“Greed… is good,” said Gordon Gekko in the movie Wallstreet. While that may be the case sometimes in business, it has also become quite clear that greed is often not good. But, I’d like to look at a different aspect of successful business people and write about “boredom”. I say, “Boredom, for lack of a better term, is good”.
Too often in business, government, or daily life boredom is viewed as an evil, unproductive state — to be avoided at all cost. Governments often need to be seen as “doing something”, regardless of whether it will actually help solve a problem, and businesses are no different. Sometimes the best solution may be to do nothing, to quit, or to head an entirely different direction. Being “super busy” or “working really hard” doesn’t necessarily mean you are headed in a profitable or meaningful direction.
Studies have shown that boredom can be a gateway towards increased creativity and productivity in the workplace. There are many articles and studies related to this (Google “benefits of boredom”) but none talk about it from a business perspective. In you or your child’s daily life it may be obvious that filling time with mindless TV, video games and constant Tweets and IMs is not as developmentally productive as reading, playing an instrument, or even staring at the clouds. But, in our everyday work and businesses we can lose sight that similar distractions are hindering our business development and success.
By eliminating distractions and pushing through boredom we can get a clearer picture of where we need to go and creative directions for getting there. Have you ever been on a vacation, a sabbatical or just doing yard work at home or standing in the shower and had a great idea for your business or work place? Often stepping away from a situation or pondering business from a different perspective can produce creative solutions and insight. That is one of the benefits of boredom. “Boredom” can be a teacher helping individuals figure out what they really should be doing – helping discover where the passion lies. It is in that self-awareness that in turn the direction of your working life or business is guided.
When you are really, really bored what is it that you wish you were doing? What do you think about? One of the most productive weeks of my life was spent on a Vision Quest sitting in the woods alone, without food and with absolutely nothing to do. When you filter out the noise, the program, the plan, the Man, and the everyday distractions of life and business what is most important? What seems trivial? Where does “boredom” and passion point you?
If you can’t afford or believe you don’t have time to travel or get away from it all, here is a quick, easy exercise you can do to help take a look at whether you are optimizing your productivity in the workplace. Or whether you are filling time – busy with tasks that keep boredom at bay, perhaps keeping the discovery of your true passion and business “success” at bay as well. Make two lists. Label list one: “What are my negative distractions?” Label list 2: What are my positive distractions?” Then write down whatever comes to mind (TV, need to make money, food, worrying about _____, family, my boss or employees, reading, tennis, etc., etc.) in its appropriate column. You may find that some things belong on both lists, that’s ok… put it all down.
This is a simple brainstorming exercise to help you move forward… or back… or sideways. The goal is to maximize positive distractions, limit negative distractions, and reexamine your handling of distractions that can be either positive or negative. This shifting and examination can lead you to a life better lived and in turn, a more successful organization. It is very healthy, helpful and important to step back (or away) and review what is interesting, meaningful, profitable and possible. And sometimes boredom is just the state of mind to help pull you through to the creative flow of possibilities – to your passion and to your contribution.
*I wrote this when I was working, thinking, traveling, playing tennis, and spending time with my family in Florence Italy. I started writing this when I was bored one day and went to a park to sit and daydream.