Drifting off, gazing into space and achieving very little? Daydreaming has had some bad press over the years. But Star reporter Rachael Clegg discovers that, in Sheffield at least, it’s proving key to the city’s innovation
ANDRE Ferreira is not ashamed of admitting he spends most of his time daydreaming.
The 26-year-old designer, engineer and entrepreneur has to be.
After all, where else would his ideas come from?
He is living proof that daydreaming isn’t all bad, despite the fact most of us were told off for it at school.
Gazing out of the window, drifting off into another place - these are all attributes associated with being ‘flaky’ or a bit of a dreamer.
But, the fact is, adults spend around 30 per cent of their waking lives daydreaming. And what’s more reassuring is it’s not all bad.
Daydreaming - or ‘mind wandering’ as psychologists call it - can be beneficial.
And one Sheffield company, Gripple, actively encourages it. The firm’s principle business is making solutions for fencing and suspended steel structures, using an ingenious device called the Gripple, but it also manufactures logistical equipment and other products under the umbrella of its sister company, Load Hog.
And while Gripple continues to produce fencing solutions, it is constantly investing in new ideas. Its founder, Hugh Facey, is an ardent believer in innovation, so much so he has set aside five per cent of company sales for research and development.
And it’s at the company’s Ideas and Innovation department where it all happens. The department is a haven of daydreams, brainstorms and creative thinking.
Staff even set aside Thursday mornings specifically to bash out ideas and ‘daydream’.
Andre works for Gripple, based on Savile Street, three days a week and is also paid by the company to explore his own ideas for business for the rest of the week, as part of the company’s Incub scheme, which helps creative people turn their ideas into a money-making reality.
Alan Somerfield, director of the Ideas and Innovation team, says: “Here ideas are all about making connections, so we have strange things all over the department.”
He’s not wrong. In the premises’ otherwise lofty industrial space a cloud of space-hoppers acts as a false ceiling, and bizarre objects and toys pepper the room.
Alan wanders to the ‘brainstorming area’ and picks up a bendy magnetic toy from a box.
“Something like this may inspire someone to come up with an idea for a device that would lead you to come with another idea,” he says. “This is a space where junk accumulates on the work surfaces.”
All this is part of the daydreaming that helps create products not just for Gripple but also for Incub’s individual innovators as well.
Alan added: “My job is to manage creative types, which is a completely different deal to, say, a team of apprentice engineers.
“Everyone on the team is completely different. But you can’t tell a creative person to slow down, they’re like a fast car speeding down a motorway - you don’t want to slam on the brakes, you have to give them room to keep going.
“The only trouble is getting some of them to finish things!”
The company’s marketing manager, Andy Davies, is also pro-daydreaming. “That’s where it all happens - it’s about trying to think completely differently,” he says.
And while psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud may have mocked daydreaming as ‘infantile’, recent scientific research has shown it can be entirely beneficial as long as daydreamers are aware of their daydreaming.
It seems there are two types of daydreaming - the first where people notice they are wandering off, and the second where they have to be prodded to ‘come back’.
People who are conscious of daydreaming are more likely to come up with a good idea - whereas the people who have to be ‘prodded’ aren’t.
Andre is a self-confessed daydreamer, hopefully of the first variety.
“I spend most of my time daydreaming - not necessarily about work but the things I love, my hobbies,” he says. “But the things I think about often lead to things I could develop at work.”
For his own project, VuAir, which he has developed under the Incub wing, Andre has designed and engineered a remote controlled aircraft which is strong enough to carry an on-board HD camera.
“The person controlling the plane can actually see where the plane is going so it’s as if they are flying themselves,” he says.
The footage from the plane is crystal-clear and incredibly detailed. “These planes can get so near to the ground you can see each individual blade of grass.”
Already Andre has taken his plane to Portugal - his homeland - and Brazil, where he was able to navigate around the colossal statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janerio. The footage is stunning. This is aerial photography done up-close and personal, more like being inside a simulator than in charge of a remote control.
And his VuAir aerial photography business was a direct result of a daydream.
“I was thinking about all the things you can do with a camera and it struck me that you could put wings on it and fly it yourself,” he says.
It also helps, however, that Andre - who lives in Crookes - has an MA in motorsport engineering.
“I worked at a company in Oxford that made exhausts for Formula One cars so I learnt all about aerodynamics there and I’ve applied that to my planes,” he says.
“But where aerodynamics in motorsport are about keeping the car on the ground, I used the knowledge to get my planes off the ground.”
And it’s all taking off because of a simple daydream.
It’s all in the mind
Author JK Rowling was on a crowded train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry Potter suddenly ‘fell into her head’ in 1990. “I simply sat and thought, for four delayed hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain,” she has said.
Sigmund Freud believed daydreaming was ‘infantile’ and as late as the 1950s educational psychologists warned parents not to let their children daydream.
A therapist called Dan Jones looked at the patterns of thinking in entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson, scientists such as Albert Einstein, and artists such as Leonardo da Vinci. He found they all daydreamed about their area of success.
Harvard University conducted research into daydreaming by giving 2,200 people a phone app to record when they daydreamed. The study showed people spend 30 per cent of their waking lives daydreaming.
The same survey showed a correlation between daydreaming and unhappiness. People who mind-wandered were more likely to report feelings of unhappiness.
Daydreaming is shown to be an intense metabolic process - which means it uses more energy and is actually deeply stimulating.
Studies on students showed those who scored highly on daydreaming had more empathy than non-daydreamers.