Einstein knew that to have an idea, we need to not overthink things - we need to practice mindlessness.Hazel Beevers, creative producer at Unity
Be honest. When did you last look at your phone screen? Did you want to, or did it tell you to?
Smartphone addiction - or "nomophobia"- is a genuine issue, which is costing us our relationships, time and sleep.
What’s worrying me though, is that this addiction is costing us our imagination, which is not only bad news for mankind; it’s really bad news for the PR industry.
Smartphones mean flexible working and an 'always on' working culture, enabling us to function at a high level of productivity. Great for when you want to hit your targets, but what if that target is simply to have an idea? To be creative? After all, it’s the bedrock of our industry.
PR may not be an exact science, but Einstein knew that to have an idea, we need to not overthink things. We need to do the opposite, in fact. We need to practice mindlessness.
Now is the time to confess that this isn’t a new argument.
In 1942, James W. Young wrote 'A Technique for Producing Ideas'; a tiny, essential handbook and in the chapter ‘The mental digestive process’ he talks about the third stage of the ideation process: switching off.
After you have puzzled a problem or idea over, in this third stage you drop the whole subject.
You forget about it. Simply turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work while you sleep, to stimulate an unconscious creative process.
If we’re checking our emails before bed, or writing our to-do list until the wee hours to prepare for the following day, then this switch-off – and ensuing idea – is surely harder to achieve.
A country that has started to put this into practice is – quelle surprise – France.
It introduced a new employment law on 1 Jan, which obliges organisations with more than 50 workers to start negotiations to define the rights of employees to ignore their smartphones.
This "right to disconnect" aims to tackle the compulsive out-of-hours email checking, and (often unpaid) overtime that takes place.
Of course we don’t want to lose the flexibility that out-of-hours working can provide, but constant access to work leaves employees uncertain of when they can switch off.
The interesting thing, though, is that it’s not just sleep that does the magic, it can be any inane task.
In a Prince interview, the late 'Purple One' talked about how ideas for songs just came to him.
He described it as being called, saying he would get up and go to the bathroom to brush his teeth and suddenly feel his ‘groove’, his cue to get himself to a studio or bass guitar, quick smart.
So what can the PR industry learn?
I’m not suggesting that all of us simply down tools and go to the pub (although that would be a good idea, too).
I’m just suggesting that instead of checking your emails on the way home from work, posting that really clever tweet you’d been planning all day, or furiously finishing that brief, just stop.
Look out the window. Let your mind wander. And you might surprise yourself with the results.
Hazel Beevers is the creative producer at Unity