Daydreaming and Problem Solving: The Deep Connection

By Michael McCauley Clive Thompson, writing for Wired Magazine, recently explored the idea that the act of daydreaming is a crucial part of problem solving. This is an interesting notion, since most work environments are designed to minimize or eliminate daydreaming. Instead, Thompson suggests that tools and applications should be developed to encourage mental drift.  A recent study by Dr. Michael Kane of the University of North Carolina found that our minds drift away from our tasks fully one-third of the time. His study further suggests that when your mind drifts off, it is actually doing important data-storage work.  Brain scans indicate that, when you are daydreaming,  the mind is actually using the prefrontal cortex —  the part of the brain used for problem solving. Jonathan Schooler, a professor of psychology at UC Santa Barbara, believes that an idling mind is likely doing deeply creative work. So how is all this related to persuasive technology? Modern productivity software is designed to minimize mental drift. Often we are so focused on completing tasks, checking off to-do lists and scheduling meetings that we don’t have time to just sit and think. How about designing software that changes our attitude and behavior about drifting — software that actually optimizes daydreaming? I find this to be a truly inspired idea. Using persuasive technology, we could design software that actually encourages people to make notes about their daydreams. What about software that actually encourages daydreaming? In its crudest form, maybe the application pings you from time to time to see if your mind is wandering. If it is, then the application gives you an opportunity to capture what you’re thinking about in a few simple notes. You could then go back and review your notes at a later time. This might spur additional ideas that can be used to enhance your problem- solving ability and actually improve your productivity. Maybe this represents the next generation of persuasive technology. What do you think?]]>

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