Social networking can be useful creative tool

Social networking can be useful creative tool

It's not uncommon to find Facebook and Twitter banned from most school computers. "Multi-tasking" on social networking sites while working can easily quadruple the time it takes to complete a task.

Think tank Nucleus Research found that use of Facebook at work can cut office productivity by 1.5per cent; on-the-job social networking costs British companies an estimated HK$17 billion a year.

Yet for people who have to transform ideas into products - designers, authors or even scientists - taking a break can fire success.

Thomas Ward and Ronald Finke, authors of Creativity and the Mind, a book on the psychology of creativity, say people are more successful at solving a problem if distracted or forced to leave it temporarily. Regular breaks enhance problem-solving skills: the process helps us sift through our memories in search of relevant clues as we rest.

Musing about something else for a while can clear away the mental "detritus", letting us see an issue through fresh eyes. This process, which researchers call incubation, is most effective when the mind is exposed to new information, rather than just being relieved of mental pressure. It encourages creative association, the mashing together of random scraps of information - a key step in the creative process.

The brainwave for Velcro, the hook-and-loop fabric fastener, came to George de Mestral after he saw how hard it was to remove seeds stuck to clothes after hunting in the mountains; Isaac Newton discovered gravity after being hit by an apple.

The participatory nature of Twitter and Facebook makes them excellent tools for supercharging creativity - a skill many people feel is neglected by the current education system. These sites give users a chance to fine-tune their wit as they try to grab other people's attention. Maybe one day it will emerge that microblogging improves a person's innovation and creativity.

In the meantime, if only we could convince those school authorities to unblock Facebook ...

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