When John Reed, Citibank’s head of checking account business, took a vacation in 1976, he didn’t expect to have such an epiphany.
Sitting in a beach chair and enjoying the warm sun of the Caribbean, strange ideas came to him about an ever concerning issue: the profitability of personal banking.
Taking his notebook next to him, the ideas then flowed. He imagined on the same beach the concept of ATMs and email account balance verification, concepts that would revolutionize the modern banking system.
This story, although incredible, is not unusual: many creative people made discoveries in a state of open awareness, far from the focused concentration at work.
In Focus, Daniel Goleman shows especially that wandering minds are not opposed to focused attention, but on the contrary, increase your productivity.
Being more aware of the possibilities of your environment helps you select information better and notice more hidden details, which lead to unexpected discoveries.
It makes you broaden your attention, better control states of open imagination, strengthen your states of flow and increase your capacities for acute observation.
Here’s how 4 people reinforced this spontaneous state of consciousness to foster new states of enlightenment.
Learning to Relax and Enlarge Your Focus
After moving up the corporate ladder and becoming Oracle’s youngest vice president, Marc Benioff, the future CEO of Salesforces, realized that his job didn’t have the same meaning as before. So he decided to take a month’s sabbatical in Hawaii to relax.
There, spending his time between meditation sessions, trips, and discoveries, he let his mind wander. One day, while swimming among the dolphins, he found new enlightenment to create a cloud computing company that would revolutionize the marketing market, Salesforce.
Just as Benioff’s mind in Oracle, your task-oriented mind in your everyday job, can sometimes prevent new ideas from being considered.
In this state, you may draw your attention to specific information, leaving aside other details that might seem less important.
On the other hand, a more relaxed state of mind enables you to wander through your thoughts and to consider a broader range of insights.
Linked to the default mode of activity of your brain, it inhibits the rigidity of your executive mode brain and wider the view on your environment and problems.
Neuroscience studies show that this state of mind plays a crucial role in brain creativity. The more you can let your mind make broad and diverse connections between distant ideas, the more you pay attention to details that could be very important.
To open yourself to new perspectives in your work or life, you need then to foster states of distraction away from everyday concerns.
You need to put yourself in conditions where you can worry about details that seem less important but could be the unexpected source of your creativity.
Strengthening Your Divergent Thinking
Equipped with the best technologies for observing the universe, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson had scanned for 1 year the Milky Way looking for discoveries.
These new technologies, although very efficient, had the drawback of requiring the removal of all sources of noise for maximum visibility.
Yet, when seeking to eliminate all possible noise disturbances, the two astronauts were still unable to get rid of an irreducible noise that disturbed their waves.
Having heard about physicists working on their subject, it then radically changed the terms of their problem: their noise was not a disturbance but a long reverberation of the Big Bang, the origin of the universe.
What was the attitude that led them to that enlightenment?
Behavioral sciences have focused on a specific state of mind responsible for creativity: problem-finding attitudes.
By avoiding looking for immediate answers to their problems, people who incorporate this mind-set remain in a state of permanent questioning. They seek not the answer but the most relevant and effective question to formulate and solve their problems.
It is this divergent thinking, shifting your frames of thought, that differentiate, according to many studies, the creativity of one person from another.
Like them, learn to take a temporary step back from your problems and reformulate them until you find a creative way to solve them.
Deepening Your Flow State When Working
Peter Schweitzer has learned a profession that is in great demand today: cryptography.
Testing complex codes that protect high-value data, his daily job is to find a flaw in these codes by generating a large number of possible solutions.
For such a task requiring much concentration, Schweitzer has created working conditions that allow him to be in a constant state of intense flow. But not like you think.
The working environment is not closed off by distractions, but on the contrary open to reality, punctuated by walks and naps in the sun that let the unconscious part of his mind to do the calculations.
As these encryption expert’s work habits, studies have shown the relationship between open flow states and high creative skills. Asking participants to design a water conservation program, one study judged their initiative according to their degree of flow and creativity.
The result was that those who felt the most curiosity and concentration in the project had the most creative ideas.
Learn like them to create an environment where you can find deep inspiration.
Improving Your Deep Observation Skills
George de Mestral was on a hunting trip in the Alps with his dog when he noticed something strange on his coat.
As it was autumn, underbrushes stuck to his dog’s fur, forcing him to take extra care to remove them all without being stung.
It was at this time that Mestral had the idea to observe his seed carriers with a microscope. Observing their structure closely, he noticed that they were also formed of small hooks that make them adhere to the hair.
Inspired by this mechanism, he invented the VELCRO fasteners.
What led Mestral to such an invention was his keen sense of observation, making him spot details that were unnoticed by others. His curiosity and open-mindedness which led him to observe closely everything interesting without judging, is another psychological factor of creativity.
According to some studies, it is related to mindfulness exercises that boost our spatial awareness. These open-awareness meditation exercises make us notice spontaneous thoughts and emotions that pass through our heads without judging them.
A study showed that these exercises help participants to imagine as many different ideas as possible, compared to other participants who had not performed these exercises.
Like them, increase your ability to be aware of your environment to be on the path to discoveries.
Now it’s your turn to be inspired by these stories to join the path of your creativity!