Wednesday, November 26, 2014

From Shadow Into Full Light

by Abby Murphy
Four months after job shadowing at PSG last March, I was lucky enough to become a contractor for the company this summer. The opportunity provided me with insight into the educational publishing field and allowed me to gain a great deal of knowledge through hands-on experiences. During my time at PSG, I was able to further explore my interests and develop critical skills that will benefit me now and in the future.
Compared to my job shadowing experience, of course, this was a more in-depth endeavor, as I became a participating member of the PSG community rather than just an observer. In my previous blog post, I mentioned that I learned important occupational skills. This was a unique opportunity for a high-school student, and I kept these key factors that I absorbed in March in mind when entering in July as a contractor. These qualities, including collaborating with coworkers and effectively communicating, were instilled even more so throughout my employment at PSG.
Starting off the summer, I was assigned to work on an audio production project. Through this work, I learned the importance of performing quality control on materials in several distinct passes. In order to ensure the best product possible, items and processes need to be checked and re-checked, an idea that I found applicable to all aspects of the publishing field. In other words, a second draft is always better than a first. This lesson will be invaluable as I enter college and begin a new phase of my education. 
I spent the majority of my time at PSG on another project, working within a content management system. It was through this work that I developed an often-underestimated skill: effective communication. Engaging with coworkers is essential, especially in an office setting. Since I was new to the office, I consistently had questions and needed advice on projects. Additionally, it was crucial to have a second set of eyes looking at something for another viewpoint and opinion. Asking questions was vital in order to put forth the performance expected of me. With the guidance of the experienced PSG employees, I found the help and answers I needed. Everyone was genuinely willing and excited to help because they knew the importance of every team member having a full understanding of the tasks at hand.
My time at PSG was something I looked forward to during the summer and a job in which I found great enjoyment. I feel truly privileged to have had this opportunity to work in an office with people who are passionate about the field they are in and from whom I can—and did—learn a lot. Although I was the youngest person working in the office, I was treated with respect, which I highly appreciated. This respect eased my first-day jitters and boosted my confidence. This experience taught me numerous skills relevant to any career, such as computer proficiency and the value of an effective and appropriate email. In the midst of college applications and decisions, I remain interested in majoring in English largely thanks to my experience at PSG and the skills I acquired each day as a team member.

Did You Know?
The presumed need for a fully loaded transcript puts pressure on many a college applicant. Often, students worry that colleges and universities are only interested in the traditional extras: athletics, school-based clubs and other extracurricular activities, and volunteering opportunities. However, many schools also express interest in applicants who show the value of hard work. Stephanie Dupaul, director of admissions at Southern Methodist University (SMU), notes that a summer job “demonstrates that students are working hard. We look for students who haven’t turned off over the summer.” Ann McDermott, director of admissions at the College of the Holy Cross, agrees, particularly in the cases of students who are working not just for the experience or pocket change, but also to help foot their own tuition bill: “I applaud any student who is either helping themselves or helping their family.” A part-time job or an internship is just one of many ways to gain important experience in high school and better prepare students for the real world. And if they’re applying to schools, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one more bulleted item on that “Experiences” section of the résumé.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ken-tinuing Education: PSG’s Sales Efforts

by Ken Scherpelz, VP, Sales & Biz Development
I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post that one of the hats I wear for the company is that of an instructor. That is to say, I hold regular sessions with interns and junior staff members on topics related to our profession, much like the topics in the series of blog posts we publish. This semester I met with our 2014 fall interns to discuss my role as the principal person responsible for selling our company’s services to our clients.
One of our interns in the session asked how I can just call up someone, oftentimes someone whom I haven’t met yet, and talk about Publishing Solutions Group. Well, I’ve been working in the publishing business for 35 years now, and I love talking about my work and the projects we work on at PSG. It’s easy for me to talk with confidence about products and services that I know to be good. Unfortunately, I don’t often get the chance to talk with many clients, as a lot of my calls go to voicemail. My feelings aren’t hurt, as I know everyone is busy trying to meet deadlines, just as we are at PSG. I’m happy to leave a message to let clients and potential clients know what we’ve been working on and that we’re available to help. Mission accomplished. Again, my goal is to let the people I contact know that we at PSG are ready, eager and—most importantly—able to help.
As the session continued, I talked about different types of clients—existing, new, potential—and another intern in the group asked how we get a potential client to work with us. It was a good question, as I realize that eventually I have to convince my contacts that we’re the resource to hire when they’re looking for help. We have many clients with whom we’ve been working for several years and who know of our strong project management and our support staff’s commitment to quality. I love it when these folks call and say “Ken—we have another project for you folks. Are you available?” These are clients who know and depend on our experience and expertise on a continuing basis. But what about catching the attention of a new client? My voicemails and emails and these blog posts stimulate some interest, and our website brings in potential clients who may have searched online using the keywords publishing services. Plus, we know the publishing community is pretty close-knit, so word-of-mouth is an effective means of carrying the message.
I impressed upon our interns that my means of getting the word out about PSG is no hard sell. It’s no secret formula. Selling our company’s services is selling our company’s strengths and experiences and successes in order to help our clients be a success. And that’s an easy formula to understand.

