seems to allude to this when talking about creativity ahd dismissing the notion of brainstorming.  (Hat tip: Tim Kastelle)

I think we need to replace brainstorming with what I call ‘magic circles’. These are environments where two or three smart people who trust each other can come together and ‘play’ at connecting disparate dots of knowledge in an open-ended kind of game. Look at the innovations that have changed our lives: Google, Facebook,; ZipCar, Amazon, 3M’s Post-Its–even jazz and rock & roll. In each case, there was a small group of people working together in a ‘playground’ setting–a magic circle. That circle can be in a lab, a school, a conference room–anywhere that you can have space, time and permission to improvise. This is the type of setting we need for innovation in an era of constant, cascading change

I’m a little cautious about the “magic” tag and the use of big name examples. I agree with the notion that this can happen anywhere and between any group of people who are willing to sit on the possibly boring, messy edge of conversation.


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