Monday, June 30, 2003

Inside the car, inside your mind

I learned a new word today… endogenous. It means, “produced or growing from within”… especially as it refers to activity within a living cell. The word, and its opposite, exogenous, was in an article about cell phones and driving. Basically making the point that endogenous thought (like letting your mind wander while you are driving) is one of the things that can cause you to react slower to what is happening on the road.

The article was reporting on a psychology study in Spain on what factors affect driver attention. They tested a number of scenarios including cell phone use. They found that although distractions obviously impair driving that many people are quite capable of dividing their attention and still driving effectively. What was interesting is that they said that in some ways, city driving is safer than country driving. In city driving, there is so much going on externally that it tends to command your attention. This makes it hard for the mind to wander and suggests to most (unfortunately, not all) of us that it’s a bad time to be on the phone. In contrast, driving on a quiet country road without other cars around is the perfect condition to encourage endogenous thinking.

I think this is so true for the creative process. It’s so hard to be creative when you’re surrounded by external stimulus and noise. About a month ago, I had a few hours on a Saturday, so I drove over to the local beach here in San Francisco. I brought a book with me. I read for a while but then I just sat and watched the waves roll in. I wasn’t really thinking about anything. But that is exactly when the new ideas started coming to mind. It started with a completely random association with what I had just been reading but then took off from there. Endogenous… it’s a little clinical, but I like the word. I’m going to try it on my wife the next time she says I wasn’t listening.

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