Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where does innovative thinking take place?

On Saturday, Chris Brogan shared fourteen suggestions for people who want to blog daily. Many of Brogan's ideas had to do with getting inspirations for blogging. His first one? "Read something new every day." Well, I read his post, and it proved to be the basis for this post.

Brogan solicited our ideas, and I contributed two. Here's my second one:

Take a shower every day. Seriously, sometimes you can get excellent ideas when you're taking a break from work. Now I just need a waterproof pad and paper (your idea number 3).

(Incidentally, if you take a look at the first of my two suggestions, I am following it in this post. If I tell you that Brogan wrote his post on Saturday, you'll get the idea.)

While Brogan noted that my suggestion of taking a shower is "doubly useful," Jeremy Vaught commented that you don't have to get wet to get into an idea-inspiring space:

About a year ago I quit listening to the radio in the car. And I am always amazed how my mind starts to really focus on things that I don't otherwise think about while doing other things. But I think that's it, I'm doing other things. In the car, not so much.

That same day (Saturday) I engaged in thinking while driving, although I certainly wouldn't call it innovative. By midday I thought that I was completely packed for my Oracle OpenWorld trip, but when driving (without my darling) on Saturday evening, I realized that I had forgotten to pack my mesh laundry bag. Not necessarily an innovative thought, but I would have needed to innovate if I had forgotten it, I guess.

The common factor in showering and driving is that these activities only use certain portions of your brain, freeing other portions of your brain to do other things. What portions do what aren't clear to me; I'm not an expert on the brain, and this excellent description of the parts of the brain doesn't go into enough detail to biologically identify the part of the brain that creates innovative thoughts. vs. the part of the brain that turns on the right turn signal or grabs the shampoo bottle.

But other people have discussed the connection between driving and innovative thinking.

Lemelson-MIT Program Director Merton Flemings notes that the uninterrupted solitude of vehicular travel creates a fertile breeding ground for innovative thought. "Many Americans feel they spend half their lives in cars, but we were surprised by just how many people felt their daily commute was conducive to creative thinking," he said. "But when you stop to think about it, it makes sense. Daily commutes in this country are getting longer each year and the car may be one of the last environments in which we can escape from our over-stimulated lives and just be alone with our thoughts."

And Flemings should know:

A noted inventor who holds 26 patents, Flemings was traveling alone on the Massachusetts Turnpike when he suddenly formulated the basis for his most important discovery – a greatly improved process for producing lightweight metal parts that are used in airplanes and, of course, cars.

And Vaught and Flemings have seemingly hit upon an idea when looking at whether or not the brain is engaged. When the brain is engaged, innovative thinking goes out the window:

[T]wo wildly popular settings – "watching television" and "listening to music" – placed at the very bottom of the results with meager 1.6 percent and 1.0 percent figures, respectively.

Frankly, however, I'm curious if the TYPE of television or music might merit more consideration. I'm willing to postulate that certain types of television (science fiction) and music (ambient) may be more conducive to innovative thought than other types.

Or perhaps you should just sing in the shower. Hey, it launched Bill Murray's career.

(Picture source, license)
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