The unexpected space for innovative and strategic thinking
A client last week asked me if I garden and then proceeded to tell me this is where his best thinking comes to him. It comes as he’s doing the mindless tasks of digging and weeding or mowing the lawn crisscrossing back and forth across the yard. I also once had a client who did his best critical and strategic thinking on long motorcycle rides and another who did his best thinking on solo cross-country skiing days in the mountains. Wait what? Why is that so?
We’re so often told to turn off our work brains when we get away from the office to reach the illustrious work-life balance and yet so many of us can’t seem to turn them off. I encourage you to do the thinking you never get to on vacation and over the summer. Days are slower and less hectic. Get out of the office if you’re not on vacation and go for a walk. Have a coffee with someone you don’t connect with often and get new perspectives from them by talking about the issue or even other topics. Do some writing without knowing exactly where your ideas will take you. You’ll be surprised how new ideas spark when you allow yourself to tackle the thinking from the sidelines. You see, you can’t tackle creativity or complex problems head on.
You have to leave the door open subconsciously and noodle on it and let ideas spark from unlikely places. Our minds and our feet are curiously connected. So are our minds and our hands. It’s when we are undertaking another task that the movement or physical creation of sometime allows our minds to form new connections. Often you must return to the problem or idea multiple times and then put it away. Carry it in your subconscious and be willing to let is surface to capture new angles and perspectives to further your thinking and then put it back in your subconscious closet for a few more days only to reach in and touch it from time to time to explore how it is changing. Some people might feel guilty about reading the news at work or going for a walk and not always be working! Your role as a leader is critical and strategic thinking not simply grinding away at tangible tasks.
So where does one start? Get clear on something you’re trying to solve, plan, or work towards. Check in with that idea from time to time and be willing to let your mind wander as you go about non-work activities whether it be gardening, walking, motor-cycle riding or your favorite mindless wandering (sometimes mine is actually in the grocery store on my own). Give yourself space in the work day to allow your mind space to explore new ideas reading off topic, coffees with new people you haven’t connected with and different conversations with those you often connect with.
Write down your ideas. I remember years ago reading that cartoonist Gary Larson (The Far Side) attributed much of his success to simply carrying around a notebook to capture his sparks of ideas anytime and anyplace whether out for dinner with his wife, on a walk, in bed, or in the office. He would write down ideas including sketching some of them to work on further when time allowed. Whenever he was looking for inspiration he’d go back to his idea notebook. Capture your new thinking because no matter how good you think your memory is, it’s never good as your writing.
The next time you head out on your favorite activity, let your mind wander to whatever it is you’re curious and noodling about and let go of judging yourself for not leaving work at work. I know you’ll not only find new ideas but return to work feeling more excited and energized about your work.