Creative distraction works (so carry on swinging…)

Creative distraction works (so carry on swinging…)


My yogini wife, Claire, introduced me once to the Buddhist concept of “the monkey mind”. It’s basically what I’ve got. Although I can focus when I need to, I’m easily distracted, and love nothing more than hopping from one branch of art, technology, culture and thinking to another, and exploring what I find when I get there. 

For a long time, I’ve felt slightly guilty about this. I faff around too much, when I should be focussing. 

Luckily, whilst recently swinging through the treetops, I’ve found some pretty highly regarded thinkers who’ve given me reason to believe that what I do isn’t all wrong. 

Sir Ken Robinson’s recent talk at the Royal Society of Arts, “Changing Educational Paradigms” makes the distinction between aesthetic learning (not just arts, but also scientific experiences) and anaesthetic learning, where young people are numbed, often with ritalin and other drugs, to get them to focus “on what? Mostly boring stuff”

Robinson comments that:

“Young people are being besieged for calls on their attention (by computer games, advertisements, iPhones, and 100s of TV channels), And we’re penalising them for getting distracted.” 

He argues that far from numbing children from what’s around them, we need to be waking them up. 

This is something I really identify with, and was something I explored a couple of years ago when I wrote a report for Youth Music looking at the educational potential of music based console games.  


Sit alongside this thoughts by science author, Steven Berlin Johnson in his latest book “Where Good Ideas Come From”. Johnson writes about “the slow hunch”, as a primary engine of creativity. Rather than a ‘Eureka!’ moment in the bathtub, he believes that ideas can need years to gestate, and frequently requiring the (often chance) meeting with another idea which is the antithesis to the first thesis. 

He’s got a line on the current volume of competing attention too. Johnson writes: 

It’s true we’re more distracted, but what’s truly miraculous that’s happened in the last 15 years  (for instance, via the internet) is that we now have so many different ways to  connect and find other people with the missing piece to complete the ideas we’re working on, or to stumble upon a new piece of information with which we can build and improve our own ideas. 


For Johnson,  

“That’s the real lesson of where good ideas come from: that chance favours the connected mind”

So armed with Ken Robinson and Steven Johnson as my new best friends, I’m going to carry on swinging, and maybe even feel slightly less guilty about it.

PS coincidentally, both of these presentations have been animated by the amazing people at the Folkestone-based Cognitive Media. I love what they do, and can’t wait to find an excuse to commission them for something myself.