Daydreaming: The Key to Problem Solving

Daydreaming: The Key to Creative Problem Solving

By Tuesday June 24th, 2014

In a society focused on productivity, daydreamers get a bad rap. New research, however, suggests they shouldn't. Creativity flourishes when the mind is free to wander.

In a society focused on productivity, it’s no surprise that daydreamers get a bad rap. Daydreaming seems passive and looks lazy. Besides, what can those absent-minded “space cadets” possibly know with their heads up there in the clouds?

For years, people assumed that a wandering mind was an empty mind. However, new research shows that your mind is incredibly active during these seemingly dormant moments.

Several areas of the brain associated with complex problem solving are stimulated during a daydream, including the “executive network.” As the brain’s command center, the executive network was previously thought of as the exclusive problem-solving region in the brain. However, it was considered to be inactive during daydreaming.

This study proved that theory wrong.

Think of the last time you had an “aha!” moment – when you suddenly knew the answer to a problem you’d been racking your brain over for some time. Whether it’s the solution to a problem, the punchline to a joke, or finally recognizing a face you saw last week, these sudden insights are not random. Somehow, a shift was made in your mental perspective that altered the way you perceived the problem.

When you get stuck on a problem, it’s common to focus your attention on the task at hand until you find the solution. While this tactic can be successful, it’s more likely to create a giant roadblock in the process of creative problem solving. When you keep your mind locked in tunnel vision, you cloud your ability to come to the right solution – you don’t have full access to your memory banks.

One of the most famous advertising campaigns was envisioned on a walk to the deli. After days of brainstorming, Creative Director Eric David repeated “Aflac-Aflac-Aflac” in his head on a walk to grab lunch when he had the “aha!” moment. David returned to the office with his sandwich, quacking “Aflac” at his team. He created one of the most well known ducks in the advertising world while daydreaming on his lunch break.

Of all the problem solving activities, daydreaming allows you to be the most open-minded and creative. It allows your mind to relax – to think beyond the task at hand. When you detach yourself from the immediate situation, you’re able to reflect internally. This reflection makes you more receptive to ideas generated within your subconscious, giving you the potential to create connections between ideas and concepts that you may not have otherwise recognized.

As a problem solving strategy, daydreaming allows the creative process to begin before you put pen to paper. You can come up with ideas and quickly modify them, making connections between different research points that you’ve yet to realize are connected. In addition, you wind up working through wildly creative, but initially unrealistic ideas until you uncover the aspects of those concepts that are valuable in solving your problem.

Daydreams are not random, no matter what you’re daydreaming about. Whether it’s tomorrow’s tasks or a bigger life event, everything is an open goal you’re trying to complete.

While daydreaming has a reputation for killing productivity, it’s actually a very productive tool in the process of creative problem solving. So, the next time you’re faced with a complex creative challenge, don’t actively choose to limit your creative potential. Think beyond your immediate and limited surroundings and let yourself daydream

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About the Author

Jessica is the lead designer and front end web developer for Brolik, a Philly based digital agency, where she works with both the technical and creative aspects of web design. She is an Arizona native and a Sun Devil, but loves the culture and art scene of Philadelphia. Also, she can run further than you can, and is currently training for her next big marathon.