The Shift: Issue #24

Bored and Brilliant; Creative Coalition 2020 Festival; Reasons to be Cheerful; Lemn Sissay on Daily Acts of Creativity.

Can boredom lead to your most brilliant ideas?
Here’s Manoush Zomorodi’s story – journalist, entrepreneur and author of Bored and Brilliant.
Her son and the iPhone were born three weeks apart in June 2007.
While everyone was busy with this new toy, she was stuck at home with her hands full of something else sending out constant notifications.
A colicky baby who would only sleep in a moving stroller with complete silence.
She walked 10-15 miles a day and got fit but was bored out of her mind.
Three months into this daily routine something shifted. As she walked her mind wandered, she started daydreaming and coming up with ideas.
She finally got an iPhone and created her dream job hosting a public radio show (on the hustle beyond Silicon Valley - it’s excellent, check it out here).
She could be a mum and a journalist.
In the playground and on Twitter at the same time.
She got busy again. But when tried to brainstorm ideas and how to boost audience numbers, she couldn’t think of anything.
When was the last time she’d had a good idea? She realised it was when she was out walking her baby.
When you fill all the cracks in your day with scrolling and multitasking, you don’t let yourself daydream and be bored.
What happens to the brain when we get bored or if we’re never bored? She spoke to neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists and the results were fascinating.
In the past 10 years, we’ve started to understand mind wandering a little more...
When we get bored or do things on autopilot, we ignite a network in the brain called the ‘default mode’.
Psychologist Sandi Mann talks about this in her book, The Science of Boredom.
Once you start daydreaming and allowing your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, into the subconscious, which allows different connections to take place. It’s really awesome, actually.
In default mode, we connect disparate ideas and solve problems. We do ‘autobiographical planning’ – create our personal narrative and set goals, then break them down into practical steps.
If we fill the cracks of our day with multitasking and notifications we stop that happening.
Every time you shift your attention from one thing to another, the brain has to engage a neurochemical switch, that uses up nutrients in the brain to do it. So, if you’re trying to multitask, you’re not actually doing four or five things at once because the brain doesn’t work that way. You’re shifting from one thing to the next and depleting neural resources. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist, musician, author.
Our energy isn’t finite.
10 years ago, we shifted our attention at work every three minutes. Now we do it every 45 seconds – and all day long. The average person checks their emails 74 times a day and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day.
So how to break this vicious cycle? We can do it alone with willpower, but it’s fun to do it as a collective experiment and publish the results.
Manoush set up the Bored and Brilliant project – the Lost Art of Spacing Out. Thousands of people signed up – worried they were in a co-dependent relationship with their smartphone.
To get data, they partnered with apps like Moment, so people could track how much time they were spending on their phone and then set them daily email challenges for a week.
As we know from The Social Dilemma tech is built to be addictive. There’s a war going on to get your attention.
The average person will spend two years of their life on Facebook. 😱
20,000 people took the Bored and Brilliant challenge. There wasn’t a big reduction in the amount of time spent online (too short a trial period) but their stories are fascinating.
People found creative ways to use their time. They filled the cracks in their day with things they wouldn’t have thought of before – reclaiming their time and rediscovering emotions like boredom. They felt less stressed, happier and slept better. The experience empowered them. Their phones went from being taskmasters to tools again.
Do teenagers ever get bored? It’s not a word I’ve ever heard my daughter say – they communicate online, play games together - it’s a social activity. Does this mean they’ll be less creative and imaginative about solving problems? We have a lot of shit to sort out – social, political and health crises - deep thinking required.
Being busy and constantly connected is the norm and our default position. Society shames people who aren’t busy. Maybe this won’t be cool in a few years. There are new apps coming out all the time to help us be more productive and reduce our internet time. But it feels like a sticking plaster to mask the real problem – how these devices are made and big tech’s responsibility to society.
I’m curious to see how this shifts and what innovations and breakthroughs come out of lockdown.
So, give yourself permission to be bored and brilliant – your most creative self.
It’s good to challenge our thinking around FOMO…  
Note to Self: “I’m the chairman of the bored.” 🤣
Wherever you are in the world, we can all look out the window, watch the clouds, stare at the ceiling, and we can let our minds wander and that’s the real key, so don’t go on the computer, don’t try to swipe and scroll the boredom away, just let your mind free. Be mindful.
Just watch the world go by and let your mind find its own entertainment and its own creativity. Your mind will do the job, you don’t need to do anything else, it’s what you mind is programmed to do, find its own stimulation. Sandi Mann.
5 things
1/ The Case for Boredom
Listen here - the biggest project New Tech City (now Note to Self) has ever done - “Our goal is to get you rethinking your relationship with tech.” You can sign up for the Bored and Brilliant challenge here.
2/ Creative Coalition 2020 Festival
A 3-day digital festival for all sectors of the UK’s creative industries, live-streamed across the country. 9-11 November. Free for Creative Industries Federation members (a tenner a month). Over 60 events with discussions about creativity, the culture of content, and how we can bounce back from Covid. Steve McQueen, Ruby Wax, George the Poet, Jefferson Hack, Bruce Daisley, Liv Little, Tim Davie, Netflix, Tortoise Media & more.
3/ Kickstarter’s Inside Voices
An open call for projects started at home - with support from the Kickstarter community. If you don’t feel like making anything, have a breather and take inspiration from others’ work.
4/ Reasons to be Cheerful
A non-profit editorial project founded by artist and musician David Byrne. “We are part magazine, part therapy session, part blueprint for a better world.” Inspiring things happening around the world that can be copied, adapted, scaled up or spread around.
5/ Lemn Sissay
On the importance of daily acts of creativity (his poems on Twitter ❤️), and taking creative risks. Championing open-source creativity and collaboration - he got a standing ovation for this TED talk.
Do something every day that is creative and it will feed you, it will feed the community around you. And most of all you will have a bank of evidence that is there for the rest of your life. The internet is there to be enjoyed.

Thanks for reading 🙏

👋 Hi, I'm Nicci - a journalist and writer based in East Sussex, UK. I write The Shift, a newsletter on work culture, creativity + tech trends.⚡️ If you like this and want to read more, please consider becoming a paid subscriber here. Or if you prefer, you can treat me to a coffee here. Find me online @niccitalbot.