A while back, there was a TV commercial (for a product/service I can't recall)1 that showed a group of businessmen having a meeting in a shower. They were there because the executive that called the meeting wanted to leverage the fact that his best ideas came to him in the shower.
That commercial hits us as relevant because nearly everyone has had the experience of being in the shower and having that thought, solution or idea completely come out of "nowhere" that is exactly what we want.
Of course, the commercial takes that experience and attempts to apply it in a way that obviously won't work. It's obvious to pretty much everyone. But, why?
It's because it's not about the shower. It's actually about the "slack" time and is key to innovative thinking. The beauty is that, while gathering your team into the shower won't foster this innovative thinking, it *is* possible to deliberately make these moments happen and is a topic I've been looking at quite a bit lately.
Lots of people develop their own ways to manufacture these moment. I like to think that I did a reasonable job at it myself. However, my recent interest in the junction of economics, neurology, psychology, self-improvement and my longstanding interest in cross disciplinary learning have been coming together to better understand and debug my own brain. Deeper understanding of how my own neurons are working can lead to better decisions and more effective practices.
The conversation was very enlightening and I bought and subsequently read the book. While I've got lots I could say about the book (it really resonated with me), what's really worth taking away from it is the core idea of what exactly "strategic intuition" is.
Basically, it's those "shower" ideas. It's the kind of thought or idea that is the result of disparate portions of your brain come together and make a connection. Those that are able to engage in strategic intuition regularly are often able to really shine in the midst of their circumstances.
So, how to cultivate moments of strategic intuition?
- Harvest and gather information.
- Make space for the background processes in your brain to do their thing.
- Feast on the great ideas.
In order for your brain to make connections, there need to be things for it to connect. The more diverse the inputs, the better. If you read nothing but self-help books or nothing but fantasy novels or nothing but political blogs that you agree with, there's not much distance between the stuff in your head and distance is good.
The further apart the 2 ideas, the more satisfying the idea. Incidentally, this is also true of jokes. The further you travel to "get" the joke, the funnier you find it.
So, in pursuit of the harvest of information, I read books on varied subjects, RSS feeds from varied topics, listen to podcasts, watch TV, etc. I also make a distinct effort to take in stuff that I disagree with.
There's a commonality to the situations in which most people experience strategic intuition naturally. I've heard people mention:
- the shower
- mowing the lawn
- standing out and having a smoke
- raking leaves
- cooking (one of my favorites)
- walking in the park
- umm, sitting on the toilet
The thing common to all of them is that the "thinking" part of our brains get freed from being put to work. The task at hand can usually be performed without "thinking". That frees our brains up to do the work that leads to strategic intuition.
The busy lives that everyone seems to be living today are a hostile environment for this kind of space at first glance. However, when things like the drive to and from work can function as the kind of space we're after, it's not as foreign as it might first seem.
Regardless, when I carve out the time and have been putting lots of good input into my head, it is ALWAYS rewarded.
1There's a lesson in there somewhere for being clever in your advertising but failing to get your brand attached to the cleverness.