Where do most business leaders do their best thinking? You might assume the answer is during weeklong vacations and extended sabbaticals. In truth, brainstorms occur most often during relatively short breaks from daily routines.
In a recent FastCompany article, Where Do You Do Your Best Thinking?, many business leaders were asked that very question. Most said they came up with their best business ideas while in bed after the lights were turned out, in the shower or while driving.
This makes perfect sense when you consider what all three places have in common: zero texting, zero e-mails, zero work-related tasks. I know that when I’m forced to detach for short periods, my mind automatically starts to consider new ways of solving business problems, sending me scrambling for a pen and paper to jot them down.
But letting your mind wander at the start and end of each day is just a start. Equally important to creative business thinking is putting yourself in situations where you are exposed to new ideas and challenged to think differently.
For example, while attending this year’s TED conference, I heard talks on a broad range of topics from the regeneration of a human kidney, to the stamping out of polio, to the illumination of buildings using the energy generated by the structures swaying slightly in the wind. Each talk offered fascinating lessons and allowed my mind to wander and develop new ways of looking at my own business at American Express.
Attending such events is critical to the creative process because our best ideas are actually collages of external information and stimuli. As Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, notes: “People who are good at pushing the boundaries of possibility have rarely done so in moments of great inspiration. Such concepts are cobbled together from other people's ideas and other people's technologies and other people's innovations.”
What can you do to free your mind if your schedule is stretched thin?
- Push yourself to seek out opportunities that will expose you to new ideas and to people with different work and life experiences.
- Rather than spending all of your away time networking at events in your own industry, attend a few seminars where you are likely to meet people with varying backgrounds and alternative ways of thinking.
- Look for ways to break free from your daily routine—whether through reading books and publications on topics that are new to you or by watching compelling online presentations—such as those from the recent TED conference.
By consciously exposing yourself to productive distractions, your mind will be free to think bigger—and better.
Where do you find inspiration? Share your comments below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.