ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Venturing off into a world of your own can provide a fruitful experience and encourage creativity. While it might seem like you’re slacking to some, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis say daydreaming is a good source of creativity. They add letting your mind wander can be even better for individuals who are passionate about their work.
According to the study authors, daydreaming has always been a tricky thing in the working world. When daydreams aren’t being sparked by problems at the office, a wandering mind can obviously be counterproductive. Researchers say a lot of a daydream’s benefits really has to do with why that person is doing it to begin with.
“Daydreaming can have significant upsides for one’s tendency to crack difficult challenges in new ways. This, however, presumes that people deeply care about the work they do, what attracted them to the profession in the first place,” says Markus Baer, professor of organizational behavior, in university release. “Daydreaming without this focus has significant downsides, which show up most directly in one’s overall performance ratings.”
The study examined two types of daydreaming, problem-oriented daydreams (imaginative thoughts) and bizarre daydreams (improbable thoughts). Researchers find bizarre thoughts are actually more beneficial for fantasy or science fiction writers.
Researchers took their study to South America, sampling data from 169 experienced professionals in various jobs in the service and banking industries. They also conducted a field study of 117 professional employees and 46 of their supervisors. Each participant in the studies had an average age of 33.9 and 35.9 respectively.
Need to solve a problem? Have a daydream
For the first study, participants recorded their ratings of the job challenges and their tendency to engage in either bizarre daydreaming or problem-oriented daydreaming. Participants also recorded the rate at which they created new ideas and solutions throughout the day.
For the second study, researchers asked the group from the technology industry to do the same recordings as the workers in the first study. The only difference is creativity and problem solving skills are common in tech jobs so the supervisors also rated their employees’ creativity.
“Conducting two different studies enabled us to test our hypotheses across a wide range of workers and triangulate our findings,” co-author Erik Dane explains. “The methods and measures we adopted integrated cutting-edge techniques associated with studying creativity and daydreaming alike.”
The results reveal workers are much more likely to daydream when dealing with a problem or challenge at work. These dreams continually boosted a worker’s creativity, as long as the employee could identify with their current profession. Daydreaming became troublesome when the employee could not identify with their profession.
“What this means is that daydreaming can boost creativity but does little to kill it; on the flip side, daydreaming does little to improve overall performance but can significantly reduce it,” study co-author Hector P. Madrid adds.
Researchers also discovered how important creativity-boosting daydreaming is for work professionals who are psychologically engrained with their work. The demand of their jobs can bring both enjoyment and fulfillment, and a wandering mind provides a relief that the person may or may not know is needed to give them a creative boost.
The study is published in the Academy of Management Journal.