Did You Know?
Fresh out of college with a degree in English and elementary education, I taught first, second and third grade for several years in suburban Chicago before my first publishing job. I was six feet tall and had curly hair and a bushy beard. (Hey—it was the mid-seventies!) I know my little students were somewhat intimidated when they first walked into my classroom, but they soon came to know me as a gentle giant. The school Halloween parade was a big deal in town, and I was able to use my burly appearance to my advantage in costuming for the parade: one year I dressed as a lumberjack—complete with a fake ax over my shoulder—and another year I was the bearded lady.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Employee Spotlight: Meet Eileen


by Eileen Neary, Assistant Project Manager

My parents knew even when I was young that my career path would go one of two ways: either I'd be working with the environment or with the English language. But I only ever seriously considered one route (unless you count my proclamation at age eight that I'd be a famous dog groomer, or at ten that I'd be the next Mia Hamm).
Despite receiving an environment award in kindergarten, participating in environmental clubs throughout my years of education and earning a minor in science at Emerson College, it never crossed my mind to choose a career path related to the outdoors. I had an even greater calling.
I wrote my debut young adult (YA) novel in high school, in between assisting with the recycling program and volunteering to pick up trash along school property on "Green-Up Days." Unfortunately, my roller coaster ride to publication ended abruptly (the agent went with The Hunger Games instead), though it did make for an exciting college application essay and solidified my passion for language.
At Emerson College’s Writing, Literature & Publishing program, I began further refining my writing in various workshops in addition to taking copyediting and literature courses. I was soon able to read my writing in published form in a wide variety of magazines and journals (some of which even paid me!). Then, during my senior year, I completed a fulfilling internship at Publishing Solutions Group and realized I truly did choose the right career direction. My internship at PSG afforded me the opportunity to thrive as part of a team, assist on live projects, practice my proofreading and even aid in the marketing process. Best of all, I was surrounded by language, literature and learning all day, every day.
After my internship at PSG, I received my bachelor of fine arts from Emerson and transitioned into freelance content writing, marketing and blogging about public transit and the housing market. My father, the founder and CEO of a solar products store, did his best to persuade me to enter the solar business. But while I enjoyed the work, the remote aspect didn't suit me, and it was only a matter of time before I returned to the site of my former internship in the fall of 2013 as an assistant project manager.
The transition from intern to assistant project manager was very smooth despite the time lapse between positions; with additional training, I was able to draw upon my experiences as an intern and freelancer, and apply them in new ways to assist the project managers directly.
As an assistant project manager, I have enjoyed learning the ropes of bringing complex educational publishing products to fruition, supporting the PSG project managers on jobs geared toward English-language learners, online assessment, elementary-school science programs (my personal favorite) and so much more. As I gain experience in freelancer and client communication, managing budgets, and tracking resources, I look forward more and more to the day I am managing my own small projects as a junior project manager.
Little-Known Facts About Eileen
Eileen spends most of her time at home in scenic Windham, New Hampshire (when she’s not sitting for sessions on her full-sleeve tattoo). On a daily basis, her backyard is a stage for animals such as turkeys, deer, groundhogs, foxes and rabbits, just to name a few. Needless to say, a porcupine sitting on the front steps when she needs to get to the car more than satiates her need for the wilderness!

