The value of ideas

The capacity to learn and the capacity to generate ideas are linked to our prosperity. If we want to be smarter and more successful, we will want to know more about these processes.

My own view is that to be creative, you need both concentrated periods of activity and concentrated periods of apparent inactivity. It is possible to achieve flow in both situations, and it is one of the enjoyable mysteries of creativity that you never know when a great thought is going to come to fruition.

While I was writing this book, I interviewed a number of business leaders from a range of organizations. I asked them all where they had their best ideas. Not one of them said that they had their best ideas at work. Many of them gathered inspiration from those around them and from their work outside their main job. Each of them, in different ways, talked about moments of flow or relaxation when they were elsewhere. They often described the social processes in nurturing ideas.

Colin Marshall is clear about his creativity:

Good ideas come from many inspirational sources, but usually result from confronting a problem from all angles to find a solution. To capture a good idea the answer is to share it with somebody else whose judgment and integrity you trust. If the idea is really good, he or she will not let you get away with not seeing it through.

Zoe van Zwanenberg of the Scottish Leadership Foundation says:

My best ideas often come out of a conversation. Someone triggers something off. Or it's from watching. I remember observing the Royal Ballet on tour in China. While I was watching their principals go through their daily class with all the junior dancers watching, I suddenly saw how this could be translated into the organizations I knew.

Joyce Taylor told me:

I generally get my best ideas when there is space, at home or on a walk or at night.

For Neil Chambers, director of London's Natural History Museum, it is travel "to get ideas, often sifting through them on journeys and then kicking them around with key colleagues on my return." Sir Bob Reid has his best ideas "after a period of minimal activity or when I am taking part in physical activity." And most of Jayne-Anne Gadhia's best ideas come when she is running or in the shower. Hilary Cropper says:

I have ideas in all kinds of places. I suddenly see an opportunity. But I don't do it on my own. Invariably it involves teams of people. I describe a problem to someone else and this helps me to organize my thoughts.

A different place and a different pace seem to be key elements of effective idea creation. Whatever the method adopted, it is clear that many people's working environment does little to stimulate their creativity. See page 159 for ideas on how you can do this.

As ever, we need to be careful about making generalizations, but it would be safe to say that for many people, finding ways of getting into the alpha state more often, both at work and at home, is beneficial to their creativity.

And in today's climate, as David Meier puts it:

The greatest threat to any organization is not the lack of ability or resources, but the failure of imagination.

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