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Is doing nothing the key to creativity?

Now before you get excited about this concept (or think I’ve gone complete crazy), let me explain what I mean!

Have you ever wondered why your brain sparks ideas at the strangest times? In the shower, walking the dog, doing the food shopping…some of your best ideas will come to you when you are doing the most mundane of tasks.

Let’s take an example of a busy day at work…

We’ve all been there – there’s always that one problem that seems impossible to solve. You might write a few ideas down, in between meetings, have a few chats with colleagues about possible ways to move forward, before going to grab a cup of coffee and then into another meeting…and quite often you finish the day with it on your list of things to pick up in the morning…you go home, get changed and take the dog out for an hour….and bam! There it is! You may not have the solution but something in your brain has shifted, and you have an idea of how you might be able to move forward. I expect most people reading this have had that ‘epiphany’, and sometimes at the strangest of times!

The explanation can be found in cognitive neuroscience…

During your busy times (like during the day in a busy environment, in and out of meetings) your brain is using higher frequency brainwaves and your awareness if directed outward towards cognitive tasks such as speaking in meetings and talking through information with colleagues. When we relax, we tap into lower frequency brainwaves and scientists studying brain scans recently discovered that moments of creativity take place when the mind is at rest rather than working on something. Neuroscience is finding that when we are idle, in leisure, our brains are most active. The ‘rest’ of our brain helps us to direct our awareness inward, enabling different parts of our brain to connect. So, a stray thought, a random memory, an image can combine in novel ways to produce innovative ideas.

So, what does this mean for us as leaders?

Leaders in an organisation are the greatest influencers of culture.

Leaders are the ones who ‘set the tone’ and who should be role modelling acceptable behaviours. If we now know that people need periods of inactive time to allow their brain to literally switch to creative thinking mode, then are we modelling this as leaders?

Many companies talk about making sure employees don’t work too many hours and wellbeing has become a hot topic, especially over the last couple of years.

As leaders, we are tasked with the wellbeing of our teams. When a team is in a high performance ‘flow’, they will keep going and working and often not even take breaks, as a collective, they are focussed solely on the task. As the leader, how do you deal with this? If you know that regular down time ultimately equals more creative thinking, which can lead to innovation, how do you communicate this to your team? And when you do get the message across, what support do you give in helping them to access this thinking time and use it as active reflection?

I’m not going to give you any answers to this in this post…every business is different as is every culture within it…but I’d like you to think about how this information could be used to help your teams – and I’ve popped some questions below as a starter for 10 to help structure your thinking around this:

  • What is the cadence of work in your business? For example, are you a seasonal company who is busy at certain times of the year? If so, then how can you use the quieter times to help your teams find this ‘quiet’ space?
  • What is your culture? Do you need to work with your teams or is the culture (set by the leadership team) something you need to consider first – do you need to ‘go in at the top’ to start making changed that will ripple down?
  • How are your teams? Do they all thrive in the busy periods? Or are there those who you can see really struggling during these times? What can you do straight away to help them? What structures can you put in place? What conversations can you have?

One last thought I want to leave you with…as a leader, do you give yourself time to ‘breathe’? Now you know how important it is, don’t you owe it to yourself?!

The Wild Clarity Club

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