And the Home of the . . . Average: America’s Higher-Ed Credentials Slipping in Global Rankings


by Alison Oehmen

There is a rather confounding dynamic currently at play when it comes to our country’s views on education. Popular opinion would categorize our colleges and universities as top-tier institutions. In contrast, however, for many years now, the condition of the United States’ K–12 system has preoccupied many as a pressing and disconcerting issue. So are we donning rose-colored glasses when we turn our attention to higher education?
Recent statistics suggest we are, as the problems we see in elementary, middle and high schools carry through to higher institutions. It is indeed true that, according to global university rankings, most of the world’s best universities are located in the United States. The catch, however, is that these international rankings predominantly use statistics about an institution’s research work and staff rather than undergrad performance or the caliber of education being provided. The disconnect, therefore, occurs because we are comparing different sets of data: the academic performance of a wide range of K–12 students versus the research performance and staff qualifications for a few collegiate institutions.
What happens if we approach the subject from an apples-to-apples standpoint, then? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published the results of the 2011–2012 Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). This test, designed to measure literacy and math skills in real-world contexts, showed America’s scores consistently bringing up the rear. While 18 percent of American adults with bachelor’s degrees scored within the top two levels of numeracy, the international average of 24 percent outstripped that figure. Moreover, we ranked 16th out of the 24 countries tested in literacy. So, on average, we’re looking a little haggard in relation to our counterparts abroad.
Part of the problem can be attributed to some of the troubling trends taking place within the United States’ higher education system. Between government cutbacks, increases in foreign competition and tuition costs, and decreases in graduation rates and education quality, it’s no wonder that our once gold standard of education has become a little tarnished of late. A veritable perfect storm has been brewing, and we are beginning to experience the fallout from it.
The drop in financial backing has dealt a significant blow to our nation’s colleges and universities. As a result, deficient funding has driven tuitions sky-high, which has, in turn, driven students away from the college track. Thus, even if the United States were offering the best educational opportunities on average, the astronomical and ever-climbing cost of such opportunities could soon make them irrelevant. After all, if most or many cannot afford to take advantage, then the benefits are virtually immaterial.
Meanwhile, elsewhere around the world, billions are being invested into higher education systems, most notably in Asia and the Middle East. As a result, the world’s best and brightest have more of an option now to receive top-notch educations in their home countries. As Robert Berdahl, the head of the Association of American Universities (AAU), pointed out, “the fact is—and this was flat out stated to me by a leading educator in China—‘You used to get our best students; now we keep our best students.’”
So, as we pour all of our efforts into troubleshooting the pre-college system, we leave the higher education system to largely fend for itself. While we assess and compile copious data on K–12 student knowledge, no corresponding network exists to assess the skills following college graduation. It seems most skills assessments take place internally within each individual institution. This island-unto-itself methodology likewise affects graduates once they enter the job market. According to a 2009 Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) survey of employers [PDF link], while most of the 302 polled employers looked to hire only college-grad candidates, a mere 28 percent of them felt confident that our higher ed system prepares students adequately for the workforce.
The good news, though, is that this issue is gaining more attention. Our rose-colored glasses are coming off, and people are beginning to discuss and explore more deeply the state of America’s higher education system. As with all things, finding a solution here—or at least making improvements—begins with awareness and diagnosis of the problem. My research into this topic reassures me that we are at least that far into the process of reassessment and correction, which makes me think there is definitely hope for us yet.
Did You Know?
A woman named Fatima al-Fihri founded the world’s oldest university in the year 859. Following her father’s death, al-Fihri dedicated her inheritance to building a mosque in her community of Fez, Morocco. The mosque was accompanied by a madrasa (a mosque school) wherein patrons could receive religious instruction as well as education in such subjects as grammar, mathematics, music and the natural sciences. Although it wasn’t officially incorporated into the Moroccan educational system until 1963, the University of al-Karaouine nevertheless makes an appearance in the Guinness World Records book as the world’s oldest continuously operating university.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, Nov. 14–16, 2014


