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Posts Tagged ‘Dynamic Idleness’

Whenever you pass by the desk of a colleague in office and see him staring with blank eyes at nothing in particular, you may 'The Thinker' : Rodinbe wrong in assuming that he is either worried about his upcoming annual appraisal or concerned about the academic performance of his kids. For all you know, like Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, he could simply be withdrawn into himself, in a rather introspective mood, and trying to unravel life’s managerial mysteries which appear unfathomable at normal times.

One of the profound mysteries is that of facilitating innovation. History of major breakthroughs tells us of at least one factor which prompted the coveted ‘Aha!’ moment – a spot of idleness. Not the kind of idleness which is a trademark of laziness, but the dynamic type where the mind, firing at all six cylinders, suddenly decides to take a break, looks at its own self in a detached manner, delves into the realms of the sub-conscious and comes up with a gem of wisdom which had eluded it so far at the conscious level.

Some Unforgettable ‘Aha!’ Moments

Rewind to around 250 BC. If Archimedes had not decided to take some time off and soak himself in a bath tub, possibly playing with some floating toy ducks and singing along in a leisurely fashion – much to the discomfiture of his neighbors, world would have surely missed great many developments so far. There would have been no boats and ships. Countries the world over would have been dependent only on their foot soldiers and armies to defend their borders. At a more mundane level, the streets of ancient Syracuse would have missed the sight of a guy in his birthday suit running along, shouting ‘Eureka’ in gay abandon.

Visualize this scenario in 1666 AD. Newton has once again retired from Cambridge. In a contemplative mood, he is taking a leisurely stroll at Lincolnshire, in an apple orchard ostensibly owned by his mother. He has just been enjoying some tea which has had a remarkably invigorating effect on his grey matter. He sees an apple falling to the earth and starts wondering why it always has to fall down, an observation which lesser mortals like you and I would have merely shrugged off and resumed our walk. He gets down to doing some calculations and ends up giving to the inhabitants of Earth a great theory on forces of gravitation. Goes on to show what a relaxing cup of tea sipped in quiet repose in an apple orchard can accomplish.

Einstein, who left us as late as 1955 AD, was much impressed by the violin sonatas of Mozart and used to play chamber music. An inspiration for all those who suffer from absent-minded professor-itis, he pushed the frontiers of knowledge to mind-boggling levels at that point in time. History does not record a particular ‘Aha!’ moment when the theory of relativity got discovered, but the connection between the paradigm shift in our understanding of the universe and his love for music and the soothing effect it has on one’s grey matter can be readily understood. There is no doubt that the great man did not find the environment of the Swiss Patent Office conducive enough for innovative thinking.

Contemplative Downtime   

A common thread running through all these events is the presence of a unique ‘Aha!’ moment of illuminating thought, undoubtedly facilitated by a phase of idleness. Some scientists in California now say that even lesser mortals can benefit from a spot of daydreaming. This goes on to prove – if proof was ever needed – that sitting idle is not wasteful, as many whip-cracking CEOs would have us believe. A vast majority of managers, workers and students would heartily attest to the fact that difficult assignments are handled much better if only preceded by a spot of contemplative downtime. This way, they are likely to envision a more productive approach to the issue at hand, resulting into substantial savings for the organization they serve. As Tom Hodgkinson says, ‘The art of living is the art of bringing dreams and reality together’.

Globally, managements need to seriously look at the utility of mental downtime when the thinking faculties are allowed to wander freely. Rather than mistaking hectic physical activity for real efficiency and effectiveness on the job, most bosses heading a team of innovators and developers typically create a work culture which facilitates a contemplative mood. They also perfect the art of refraining from micromanaging. Nor do they abdicate. They lead simply by inspiring and standing up for their team members, whenever necessary. The result is an exponential jump in the much-coveted ‘Aha!’ moment for their team members.

Does A Rigid Hierarchy Stifle Innovation?

It has been shown that under favorable circumstances, problem solving abilities tend to improve by as much as 40%! If such moves are introduced, and further backed by tea/coffee breaks, the results could be even better. High time some ad honchos took up this clue and designed some clever TV spots for companies marketing these beverages!

In India, where the propensity to innovate appears to have diminished substantially compared to what it used to be in the Aryabhatta days, this proposition deserves far more serious thought. Perhaps our national laboratories, centers of excellence and R&D institutions need to work more days, but provide for additional tea/coffee breaks and exciting vacation binges. Going in for flatter organizations devoid of strict hierarchy could also lead to better quality of informal interactions, thereby increasing the productivity and rate of innovation. The Peter Principle is proof that organizations which put a higher premium on seniority are more likely to have a dismal record in the realm of innovation.

The Power of Daydreaming

Scientists may now claim to have discovered that the rejuvenating powers of officially sanctioned breaks are reduced if people skip off-times and use these to perform other equally demanding tasks. But the power of dynamic daydreaming was never in doubt. Our grand-parents have always held that ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy’!

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