On his blog, Jonah Lehrer discusses the impact of distraction on creativity. The study he reacts to describes a high level of distractibility, that inability to avoid eavesdropping at a party, “low latent inhibition.” So, if you are practicing latent inhibition, you are able to focus and channel your attention. The study evaluated students with low latent inhibition as “’eminent creative achievers,’” because, as Lehrer says, if you are paying attention to lots of things, you “can’t help but consider the unexpected.”
The real question Lehrer poses is how low latent inhibition plays into creativity. Where is that space between distraction and insight? The researchers found that “low latent inhibition only leads to increased creativity when it’s paired with a willingness to analyze our excess of thoughts, to constantly search for the signal amid the noise.”
That’s exactly what we strive to create for our clients in our sessions. When you have a group of 50 executives immersed in a fast-paced multi-day session tacking a complex business problem in an environment rich with creative stimuli, how do we manage the distractions and new information so they feed the creative process, while avoiding those that don’t? What is the skill that allows us to create that filter for our clients, so they can make most of the time they have to design their work? When we’re designing a learning program, how do we engage lateral information and concepts to further fulfill the program’s objectives? And then there is the issue of managing that for 20-80 people, each of whom have different learning styles and ways of working.
For me, it’s a careful dance. I can take a disciplined approach to planning, to make sure that I’ve anticipated as many variables as possible. I can carefully design the engagement approach, the agenda and inputs for a session, and all the work that happens between sessions. But ultimately, creating an experience where distraction drives creativity requires an openness, my own low latent inhibition, to read progress and the group dynamic. It’s being able to seek out the signals that are meaningful to react and adjust based on real time information, pulling in the right resources at the right time to bolster and ensure the group’s success.