From the Harvard Business Review article “The Case for Slack: Building ‘Incubation Time’ into Your Week”:
Slack is anathema to most manufacturing processes, but it’s indispensable for creativity. How can you build in the incubation time required for breakthrough strategies and ideas?
Start by changing your mental model of production, suggests Michael Connor, manufacturing director of Meridian Consulting in Boston. When most people think of production, they imagine discrete inputs (say, leather and rubber), some kind of transformation (cutting and sewing), and, finally, outputs (shoes). By and large, such processes are linear, explicit, and ultimately predictable: we can touch, analyze, and improve them by eliminating time or other resources. In this model, time is money, and less is more: the less time the process takes, the more money you make.
A thought, however, often results from a nonlinear, subterranean, or even random process. Inputs, outputs, and the nature of the transformation can vary wildly each time. In this model, ideas are money, and more is more. Cutting time from the processes can diminish the quality of ideas. Research bears this out: time pressure, either perceived or actual, increases the rate but not necessarily the quality of performance.
Building on this research, Teresa M. Amabile … studied people working on well-defined projects in which the company needed a creative solution. She found that the higher the individual’s perceived time pressure on a given day, the fewer the reported instances of a new idea or creative insight on that day and the following day as well.
Here’s the point in one sentence: “Even in a lean-production world, workers need a certain amount of ‘down time’ to generate breakthrough ideas.”