I was speaking to one of my clients – a corporate marketing executive – about a new campaign that she is designing. After talking about some possible strategies, she said she planned to spend the next few days doing some reading and deep thinking.
I was so impressed.
People may assert a belief that thinking is an important and necessary part of problem solving, creativity, and even inspiration, but it’s rare that I meet someone who recognizes the importance of carving out time to simply think.
It’s even rarer to find someone who actually does it.
Imagine telling your boss that you’re going to take the next couple days to think about the problems that your company is facing. Or telling your supervisor that you’ll be taking the afternoon off to think about ways of generating more sales.
Even if you were wise enough to find value in this process, how many bosses would see the wisdom in this idea?
Most bosses would scoff at such a notion, seeing a productive employee as one engaged in tangible, verifiable tasks. You’re certainly permitted to think on the job, but you’d better be doing something else at the same time and not just sitting in a comfortable chair, reading a book and pondering the universe.
Which is a stupid way to run a company. Right?
“Yes, please do think about the best way for our company to move forward, but you’d better be building out that sales deck, crunching some numbers, or selling another widget while doing so.”
My client gets it. She understands that the best ideas come from the best thinkers, and the best thinkers afford themselves the time to think.
She also reads a lot, constantly crossing disciplines, diving headfirst into new topics, and aggressively reading well outside her field, because she knows that metaphor, simile, understanding, evidence, connection, and strategy require an understanding of the world beyond one’s own occupation. She understands that invention and solution are often inspired by the work of others in a variety of fields.
Recently she sent me an article on the monopoly held by salt manufactures, seeing a connection between this story of economics and the story she is trying to build for her company’s strategic shift. Her strategy has nothing to do with salt or economics, but the dynamics of the monopoly that salt manufactures control might serve as an excellent metaphor for her own strategy.
Connections like this don’t come without opening your mind to new things, and just as important, giving yourself the time to think about these new things.
Leaders understand this.
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, for instance, requires his executives to spend ten percent of their day, or four hours per week, just thinking. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, schedules two hours of uninterrupted thinking time per day. Bill Gates takes a week off twice a year just to reflect deeply without interruption. Warren Buffet reportedly spends 80 percent of his week just thinking, and he’s been doing this for decades.
Unfortunately, for every leader who understands the importance of carving out time to think, there are ten million leaders who don’t. They would never think about scheduling precious time in their schedule to just think, and they would never give permission for their employees to do the same.
Does my client’s supervisor understand this? I don’t think so. But she’s fortunate enough to be in a position to have some control of her time and assertive and independent enough to do what she thinks is right.
Creation is not an act of spontaneous inspiration. It is not divinely conjured. Creation is the culmination of a wide variety of inputs and the willingness to consider these inputs within the context of the problems you are facing.
This requires time. Time to think.
My client gets this. More should.