Imagine stopping in the middle of a busy work day, kicking up your feet on your desk, sitting back, arms cradling the back of the head in daydream mode. Now imagine that this is one of the best things you could do in the course of a busy work day.
It’s okay, let them stare. Because the truth is that your blank stare at the wall is just what the mind needs to slow down, clear out some of the clutter and give the creative brain the opportunity to open up to better thinking, greater creativity and maybe even the next big idea.
The Ire of Idle Hands
Corporate America isn’t built to accommodate dreamers. Traditionally, it’s been all about the volume of work. In this world quantity rules. Idle hands are tools of the devil, remember? Yes, but they’re also a sign of creativity at work. A Wired article about the productivity enhancing merits of Twitter and Facebook argued that, “regularly stepping back from the project at hand can be essential to success. And social networks are particularly well suited to stoking the creative mind.”
Great news, but little consolation when the boss chews you out for screwing around. If he knew what leading theorists in the field of creative intelligence knew he might just give you a nice daydream disrupting pat on the back.
It’s all about The Incubation Time
The creative process is kind of like applied mysticism. Ideas often come in a flash, out of nowhere and without warning even at the most unusual times – often times beyond the boundaries of 9 to 5 thinking.
Maybe this is because it’s only when we have traditionally been able to leave the office that our mind can relax and enter what is known as the incubation phase of the creative process. The incubation phase is where the aforementioned magic happens. During this time, “the preliminary ideas of the preparation stage are allowed to gestate for an unspecified period of time while the problem is not pursued consciously. The culmination of the incubation process is the explosive stage of illumination.” (Source: The Encyclopedia of Creativity, VOL II, pg. 676, Academic Press, 1999)
Sounds like “down time” to me. Here, too, is the origins of the coveted Aha! moment. Just one and you could be on your way to bigger and better things in your career. And all it takes is a little inactivity. Just a few cautious moments to let the mind do what it does best: create.
Now that we’ve all seen the merits of stepping back, staring at a wall or computer screen and letting the creative wheels turn a bit, let’s talk about how to do this at work without getting talked about or tossed out before that Aha! moment happens.
For starters, remember that we have more opportunities to engage the idea generating part of the brain than we realize. And, the most important part is to get the idea in there and let it grow. The subconscious mind will take care of the rest. The problem is that we allow for very few gaps in our thinking. We’re conditioned to keep it filled with worries, concerns, fantasies and the latest water cooler gossip. Why not give it a rest?
Getting back to the Wired story on social networks and productivity, this is why there is a counterintuitive workplace benefit to measured social networking. That next tweet or Facebook can provide that gap and may just fan the creative flames to solve the next big problem at work (mind you, you can go wrong when using social networks at work as well).
Don’t Try This at Home, Use it at Work
As you can see, screwing around a bit at work has the potential to make you the most productive, creative and dynamic mind in your office. Here are a few simple ways – among others – to get started staring blankly into the vast depths of possibility:
- Make Your Next Break Just That – When we get breaks during the day, even if it’s for just a few minutes, we have this tendency to fill it with random busyness. Instead, take a few breaths, close your eyes and let the mind just go. You might be surprised where it ends up.
- The Extended Water Break – Take a few extra moments during the next water break and go for a quick walk. Try to walk mindfully and use the stroll to empty the head. If there’s a problem to solve, let it rest there during this time. This is one way to begin the incubation process.
- Find White Space – Turn away form the computer screen for a few minutes and just stare at the wall. Before you do, take a few deep mindful breaths. Relax your shoulders a bit. Now, just let the mind rest. Repeat as needed.
- Be A Lunch Loner – Lunch is a great time gossip with coworkers, an opportunity to run a few errands and if you’re determined to have the next big idea, it’s also great time to open the mind. Why not bring a lunch, get out of the office, find a quiet place and just disengage a bit?
You are now fully prepared to step back just enough that those great ideas and insights of yours have a fighting chance at work. Because the truth is that the next great idea can come from anywhere. You’re just as capable as anyone. Make it happen.
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