Tell Your Boss: I’m Not ‘Drunk,’ I’m ‘Productive’

It’s come to our attention that there are still people in the world who have not heard about Jonah Lehrer’s great new book on the origins of creativity, Imagine (and in true genius steals mode, he, of course, stole that title from John Lennon). Lehrer has been all over NPR and TV talk shows like The Colbert Report, so you may have already heard him recount many of the stories in the book such as Post-Its’ origin in a church, why W.H. Auden wrote his most anthologized poems while addicted to Benzedrine, how the Swiffer came to be, and Bob Dylan “vomiting” out some of his best songs after he’d quit the music business.

One of the commonalities between all these stories is that time was made for the subjects to let their brains wander. If anything, Lehrer’s case for creativity and productivity is an argument in favor of day-dreaming, loafing and getting away from structured, regimented thinking. It’s why the best ideas sometimes come to people when they are relaxed, such as when they are in the shower. Or drunk.

This is why one tale really struck a chord with us. A study by researchers at the University of Illinois (called, and we love scientists with a sense of humor, “Uncorking the Muse“) compared the performance of sober and drunk students on creative problem solving tests, which Leher wrote about for Wired. (How were we not called to participate? — we have been a member of the latter cohort for years!) As the researchers explain:

The current experiment tested the effects of moderate alcohol intoxication on a common creative problem solving task, the Remote Associates Test (RAT). Individuals were brought to a blood alcohol content of approximately .075, and, after reaching peak intoxication, completed a battery of RAT items. Intoxicated individuals solved more RAT items, in less time, and were more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight.

None of this is new, of course. It just hadn’t been tested quite so rigorously before. Perhaps Robert Louis Stevenson said it best when — in his 1877 essay “An Apology for Idlers” — he wrote, “It is certain that much may be judiciously argued in favor of diligence; only there is something to be said against it.