by Chris Hartman, Project Manager 
The 36th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair will be held at the Hynes Convention Center, Boston, from Friday, November 14, through Sunday, November 16. There will be 134 dealers attending from the United States, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia. These dealers will be selling a large trove of rare, collectible and antiquarian books, illuminated manuscripts, autographs, maps, atlases, modern first editions, photographs, and fine and decorative prints. It is sponsored by two of the world’s foremost antiquarian book organizations, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB).
For over two decades, the fair has been held in the Back Bay’s John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. Prior to that, it was located at the Park Plaza Castle—an old armory located at the intersections of Arlington Street, Stuart Street and Columbus Avenue, just under a mile from the Hynes. The fair is now second in size and prestige; only the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair, which is rapidly approaching its 55th year, tops it. (The next fair in New York will be held April 9–April 12, 2015.)
I started attending the show in 1989, the same year I moved to Boston. In those days, it was a tweedy affair, held within the insular and highly competitive—yet generally collegial—antiquarian book trade. Exhilarating as it was for me to be there, it was also, literally speaking, stuffy and hot in that old armory, with each of the tightly packed booths fitted with what seemed like stadium-strength Klieg lights beating down on the crowd of attendees, who in addition to getting suntans, were craning their necks and squinting to read book titles on spines.
At that first fair, I found a 1937 limited edition copy of Yankee Bookseller, by Charles E. Goodspeed, who just so happened to be the father of my employer at that time, George T. Goodspeed. George was the successor to his father as head of their antiquarian bookselling firm located at the top of Beacon Hill. I recall it was priced at $120, a lot of money then (and still is now), but I knew I had to have it. I brought it back to the apartment I was sharing with some Boston College students in a Brighton triple-decker and reflected on my savvy and good fortune. The next day, I told Mr. Goodspeed about it, and he immediately said he wanted it from me! I was unaware he was collecting copies of it himself. But shortly after, he relented, and I still have that book today. It’s one of the jewels of my own collection, and it always brings back fond memories of my days as an apprentice at Goodspeed’s.
On the other hand, the spacious and modern Hynes venue resembles more of an airport or a hotel, with its network of escalators, freight elevators and generic-looking potted plants stationed throughout the second level, where the fair occurs. There are satellite rooms off the second floor’s main hall where author talks are given, and where, on Sunday, from 1:00–3:00 p.m., attendees can receive a complimentary appraisal of their own treasures by respected ABAA and ILAB book dealers.
Talks and seminars will be given throughout the weekend, by, to name a few, Peter Drummey of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Michael Volmar of Fruitlands Museum. The Annual Ticknor Society Collectors’ Roundtable, a panel discussion consisting of collectors talking about their collections, will also be featured. This year’s topic is called “Ephemera!” and will address what ephemera is and why it’s important to collectors, and will also include samples.
Among the highlights being brought to the fair this year are rare and first editions of works by Charles Dickens, Raymond Chandler, Louisa May Alcott, Gabriel García Márquez and Charles Darwin, to name a few. Also making appearances are a 1789 proclamation from President Washington declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday—valued at over $8 million; a complete collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories from The Strand Magazine; Play Ball: Stories of the Ball Field by Mike “King” Kelly, a member of the Boston Beaneaters in the late nineteenth century; and Mick Jagger’s handwritten lyrics for his 1987 song “War Baby.”
For more detailed information, visit the fair’s website: www.bostonbookfair.com.

Did You Know?
Rare books can fetch a serious fortune. Da Vinci's Leicester Codex—his personal notebook detailing his ideas and observations, also known as the Hammer Codex—and John James Audubon's The Birds of America—a book containing hand-painted illustrations of a very wide variety of bird species found in North America, including six species that are now extinct—are two of the most expensive books ever sold. In 1994, Bill Gates purchased Da Vinci's Codex Leicester for a colossal $30.8 million. In 2010, a copy of Audubon's The Birds of America sold for a record £7.3 million ($11.5 million). But books don’t have to be hundreds of years old to sell for millions. In 2007, Amazon bought a handwritten and hand-illustrated copy of J. K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard—which, according to Rowling, is “a distillation of themes found in the Harry Potter books,” and of which there are only seven original copies in existence—for £1.95 million ($3.98 million).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The World at Their Fingertips: Exciting New Braille Technology


