How Boredom Inspires Creativity

Being bored can actually inspire creativity.

A new study from the Academy of Management has found that boredom could be the secret ingredient to unlocking creativity.

“Management literature says boredom makes people disengage and deviate,” says Guihyun Park, senior lecturer in the Research School of Management at Australian National University. But as counterintuitive as it seems, that tuned out mindset is just the jolt some people need to innovate. “Boredom can be helpful for coming up with new ideas to break out of the status quo,” Park adds.

What a Bore

Park and her team explored the effects of being bored through several experiments. In one, groups of accounting majors were given bowls of red and green beans. The boredom group was asked to sort them with one hand by color, while the other created art projects.

Afterward, both groups participated in a brainstorming session where they were asked to list reasons why someone could reasonably be two hours late to a meeting without getting in trouble.

Boredom may be unpleasant, but business can benefit from creating mundane tasks at strategic times.
— Guihyun Park
Senior lecturer Research School of Management at Australian National University

“The control group’s ideas were all very obvious, whereas the boredom group went much deeper and came up with ideas no one else had considered,” Park says.

In a second experiment, the participants were asked to come up with product ideas for professional dog walkers. This time, they found that while not everyone showed improved creativity, individuals who described themselves as “seeking challenges” and “open to new experiences” on initial personality surveys generated more innovative ideas after being bored.

Park’s conclusion: Boredom may be unpleasant, but businesses can benefit from creating mundane tasks at strategic times. “People need time to indulge in boredom before working on a creative project if you want their creativity to be maximized,” she states.

The trick for managers is to create conditions where just enough boredom occurs. Park suggests asking team members to turn off their phones before coming to meetings and to start brainstorming sessions with a tedious video, speech or delay to trigger just a bit of boredom. “It doesn’t have to be long to improve performance,” she says. Twenty to 30 minutes is recommended.

Photo by Ranta Images/Getty Images