Our Best Work – Performed in Public, Un-Plugged in Private
One morning on the subway, deep in thought, I missed my stop and disembarked a station later than usual. My walk to the office was a few minutes longer, providing me a little extra time for my thoughts.
For many years, I have shared that my hope is to have one good idea a day, just one. For me, and I am certain for others, these good ideas, whether small or big, come at unusual moments. Frequently, they arrive in the middle of a meeting, surrounded by people and triggered by a comment or by a drawing seen in a new light – a “Eureka!” moment. The intensity of design meetings cannot be understated and for this reason, I find them incredibly enjoyable. This is the exhibitionist and performance side of my personality, in full display when deliberations and new ideas come fast. Many projects have materially benefited from a single idea blurted out during a free ranging design meeting.
Yet, we also perform our best work at other times, at moments when we slow down, un-plug, and allow our minds to wander. On the subway, walking around the city, in the shower, or half-asleep at four in the morning – inspiration comes when our mental processors are running at half-speed or in background mode. With the constant barrage of emails, phone calls and meetings, daydreaming is no easy feat and takes discipline. Often, we can only accomplish this form of distracted focus by mistake, by skipping a stop on the subway, by having our smart-phone battery die, or by insomnia. I’ve found it very challenging to schedule time to un-plug, unwind, and to let my mind wander, even though the benefits are so rewarding.
Note: Soon after writing the above installment, a friend came to visit and brought me a book: Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman. by Thomas Friedman. After reading just a few pages of the first chapter, I was reminded of lessons learned many years ago; no ideas occur in a vacuum, and insights come to people when unexpected free time appears. I am impressed that as a professional journalist, he is manages to continue with his thoughts for 453 pages. At our Monday Morning Meeting, I very much enjoyed quoting from the early chapters; much better than tying my remarks to another sports or movie reference. Thanks, Bradley for the gift and for being one of my many friends who have been so encouraging about my efforts to share my thoughts and stories with a wider audience.