I’ve done it – more than once. I’m sure you’ve done it too. In fact I wish I could do it more often. That’s right, it’s staring out the window on a summers day and daydreaming. In fact daydreaming any time.
Well now, thanks to a Wall Street Journal article by Robert Lee Hotz this activity has been legitimised (in my mind anyway).
…we owe the concept of alternating electrical current, the discovery of penicillin, and on a less lofty note, the invention of Post-its, ice-cream cones, and Velcro. The burst of mental clarity can be so powerful that, as legend would have it, Archimedes jumped out of his tub and ran naked through the streets…
So if you’re in the habit of letting you mind drift be reassured that your brain could actually be working better without you trying to control the outcome.
By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.
Online and off line media is full of articles describing the demise of innovation as businesses of all sizes cut back. We’re hearing that there is no money for R&D, processes tightened, and projects prioritized.
But will innovation really stop? I don’t think so. In fact I think that the current state is simply a catalyst for us to innovate in different ways.
If we think about the conditions the current crisis is creating, then we see:
Constraints in money, time, and other resources.
Organisations focusing on core business.
And an urgent need to find new or better ways to do things.
How are these conditions forcing us to behave differently? First of all we need to:
Do only what is necessary.
Find ways to do more with less.
So what do we need to do differently to make the best of the new environment?
Work with people and organisations that we may not have worked with before.
Seeking out opportunities to share the effort and/or cost.
Innovate in less formal, or ad-hoc, or even accidental ways.
At a personal level what actions can we take?
Be open! There’s often many ways to do and think about things. Challenge you own thinking.
Observe! What’s happening around you, what are other people and businesses doing? But don’t just do things that others are doing. It’s often the contratian approach that wins out.
Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know at an event, on your commute, in a store. Great connections can be made in the most unlikely places.
Read a magazine or book on a subject you normally wouldn’t. You never know what you might learn, and what you can apply yourself.
Rules: Your first thought might be that there should be no rules to creativity and idea generation. But, if the rules are kept simple and everyone knows and agrees with them they can really help. Here are some examples.
1. Anything goes. 2. Record all ideas. 3. Generate as many ideas as possible. 4. Evaluate later.
Understanding and applying these rules gives us permission to think freely. When everyone in a group complies with the rules the barriers come down and the ideas flow.
Training: Can we train ourselves to be better thinkers? Perhaps it’s actually training us to not be bad thinkers. To do that we need to learn to challenge assumptions. Learn to recognise associations that are limiting our thinking and step around them. We need to train ourselves that it’s ok to have grand visions and then design the way there.
We can use observation, discussion and critiques to understand how other people innovate and teach ourselves in the process.
Practice: If we understand the rules and can apply what we learn then we have a suite of creative thinking tools we can apply every day in our work, and in other personal and community projects.
If we accept that rules, training and practice can increase our ability to generate ideas, think creatively, and innovate at speed; is there anything that could slow our thinking down?
One of the points that Gladwell makes in Blink is that people often wait for more information, analysis, or the opinions of others to support their own decisions. With each additional piece of data comes assumptions and associations and thinking becomes more conscious and linear. He argues that when you move away from trusting your instinctive responses the quality of your decisions fall. His argument is that those with a trained mind focused on the right elements can make instant and accurate decisions.
Transferring that thought to creative thinking we could say that by applying the rules, our training and practice, the quality, quantity and spontaneity of our ideas will improve.
Tim Brown, CEO of the innovation and design firm IDEO, talks about some of these themes in this recently released TED video “forgetting the adult behaviors that are getting in the way our ideas.”