Want to Think Creatively? Go Soak Your Head!

Note: Dwight is currently out on leave so we are running some “best of” blog posts from his writing for the Vistage Executive Street blog that you may not have seen before. Enjoy!

“Creativity is the residue of time wasted”- Albert Einstein

This morning I found myself preparing to head into a very important strategic meeting and deeply engaged in a pattern of thought that made both of my partners wrong. Fortunately I flashed on one of my mom’s folksy sayings which she invoked when someone was being ornery, oh, go soak your head! So I did. I jumped into a nice relaxing shower and came out renewed and ready for a conversation about possibilities.

With that quick bit of “brainwashing,” I reflected on Daniel Pink’s recent “Fridays With Vistage” webinar where he talked about the crucial importance of free or uncommitted time for people in the workplace to unleash creativity and innovation.

He further pointed out the foolishness of continuing our traditional thinking about management which, in his view, is a technology invented in the 1850′s that was created to produce compliance, not creativity. (I have also blogged about this topic here.)

What is being called for now, according to many thought leaders, is imagination, innovation, and the agility to both create and respond to rapid change. This view is confirmed in a major research study, “The Global Leadership Forecast 2011” by DDI. Unfortunately, this study also says 40% of leaders report they are unprepared to deal with these trends.

Jonah Lehrer’s new book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” confirms that great thinking often occurs when we seem to be wasting time. (The shower I took this morning was an intervention along the lines he recommends.)

In a review of “Imagine” in The Economist, they say, “Drawing from a wide array of scientific and sociological research—and everything from the poetry of W.H. Auden to the films of Pixar—he makes a convincing case that innovation cannot only be studied and measured, but also nurtured and encouraged.”

As an example, the article also goes on to explain policies the 3M company has put into place to insure employees take risks and innovate.

So the point is that as leaders, this is critical information, especially in light of the Global Leadership Forecast report:

  • Creativity can be encouraged and fostered, you don’t need to have a staff of innate creative geniuses.
  • Having the right environment for creativity is key – and it’s not a paradigm of “do, do, do, go, go, go!” that most of us think it is. (See the 3M example in The Economist article link.)

Leaders must insist on cultures that make creativity and innovation priorities. So how can you powerfully open up your thinking and that of the people around you? To gain success in today’s business world you may need to “waste some time” in order to figure it out.

Are You In Your Comfort Zone?

relaxed businessman

The term “comfort zone” has become a popular way to describe how we are feelingabout various activities we are taking part in – “that pushed me way out of my comfort zone,” or “that was not in my comfort zone,” are pretty common phrases these days.

When we talk about our “comfort zone” what we are talking about is our personal orbit, our range of personal activities. Each of us has a daily routine, a weekly routine and perhaps even a monthly or yearly routine. Generally speaking we are creatures of habit and we develop comfort zones we like, and of course, feel comfortable in.

Often, even when we do try to venture out of it, we are quickly pulled back in to it. There is a dynamic called “homeostasis” which is critical to this. Homeostasis has both psychological and physical implications and what it’s pointing to is the fundamental and biological drive for equilibrium and stability in a system, (and yes, we are including human beings as systems). In effect, homeostasis helps create and regulate our “comfort zones.” This is a very important phenomenon to understand. It works for us in critical ways. For example, it helps keep our body temperatures stable. As we know, we all have a set-point for body temperature that is on average 98.6 degrees. The homeostasis in our bodies helps insure that when our temperature fluctuates, it comes back to this comfortable set point. The downside is that when we challenge ourselves psychologically and emotionally in various ways, there can be a “homeostatic back lash,” and a strong pull to go back to our existing comfort zone until we have solidly established a new set point.

So our comfort zone is somewhat like a thermostat. Unconsciously it has been set at a particular point and when we change it, it takes some time to “heat up or cool down” to the new set point.

An amazing example of this is the research that has been done on lottery winners. It has been found that generally, if someone was poor before winning the lottery, they will end up poor again. If they were middle class, they would ultimately end up middle class again and so on. This is a powerful example of what happens when our set points or comfort zones are radically and unexpectedly challenged and how powerful homeostasis can be.

relaxed business womanAs we discuss comfort zones, set points, etc. we want to be clear that this is not a piece about people who plod along and move slowly or people who seem risk averse. If you are a fast-paced, “go go go” type of person that is your comfort zone. What if you had to slow down, be more reflective, bring your energy “down and in” instead of being an “up and out” kind of person? What if you had to take on a meditation practice? Would you still be in your comfort zone? What if you are a thrill seeker and look for ways to “push the envelope” all the time? What would happen if you lived a more mundane existence and had to experience the ordinary? Would you still be in your comfort zone?

The thing is, if you want new outcomes, bigger results and to achieve your vision are you ready to expand your comfort zone? Are you ready to alter your personal orbit? Are you fortified and prepared for the inevitable backlash that may come from inside you, but also from those around you who may feel threatened or unnerved by change? If you are part of their system, their orbit, their comfort zone, and you change, what happens to their comfort zone? If you aren’t ready to expand your orbit, how can you expect your colleagues, team, or employees to do it?