I love this analogy!
It's simple, but I think it's spot-on, and so much more eloquently put than the rambling section of my own response, trying to describe this.
I think there's a third "mode" -- passive osmosis. The sponge is slightly damp or dry but not stiff-dry and sitting in a puddle - it passively absorbs the water, but isn't being aggressive about it. It'll get most of it if given long enough, but it's in no rush.
These would be the times where I'm not actively researching or seeking inspiration, but rather....letting inspiration come to me. Letting ideas come and flow around and maybe making note of what seems to have some sticking power, so I can deep-dive them when I go into one of the active modes.
Sometimes you have to be careful, my spunge has been full of thick sludge at times, and that can take a long time to clean out!
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