by Alison Oehmen
Technology is at it again, folks. Exciting new advancements in GPS and mobile phone technology for the blind and visually impaired are in development and hitting the commercial marketplace. British company OwnFone launched the world’s first Braille mobile phone in Australia this year. Unlike most cell phones on the market today, this one offers a simplified design for its target demographic, without touchscreen, text messaging or voicemail features. Instead, the phone has large buttons labeled in Braille that owners can use to dial up to three preprogrammed personalized numbers.
Previous OwnFone products include non-Braille handsets both for the elderly and for young children, featuring simple and easy-to-use “word buttons” or “image buttons,” similar in basic design to the buttons on the new Braille phone. These buttons display the names or photos of contacts for each individual user. Therefore, the buttons on each OwnFone device—on both non-Braille and Braille versions—require customization to program and display individualized contact information requested by customers. However, additional production costs involved in creating the unique Braille buttons, paired with the limited market size for such a product, made the transition from non-Braille handsets into Braille ones financially unfeasible until now.
What has allowed OwnFone to bring its Braille phone into the marketplace is more affordable 3D printing technology. In this case, OwnFone uses 3D printing to create the labels in raised Braille. Faster and more cost efficient than large-scale manufacturing, 3D printing allows OwnFone to offer this new product to consumers for the first time. Although other companies have created similar prototypes, OwnFone’s version is the first to officially go on sale. (For more information on 3D printing, take a look at one of our previous blog posts.)
Characterized by simplicity and user-friendliness, the Braille mobile phone has one-button dialing and any-key call-answering capabilities. It is approximately the size of a credit card with a reportedly long battery life; OwnFone advertises that the device’s charge can last up to a year on standby mode. Beyond the standard customizable buttons, OwnFone also offers a variety of background designs and color options from which consumers can choose.
Thus far, the phone has garnered positive responses from customers in Australia. Wayne Hawkins, disability policy advisor from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), acknowledges it as an affordable, “positive addition” to options available to the country’s blind and visually impaired population. (Mr. Hawkins is also blind, so he is in a good position to speak for the demographic.)
OwnFone isn’t the only one with ambitions to integrate Braille and technology. A freelance industrial designer named Jorge Trevino Blanco has introduced a new concept design dubbed Discover. Though still a work in progress and not on the market as of yet, this handheld navigation tool uses pin-screen impression technology to create tactile maps based on surrounding topography. Blanco’s design resembles a remote control of sorts and features a rectangular pin surface, six Braille buttons labeled Discover, City, GPS, Read, Time and Tag, and a camera on the front end used to record the user’s surroundings, which are then translated onto the pin surface. With such fascinating technologies as these in mind, one can’t help but wonder what other sorts of innovations are on the horizon to help every person achieve independence.

Did You Know?
A 15-year-old blind student named Louis Braille designed the earliest Braille alphabet in France during the 1820s. Braille’s idea for the raised, tactile alphabet came from fellow Frenchman Charles Barbier de la Serre, a captain in Napoleon’s army, who created a sonographic dot- and dash-based code to write in the dark. Braille modified Barbier’s code, making it into a smaller, fingertip-sized version that was easy and expedient for blind individuals to decipher. By 1829, the twenty-year-old Braille published his first complete book on his innovative letter system, entitled Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them, which he later revised in 1837. Despite considerable resistance to this new alphabet during Braille’s lifetime, two years after his death, in 1854, France named his system its official communication system for the blind.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hello, Hola, Bonjour, Ni-Hao, Ahlan Wa Sahlan

by Melissa Mui

Learning another language is a challenging yet fun task that many adults consider but don’t actually try. It often makes its way onto many New Year’s resolutions lists but is neglected just as quickly. With easy-to-use phone apps and other software tools, excuses are disappearing. New studies show that bilinguals have a serious advantage over monolinguals. In the past, being able to speak more than one language was regarded as advantageous primarily for college hopefuls and career seekers. Now, researchers have a much better understanding of what being multilingual really does for the brain, and the effects are monumental.

Psychologist Ellen Bialystok of York University has done multiple studies concerning bilingual individuals and their ability to utilize two separate “networks” of the brain while speaking. “The evidence is very dramatic. Even if you are in a context that is utterly monolingual, where you think there is absolutely no reason to think about Chinese or Spanish or French, it is part of the activated network that’s going on in your brain.” By constantly switching between the two languages, the speaker is exercising brain functions, keeping the speaker constantly alert. This exercise helps to promote cognition and the ability to think critically in a way that does not come naturally to monolinguals. Bialystok also noted in her research that those who are bilingual have a higher chance of delaying the effects of Alzheimer’s.

The European Commission appointed their own research team to analyze the benefits of being multilingual. David Marsh, coordinator of the international research team, believes that the work done by neuroscientists holds the key to linking multilingualism to improved functions of the brain. The research compiled by the team showed that there is one area of the brain used primarily for short-term memory. Like Bialystok, they believe that exercising the brain could help hold off dementia. Unlike Bialystok, however, the team also reports that the differences found in an already-multilingual brain could also be found in a person just starting to learn another language. Their research did not differentiate between children and adults, though children who grow up multilingual have more time to exercise and develop brain function.

Raising a multilingual child in a diverse home is much easier than in a monolingual one. Foreign languages in schools are extremely popular for this reason, but many schools that provide classes are still not utilizing the full potential of the students. Marsh highlights his concerns through his research, stating that not all children can learn languages as a separate subject like math or science; instead, he suggests integrating language into all other subjects. In Utah, 20 percent of public schools provide an integrated language curriculum where students spend half of their day learning in English and the other half learning in Spanish, French, Mandarin or Portuguese. On a smaller scale, public schools in Milton, Massachusetts offer a French Immersion program, which begins in first grade and is taught entirely in the oral and written form of the language. If more states followed similar models, the country would be able to produce more multilingual citizens. This would not only improve positions in international public relations, but it would also improve the education and capabilities of the nation.


