Last year I asked our managers to schedule a 30 minute “contemplative meeting” every day on their calendars. I realized that I was much more innovative when I scheduled this meeting with myself than when I double booked meetings all day.
While I thought I was getting more done by over scheduling, I was actually spending a lot of time managing my calendar, switching between tasks, and not having as many “ideas in the shower.” Problems are solvable when you give yourself a chance to attack them with a clear mind.
It wasn’t long after I happened to read an interview with the husband/wife co-founders of Flickr. Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield make it a point to be home for dinner most nights.
Caterina explains, “Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on. Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be.”
Clearing Your Mind
A classic book in this area is Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language and he talks about looking beyond a specific project to see how it fits in the bigger picture. Having a clear mind that allows you to see the bigger picture is one of the first steps to being innovative.
Last month’s WIRED featured Brendan Koerner’s (@BrendanKoerner) essay, Driven By Distraction. The article argues against the concept that micro-blogging costs billions of dollars of efficiency. While he doesn’t argue for the use of Minesweeper, the article suggests that stepping back from a project and taking a moment is more than just a nice idea, but a required ingredient for success. He also says that, “A random scrap of information can trigger just the right conceptual collision.” Since my simple definition of innovation is the creation of new things by being exposed to a broader and deeper set of existing things, I fully support Koerner’s argument.