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Intellectual Ergonomics: “Thought Breaks”

According to comedian John Cleese, the only way to be truly creative is to have “boundaries of space, and boundaries of time.” He argues that in a frenetic, multi-tasking world, innovation can only take place in an environment where the unconscious is allowed to explore thoughts without fear of interruptions. This downtime has helped him to create internationally renown comedy sketches and movies. The recent proliferation of companies selling innovation management software gives rise to the question: should ‘thought breaks’ become a mandatory part of employment, like lunch hour?

Quality, after all, has always trumped quantity in the realm of intellectual thought. The current business environment, which is dominated by speed and a fierce competitive atmosphere, rewards those individuals who are able not only to think on their feet, but simultaneously answer a slew of emails and while managing multiple projects in different stages. The downside to this constant deluge is that in most cases, a person’s thinking capability is completely drained by the end of the day. While the brain benefits from rigorous exercise, it also appreciates periodic breaks, where it can recharge and make unique connections.

Innovation, which as we have posited in this blog is the ability to make the best use of the situation and materials at hand, is something which must be nurtured, not simply produced. Fast thinkers and deep thinkers are two separate breeds. While fast thinkers are able to solve basic problems quickly, their expertise falters when the problem requires a solution that bridges paradigms or areas of expertise, such as the reinvention of an entire industry. Deep thinkers mull over problems and see unusual solutions, primarily because they are able to make linkages that fast thinkers ignore because they seem irrelevant.

For businesses, part of surviving and adapting to the new economy is appreciating not only the innovative potential of their workforce, but the need to redesign business practices to actively foster more creativity within the company. As Cleese says, creating an “oasis” of time wherein an individual has nothing else to do but think may become a kind of ergonomics for the mind.

Christopher Smith, CEO of opin.ca, provider of enterprise content management systems

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Andrew Krzmarzick

I really like this post, Chris. Thanks for making that distinction between fast thinkers and deep thinkers. You really do need them both and I think we get going a little fast and fail to appreciate the deep thinkers who take a little more time to come to their valuable insights.

Kathleen Smith

Yes good post. It is interesting than we all seem to be more focused on doing, and doing more faster rather than taking time to think.