Have you ever observed in what sort of environments you have the best thoughts?
Most people rarely experience moments of clarity while staring at a computer screen, trying hard to solve a problem, and generally struggle to access their inner genius in a formal office environment. Instead, great ideas often pop up in the most unexpected places.
- Many people have breakthrough moments in buzzing coffee shops or bars, while catching up with team mates or friends. This is because being in stimulating places and interacting with others are just the right fuel for some of us to get our creative juices flowing. Perhaps this is why so many important innovations in history originated in coffee houses.
- Some people are in their best element in nature. And it’s not only because the sunlight and fresh air help the body and brain function better. Being in nature also makes us happier and more in tune with ourselves, so our ideas flow more freely. Even just the sight of nature can give a great boost to our creativity.
- During exercise we are also more likely to come up with great ideas. Exercise enhances brain function, and it also gives us the opportunity to be alone with our thoughts, unless we engage in team sports. Furthermore, running, cycling or working out are somewhat monotonous activities, providing ideal conditions for our conscious mind to switch onto autopilot, giving our unconscious the opportunity to quietly play and bring up insightful thoughts. I’ve made many of my best personal and business decisions while cycling. While moving with speed I feel more compelled to move forward with those issues I tend to procrastinate with in the office, and I’m more ready to accept risks.
- Many people have great ideas in the bathroom. Taking a shower is relaxing, and we are alone with our thoughts, in a small, safe, comfortable place. We might also feel a bit tired (as we tend to wash just after waking up or at the end of the day). For many of us, these are ideal conditions for getting lost in our thoughts and experiencing epiphanies. In addition, the negative ions in the steam further improve our mood and wellbeing, along with our ability to think creatively. I’m one of these people; I can credit many of my ideas to hot showers – that’s where I developed most of my architectural design concepts, as well as many ideas for my upcoming book. This is a habit I share with the late Douglas Adams, author of the iconic four part trilogy ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, who is known for producing many of his highly creative ideas in his bathroom. In fact, one of the trilogy’s characters, the Captain of the Golgafrinchan ark ship – who spent most of his time the bath, and had a very relaxed attitude – was based on Douglas Adams’ own habit of taking extraordinarily long baths.
I’m not suggesting that your office needs to provide the facilities for your teams to spend much of their working hours under the shower, running on a treadmill, or having coffee with their mates. (Though I secretly hope that in the future workplaces will have a lot more emphasis on these.) But there is a lot you can learn from observing these everyday experiences about the conditions that allow you and your team to access your best thinking.
As you realise, some of the ways people come up with their most precious ideas are rather counterintuitive; not what the traditional office as we know it offers.
Environments that support people’s best thoughts may –
- distract people from focusing on their problems,
- encourage people to let their minds wander,
- be very comfortable and allow deep relaxation,
- be social and highly stimulating,
- promote physical movement and exercise,
- allow people to be alone,
- be outside the office.
So when it comes to enabling people’s diverse skills and qualities to come to fruition, I encourage you to think really broadly. Everyone is different; some might choose a quiet library, a noisy lounge room, or a game room with a pool table as a thinking space. Or they might decide to take a walk in a nearby park. May I suggest, let your people make their choice – so they can unleash their genius.