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Out of Our Minds
Friday, April 16, 2004 4:48 PM
Thinking Thoughts
Kevin Salwen on Life

I was talking to a friend today about the times in our lives when we really get to think. No, not the kind of thinking that goes into a nifty client memo but the type of thinking that helps order your life. You know, the 'big idea' think or the 'correct way to execute' think or the 'how should I change my life?' think.

I find that I can steal moments of thought -- on a run when I'm not letting my Walkman distract me, when I can get to the beach or even in the shower (has anyone invented a shower whiteboard for great ideas? When I use my finger on the glass, it tends to erase too quickly.)

But we are so bombarded these days with stimuli from everywhere -- TV, email, AIM, cell phone -- that I find it's harder to really think. I read in the Wall Street Journal a while back about how Amazon's Jeff Bezos doesn't plan any meetings for 2 or 3 days a week so he can be less cluttered and generate more ideas. But for most of us, that timeframe doesn't work. So, I'm looking for ideas. How and where do you do your best thinking?


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maggie milne - 4/23/2004 2:56:31 PM
Cheers thinkers. My old Greek mentor advised me years ago to go for a 'volta'...a leisurely walk. On the way 'to' nowhere, don't think about anything. Just hang out and saunter along. Turn around...and on the way 'from' nowhere, ideas will start to perk through your head. When you take someone else along, let them do the talking...soon both of you will be silent... On the return, discuss some ideas.

An indoor version is to use an artist's sketchbook, kids smelly markers. Draw the issue as a metaphor of something else. Play with it. Add in details, circumstances. Ask others to interpret your scribbles and doodles. Amazing what surfaces!

Personally, I need fresh air to get to fresh thinking. As important in my biz as a coach and speaker as fresh water and fresh green stuff. Fresh air time gets scheduled regularly. It's an appointment with my brain.

- Maggie
Steve - 4/20/2004 10:34:44 AM
The best notepad for the shower is a Magnadoodle. but get a big one if you want to write more then a few reminder words.
Elizabeth Albrycht - 4/20/2004 4:47:02 AM
My best ideas usually happen in two places. The shower - generally out of the blue stuff happens here - and during a walk. For the walk, if I have serious thinking to do, I bring a piece of paper and pen, and jot down ideas as they come. Looks a little strange as I wander down the path muttering to myself and scribbling madly, but it works!

Brian Jones - 4/19/2004 8:59:52 AM
Hey Kevin, my kid's bath tub chalks work wonders in the shower.... :)

I always have my lunch pre-made in the morning so that I can spend the majority of my lunch hour regenerating and brainstorming in the park breathing in the fresh air. I find those afternoons much more productive than the days I have lunch with co-workers.

I leave 15 minutes early in the morning so I can take the back roads to work instead of the highway to better absorb motivational material or audio books.

Also, something we lose sight of after a long week. Nothing tends to free up my mind or invigorate me more than spending five minutes rolling in the grass with my 3yr. old daughter.
Betsy Warwick - 4/19/2004 8:39:01 AM
I used to dread waking up in the middle of the night because I knew I would start thinking and have trouble falling back asleep. I don't fight it anymore and have discovered that my best thinking occurs about 3 a.m. after I have slept for a few hours. I keep a small recorder by the bed so I won't forget those occasional really good ideas. Then I drift back asleep feeling more relaxed because maybe I've solved a problem.
Jonathan Washburn - 4/18/2004 12:12:02 AM
1. On Sundays I go to Barnes and Nobles and just spend the entire day reading whatever interests me at the time. Usually not even business related, even though that is a great passion of mine. By Sunday night I am so excited and enthused to share my new ideas, my mindset and attitude is awesome for the new week.

2. Showers or baths. I used to love taking long showers. Without a doubt my best thinking was done there. That all changed when I got married, moved out of my parents house, and discovered that I was lucky if I had enough hot water to last through the hair conditioner phase of the shower. (And in reference to the earlier post about the shower notepad, I think that one of the reasons the shower is such a great thinking medium is that there is no way you can be distracted during your thoughts. Even having a notepad at times can be a constraint to the free flow of ideas that can happen in your mind.)

3. I also think that in order to have optimum ideastorming ability you have to have a well balanced life in preperation for the brainstroming event. It is cliched, if having a good life can be such, but eating right, sleeping regularly, excersising, and feeding our social needs is the conditioning a knowledge worker needs to be prepared to think up with the big picture ideas.
Michele Miller - 4/17/2004 4:41:02 PM
I used to wear a Walkman while doing my daily exercise on the treadmill or walk outside. No more. Now I work my mind and body at the same time. Before I start to exercise, I ask myself one... and only one... pertinent business question. I then focus on that question, mulling over possibilities while chugging away physically. It not only helps me do what I need to do more of... THINK... but also puts me in a centered state of mind for the rest of what the day has to offer.
Avi Solomon - 4/17/2004 7:03:32 AM
Bill Gates has the key here in his 'Think Weeks':
'It's easy to spend so much time thinking about today's markets and competitors that you're not ready for those you'll encounter tomorrow. That's why I schedule 'think weeks' several times a year--so I can spend time reading up on trends that are just beyond the horizon.'
'I go off for a week with no interruptions. In fact, this one I was pretty religious about not doing e-mail, no phone calls and just day and night, other than sleeping, I'm reading.'
If he can do it so can you:)
See also:
'The Lazy Way to Success'
John Moore - 4/17/2004 4:02:08 AM
It's a great question. I think for me there are two answers.

1. When I wake in the morning and before I get out of bed. That moment of first consciousness is when I often experience an opportunity to choose how I experience myself... the rest of the day, that sort of inner dialogues is less easy.

2. For idea generation, the answer is always in a conversation. I often only realise the power of an idea not when I have it, nor when I express it, but when I witness a human response to it. I'm a fairly fanatical believer in social creativity rather than genius in ivory tower!
David Weinberger - 4/16/2004 9:54:13 PM
I used to find that if the meeting was just two or three people, taking a walk outside was one of the best ways of stimulating ideas.
Jeff - 4/16/2004 6:12:20 PM
I structure my time to include two intervals for thinking.

One interval is every Sunday evening at 8pm (more or less) when I retire to my study, leave the family and world for about an hour and a half, to plan my coming week. I decide priorities, schedule time slots for important tasks, and generally do the mental preparation for the coming week. That way I hit the ground running on Monday morning.

The other interval is a one-day quarterly retreat during which I either stay away from the office on a Friday or take a Saturday if work is hectic. I spend the full day in some location away from people I know and activities that usually take up my time so that I can engage in strategic planning. (By the way, the golf course and similar locations don't count.) I usually go to a library, a quiet public park, the local university, or some similar place. The idea is to 'get away from it all' and think, take notes, consider long-range goals and short-range activities, and evaluate plans and relationships with an eye toward personal and relational improvement. I stay until I am out of ideas. Taking notes is important because I want to integrate the ideas during the ensuing 90 days without having to remember everything. Once every 90 days seems ideal for me to focus on and integrate current realities and future objectives.

In any event, these two ideas work for me. I am renewed and charged up at the start of every week and quarterly.
anita - 4/16/2004 5:23:33 PM
I agree with Steve -- not much great thinking is done in office buildings. I make a lot of coffee meetings and try to arrive early or linger after and just observe people and think. I did it today in fact and overheard a fascinating conversation between two women about why they read certain magazines.
Steve - 4/16/2004 5:15:34 PM
I advocate that knowledge workers spend at least one day a week working at home or at the public library. You just can't work at work! To be successful, we have to stay away from email and phones for one day... it shouldn't be very hard!


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