Did You Know?
In October 2013, the Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn hosted a free “crash course” language event they called Foreign Language Hopscotch. Taught by native speakers, students were given the opportunity to expose themselves to 22 languages in just three hours. Hosted in seven classrooms, about a hundred people gathered in rooms to learn languages such as Japanese, Spanish, Hindi, Russian and Igbo. Some of the students sat in on only one or two classes, while other stayed the entire day to try to pick up on the nuances of a new language.

The classes didn’t promise fluency, but were intended for students to learn “snippets” of the language—useful, and sometimes humorous, sentences that would teach them a range of language skills from greetings to ordering food. According to Cédric Duroux, program director for the Walls and Bridges festival (a 10-day event that also includes the hopscotch approach to learning a language), it’s impossible to become fluent in a half hour. However, Duroux notes that students can “go back home with a clearer sense that each language goes with a different culture, which goes with a different idea of the word itself. . . . [T]rying to connect with different languages and cultures is a way to change your perspective on the world as a whole.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Log Off, Sleep In, Get Bored! The Key to Creativity



by Mallory Abreu

Boredom is a normal part of life. We don’t naturally have activities to constantly amuse ourselves. In a fast-paced society, we accept the routine of being endlessly busy, and find ourselves at a loss of what to do when we are not overwhelmed with three or more tasks or thoughts at once. But is our inability to “log off” affecting our creative abilities? Is the closest thing we get to downtime now the time we spend on dull, routine tasks?

Our brains need time to sort through all the information they gather throughout the day. Picking up and processing information on the go for hours on end is more exhausting than most people will readily admit. Sleep is sacrificed for the sake of unceasingly engaged routines. Since humans spend around a third of their lives asleep, there must be something important going on during a person’s waking time, right?
 
As it turns out, sleep restores awareness. Regarding an article that she coauthored with Elizabeth A. Kesinger of Boston College, researcher Jessica D. Payne of the University of Notre Dame says of sleep’s role in memory consolidation: “In our fast-paced society, one of the first things to go is our sleep. I think that's based on a profound misunderstanding that the sleeping brain isn't doing anything.” In fact, the brain is busy organizing memories and selectively extracting the most important or interesting information. Payne believes this function of the brain may catalyze a person’s ability to innovate and be creative.

But sleep is not the only thing needed to get our creative juices flowing; time for our minds to wander throughout the day is just as important. In a recent study by Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in the United Kingdom, participants were asked to come up with as many uses as possible for a pair of plastic cups. One group, prior to being allotted this creative exercise, was asked to complete the boring task of copying numbers out of a phone book, while the other was not. The group who had completed the copying outperformed those who had not. It seems that people in a state of boredom may be better able to come up with a variety of possible outcomes for a single problem—a kind of creativity known as divergent thinking. Dull daily tasks might actually be good for us. “Boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity,” says Mann

What seems to be the fundamental problem about our lack of creativity is that we rarely allow ourselves downtime, feeling it is unjustified or a waste of time in light of everything else we could be doing. According to Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and author of a parenting advice blog, we need to start the creative process from the time of childhood to make us comfortable with unstructured, unentertained time. As a child, times of boredom lend themselves to the most creativity, giving children a chance to exercise their minds and come up with their own games, scenarios, projects and more. As adults, we come across time where we need to figure out how to amuse ourselves much less often, since we are always either busy or spending any free time wired into social media. Is accessing our childlike imagination, by putting ourselves in boring situations where imagination is necessary, the key to getting more creative?

Finding dull tasks in our days, “logging out” and giving ourselves some time off the clock to daydream may allow us to transform the seemingly mundane into an outlet for creative drive. Mann questions in what areas of life this creativity will manifest itself: “Do people who are bored at work become more creative in other areas of their work—or do they go home and write novels?” Only one way to find out.


Did You Know?

The way humans perceive sleep has changed throughout history. Dating back to ancient civilizations, people such as the Egyptians emphasized the importance of dream interpretation and hypnosis, while the Greeks and Romans attributed human elements occurring in dreams to powerful sleep deities. The notion that sleep is triggered by a lack of blood or oxygen to the brain arose during the Renaissance. By the time of the Enlightenment, these causes of sleep were still being debated, while the study of dream interpretation began to shift from religious and spiritual discourse to a scientifically focused audience—an audience that has since opened many doors and uncovered many answers.