Adland, embrace boredom
A view from Sue Unerman

Adland, embrace boredom

Bored? Good. Use it.

Nature Valley is causing a YouTube stir with a film that asks three generations what they did as kids to amuse themselves.

The older generation speak of "growing watermelons and plantains". Younger adults talk of building forts and outdoor games. Kids today? Take a wild guess: tablets and gaming.

Of course, our takeout is to endorse the need to "#RediscoverNature". Chuck our children outdoors (with a granola bar to sustain them). Condemn the youth of today's addiction to technology.

My takeout is slightly different. Although I can remember vividly playing outside, constructing tree houses and building ant farms, I also remember how boring things were much of the time. Rainy Sunday afternoons with no video games to play or shops to go to stick in my memory. How I would have loved to find things to do on a smartphone.

Yet it is also true that this boredom was a useful thing. If it did nothing else, it led me to plan avidly to escape it. It perhaps made me the planner that I am today.

Have we eliminated boredom from most areas of our lives now that we can entertain ourselves however we want to, whenever we want to? Have we robbed our children of boredom with a combination of after-school activities and their own smartphones?

When were you last very bored?

The Wired writer Clive Thompson suggests that boredom is one of our most productive states. He cites a recent academic survey in which half the subjects were asked to do something boring for a while (copying numbers from a phone book) and then tested for creative ideas versus a control (unbored) group. The result was that the bored cohort came up with more ideas and their ideas were more creative. He asks: "What if boredom is a meaningful experience? One that propels us to states of deeper thoughtfulness or creativity?"

Rather than fill our time with social activities or urgent tasks, we need to be very unproductive in order to be very productive. If your diary at work is packed with meetings or spreadsheets, then you have a problem. You have no oasis of calm in which to think about what you would do if you were not so busy.

Use the "urgent/important" grid to classify your day. If there’s no time at all for the "important but not urgent", find some – otherwise your urgent activity will take control.

We don’t have to deal with slow moments any more, either at work or at home (or in transit). There’s always a BuzzFeed quiz or an update on Piers Morgan’s social engagements.

Enforced boredom is a huge driver of productivity. To many, this seems like a contradiction: surely if you haven’t got anything to do, then you’re not doing enough? In fact, the very opposite is true. If you are always busy, you are never doing enough.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom