“Vacation” conjures up a period of rest and relaxation. Yet independent travelers tend to shun the “v” word (and “tourist”), preferring instead “travel” (and “traveler”) to describe their activity. (Carrying a backpack is seldom restful or relaxing, and being a tourist suggests a surface glance.) An engaging new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, further cements the distinction.
“Imagine” author Jonah Lehrer describes how creative moments happen, and how to cultivate them, especially for the workplace. Citing brain science and research studies, Lehrer concludes that there are different kinds of creativity and (happily) we all have some form of it. The challenge is to unleash it.
In the chemistry of creativity, travel is a potent catalyst.
Research shows familiarity is an enemy of creativity. Years and years of deadening routine and conventional wisdom can undermine the fresh, “outsider” perspective necessary for innovative thinking.
Young people early in their careers are seen as “natural outsiders” – a creative advantage particularly in fields like poetry and physics, where most important works are accomplished by the age of 30.
Yet studies show outsider creativity isn’t a phase of life, it’s a state of mind. New and different surroundings can freshen minds, loosen cognition and spur insights regardless of age.
Lehrer confirms what seasoned travelers know: sitting on the Left Bank with a café’ au lait and croissant can relax the mind, or stimulate it, depending on your mind-set. He takes it one step further: if creativity is the aim, we should bring our most vexing problems with us and cogitate. Tackling them when we are away from the places we spend most of our time increases the likelihood of finding solutions.
Why? We are “outsiders” when in foreign lands, challenged to make sense of new ways and cultures and not encumbered by our daily conventions and routines. As we become more immersed in others’ mores, customs and cuisines, well-entrenched patterns of thinking recede. Errant ideas, previously suppressed, are brought to the surface.
The benefits of travel carry forward when we return home. Seasoned travelers are found to be more accepting of ambiguity and more alive to subtleties. Creative connections, otherwise masked, can be more readily uncovered.
The creative process is seldom effortless, and certainly no vacation. But travel is one notable way to help lubricate it.