We live in a culture where the simple act of distraction free thinking has become alien, day dreaming has been replaced with scrolling through a feed on our smart phones and the office is a place for the hustle, not to think – I believe we are missing a trick.
Try this exercise out and see what happens: Sit at your desk just staring straight ahead and see how long it takes for someone to ask if you’re okay. If you say yes, you’re fine, but keep on staring into space, they might ask, “What are you doing?” See what happens if you reply, “I’m thinking.” I’ll be willing to bet that you’ll get some weird stares, or another query, “Thinking? Really??”
Is Executing Really the Only Thing?
Yes, the simple act of thinking today seems to be a foreign activity that no sane person should have time for in the workplace. Isn’t it incredible how an activity that was once considered part of the bedrock for success, inspiring countless proverbs, pieces of art, and groundbreaking business ideas, can now be so far from the mainstream? Today, it’s all about executing. If you’re not executing – in the eyes of some – you may as well not be doing anything at all. Every brand wants innovation, but so few are willing to invest in the basic processes that have proven throughout history to generate big ideas.
When was the last time you simply sat down to think? No distractions, no screens, no specific task in mind… just following your thoughts to see where they lead. If you can’t remember, or it’s been a long while, why is that the case? The real incentives – and often the mandates from above – push you toward execution and efficiency. If you’re not maximizing every minute, then you’re not pulling your weight. Thinking doesn’t give the appearance of action, so in the eyes of some it’s a waste of time.
But here’s the thing. Even leaving aside for a moment the many other benefits of thinking, the fact is that empowering employees to think (or taking the initiative to think as an employee), can help you develop ways to be more efficient and improve execution. The process cannot be improved if nobody is willing to sit back and reflect on how it works.
Thinking is for More Than Just Big Ideas
I talk a lot about the value of empowering employees, and there are few better ways to empower anyone than encouraging them to think freely. It’s not just about the bottom line, either. It’s about creating an environment where new ideas are treated with the curiosity and rigor they deserve. A place where employees can learn, reflect, and refine their own skills and thought processes. Not every employee is going to come up with groundbreaking ideas, but subtle improvements and professional growth come naturally with thinking.
Since sitting down to think is less than commonplace these days, here are a couple simple ways to stoke the creative fire and encourage the ideas to flow:
- Doodle and Daydream – Have you ever sat in on a less-than-inspiring talk or worked on a mundane task, started scribbling in your notebook, and found yourself transported to a completely different mental space? A mindless, instinctively creative activity, like doodling, can be almost meditative. It’s an easy way to let your mind wander, and that’s the whole point. Try it at your desk, and you may be surprised by the ideas and connections it reveals.
- Real Brainstorming – When was the last time you were in a brainstorming session where brains were really storming? Usually, it’s the same few people raising their hands to provide input, while the rest of the group is too nervous or too worried about how their ideas will be perceived. Real brainstorming, where everyone in the room feels empowered to share their thoughts, feels almost like a lost art. It’s not, but it does take work to establish a culture where employees truly feel comfortable brainstorming.
If you want people to innovate, you need to give them time to think. If you want employees to feel comfortable thinking, then you need to show them why the process is valuable and encouraged. The best ideas often have humble origins, but how many great ideas have been lost because people are focused on executing all day, every day? Something to think about if you can find the time.
ROE, Return On Employees… Empower Your Employees and They Will Power Your Brand.