Recently I heard about the value of letting your mind wander; this seemingly unproductive randomization of thoughts and reflections can produce some incredibly productive ideas. Sir Isaac Newton formulated the concept of gravity while letting his mind wander, and many other major scientific and business breakthroughs we take for granted came upon their discoverers at a time when they weren’t really thinking of anything at all.
It seems counter-intuitive, and yet if you think about it, it’s not that farfetched. I colleague of mine reflect that the best life decisions he’s made were solidified when he was on holiday or enjoying some “downtime”, not while he was surrounded by lists of pros and cons or staring at a Gantt chart. The answers came to him in a distinguishable “ah-ha’ moment. Many “ah-ha” moments come to us when we are doing something that requires, well, nothing. Not our time, not our attention, not our input. In a world where we are increasingly valued for what we can produce (or our expertise and insight) it seems misaligned to think that the best ideas may come to us when we are watching waves crashing on sand or following the path of a raindrop down a window.
Truth is there are probably many great ideas and concepts floating around in our brains, just out of the reach of our conscious mind. We may brush against these ideas as we move thorough our day, focused on what needs to come next, getting things done, and missing the opportunity to bring them into conscious thought. It’s a little like driving fast on a freeway and then deciding at 120 kmph you’ll do a little unplanned sight-seeing – except you can’t get off the freeway. Driving on a freeway is an apt description of most of our days; busy, productive and (more or less) fully subscribed.
So why not plan to get off the “highway” for a while and do absolutely nothing? I’ve recently gone through a very intense training program to teach me something simplistically complicated. A friend of mine (who was also on the course) described what we were undertaking as “learning how to swim by reading the manual…while you are already in the deep water”. In the end it was a very worthwhile undertaking – the simplistic part of it was to sit back and let yourself “soak” in the information you had collected as a way to allow the most relevant and important parts to present themselves. In other words, part of the process requires you to do nothing. It is the part of the process that is the hardest to trust, but the most beneficial. As someone new to periodically trusting the act of “doing nothing” I can attest that it always produces something of immense value. Give it a try.
You can hear Carleen speak at the Institute of Professional Management Annual Conference in Ottawa on April 16th On “Women in the Workplace; Why Gender Diversity Programs Fail To Meet Targets” (http://www.workplace.ca/events/event.php?id=164).