Dreams that help us innovate

Dreams are fascinating beasts.

What surprises me the most is how absurd they are. Like a recent one I had, where I was eating at an elaborate buffet, dropped a smartphone from the edge of a tall building and dived into an ocean to retrieve it. Our dreams are the manifestation of the most absurd ideas that float around in our heads.

But absurdity is at the root of invention that bends our world. Hosting a stranger you met on the internet in your house or the idea of a phone with just one button were absurd ideas to start with. When Walt Disney showed movie executives his first 7 minute Mickey Mouse cartoon, they did not laugh at the cartoon. They laughed at him.

Dreams are absurd because the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex that is responsible for rational thinking, is inactive when we dream. This logical part of our brain is adept at killing absurd ideas and keeping us functional.

But there’s a side-effect here. If our idea starts off as a wild oak tree in a forest full of conifers, the logical brain uses a pair of shears to chops off branches that are unruly and curtails the ones that drift too far. In the end, it turns our oak-tree-shaped idea triangular just like all the conifers around.

So how can this dreamy, diffused part of our brain be effectively harnessed? Salvador Dali did this by sitting on his chair with a bunch of keys dangling from his hands. When he would fall asleep and enter a dreamy state, the keys would slip from his hand, clatter on the floor and wake him up. He would then write down whatever he saw and use it as inspiration.

But is this ritual of harnessing one’s dreams limited to the realm of modern art, where absurdity is an asset? One other person used the same ritual that Dali did, but characteristically, with a few ball bearings in his hand – Thomas Edison.

It is little wonder that when someone simply exclaimed, “I have a dream“, it caught on.

Inspiration: This fantastic meta-learning course that I keep bringing up on this blog.

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