Monday, January 04, 2021

Deliberately Foster Presence of Mind


Amy Murphy, a director with PwC US, and Columbia Business School Professor William Duggan have penned a good article for Strategy+Business about cultivating presence of mind. They argue that this approach helps foster creative thinking. Here's an excert: 

How do you improve your presence of mind? It helps to realize you don’t always need it. If you’re working on a familiar task, go ahead and keep working until you finish it, even if it takes until midnight. With familiar tasks, you already know what to do: You don’t need a new idea, you don’t need presence of mind. But if it’s a task where you need a creative answer, don’t work until midnight. Instead, carve out time to give your mind the space to wander. 

When you need a new idea, throughout the workday try to take in as many examples from history as possible that might relate to your problem. Don’t work late: Spend the evening on something that gives your mind a rest. Go to the gym, have dinner with friends, take a long shower, and above all get a good night’s sleep. This greatly increases your chances of a flash of insight to solve your problem.   You can practice this discipline in smaller bits too, by scheduling time in your day for short walks, or making coffee, or some other activity that enables you to clear your mind, if only for 15 minutes. 

Don’t confuse this type of relief from excessive focus with distraction. Creative relaxation is deliberate: something you choose to do. Distraction is reactive and almost involuntary. Your mind flits from one activity to another. Some call it multitasking, but in reality you cannot do many things at once. Your brain needs time to shift from one thing to the other. When you’re distracted by each new task, there’s not enough time for presence of mind.

I agree wholeheartedly.   In my work, I talk about the need to combine focus + unfocus to achieve creative breakthroughs.  Immerse yourself in a challenging problem, but punctuate that focus with some deliberate attempts to distance yourself from the problem.   Adopt this strategy deliberately.  However, I argue that it's more than about taking a break.  It's about finding specific ways to step back and achieve social, temporal, physical, and cultural distance from a perplexing problem.   For instance, Amazon's "working backwards" technique is a fantastic way to achieve temporal distance and gain fresh perspective.  Read more about "working backwards" here.  

No comments: