Procrastination Robs both Assignment Creativity and Effectiveness: The Need for Incubation Time

In conjunction with a weekly Marketing Management course assignment, I had an eye-opening student encounter worth sharing. The student had turned in his assignment incorrectly and had come to my office to discuss his concern. I asked him why he didn’t email me for clarification, as students know they can do so and I will respond promptly (as long as it is not within 24 hours of the due date). He responded that he “prides” himself in waiting to the very last moment to complete all his assignments. He explained that knowing that the assignment was due at the outset of our Monday 8 a.m. class, he started the assignment that morning at 2 a.m. This student was bright and performing extremely well in the class. However, I explained to him that he was denying himself an important growth opportunity in that he was robbing himself of developing his creativity skills.

To mirror the workplace, my weekly assignments require students to problem solve real-world situations. I emphasize that a key course objective is enhancing their abilities to be strategic, creative, resourceful and persistent problem solvers. See posting entitled “Enhancing Strategic, Creative and Resourceful Problem Solving“. Heightened creativity and strategy usually do not come at one given time. Most often it requires steadily revisiting the problem through brainstorming sessions over a period of days. Sometimes very worthwhile ideas even come when you are not necessarily focused on the endeavor, but when your mind happens to wander back to the topic.

Undergraduate business schools will best prepare its graduates to enter the workplace offering heightened productivity if students are accustomed to the problem-solving process. Complicated workplace projects are not solved with single-session solutions but are most always completed over extended periods of time.

Too Many Assignments Can Be Completed In One Session and Students Procrastinate

Unfortunately many undergraduate business assignments involve straightforward exercises that may involve quantitative problems with formulas, defining terms, learning process steps, etc. Completing these assignments in one session maybe very appropriate. Too many students get accustomed to this single-session approach for completing assignments. Another unfortunate factor is that too many students procrastinate on assignments which only allow them enough time to solve the problem(s) in a single-session.

Getting Comfortable with Handling the Frustration of “Not Getting it Initially”

Although I attended a graduate business school program, many of my problem-solving skills were acquired during engineering school. Many engineering assignments are frustrating and often take multiple attempts to even make a dent in solving the problems. Through rigorous assignment curriculum, the engineering discipline forces students to become diligent, creative, strategic and resourceful problem solvers. The same should be true for business students.

The Need for Incubation Time

Inquisitive on what fosters creativity I began searching the Internet and came across an interesting website posting by Marelisa Fabrega entitled, “Four Steps to Unleash Your Creativity.” Fabrega explains that incubation is needed to handle complexity and her noteworthy comments are provided below:

The third stage is letting go. You just drop the subject entirely, go do something else, and let the unconscious mind deal with the problem. After a period of intense concentration, Albert Einstein would take a nap or find another way to detach from whatever he was working on. He found that during these mental breaks his unconscious mind would go on thinking about the challenge and surprise him with an insight when he least expected it.

Isaac Asimov was quoted as saying that when he got stuck writing a book he would simply put the project aside and start writing a completely different book. When he returned to the original project he would find that his unconscious mind had figured things out and the ideas would just flow.

Seymour Cray, the legendary designer of high-speed computers, used to divide his time between building the next generation super computer and digging an underground tunnel below his Chippewa Falls house. He would immerse himself in his work, and then he would walk away from it and let the ideas percolate. Thomas Edison, a man with over 1,000 patents to his credit, would go down to the dock and fish.”

Propelling Creativity has Immediate Personal Reward and Long-Term Workplace Benefits

There is a terrific sense of accomplishment when one realizes that they have unearthed creative, thought-provoking ideas to solve a challenging problem. We realize that this sense of accomplishment is an intrinsic factor which is more rewarding than extrinsic factors. Students need to be educated about the creativity process and their corresponding intrinsic rewards. Students also need to be encouraged not to procrastinate to allow themselves sufficient incubation time. At the same time undergraduate business curriculum needs to focus more on challenging students with complicated, problem-solving exercises and minimize straightforward assignments. Businesses hiring students with an undergraduate curriculum containing extensive amounts of problem-solving assignments will reap major productivity advances.

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