Finding a space to think

Submitted by on the 28th of July 2016

About four months ago, I got an idea in my head to do the Knysna Forest Half Marathon. I’m not even sure it was a good idea, testament to the sexy elasticated strapping on my calf muscle due to a muscle tear, but it was an idea nevertheless. But more pointedly, it was one of the rare times that I had an ‘aha’ moment while at work.

Now before you roll your eyes at the old adage of “great ideas don’t keep office hours”, humour me for a paragraph or two.

I fundamentally believe that ideas need space to form outside of their expected environments. And that means that you need to be diligent in creating that space. For me, that’s running.

Research conducted at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands found that people who exercise regularly are better at problem solving tasks after a short workout. The research used two groups – those who exercised at least three times per week, and those who didn’t at all.

Half of the group did two types of mental exercises while resting, while the other half did the same tasks while riding an exercise bike. The aim was to measure two key areas of creative thinking; divergent thinking (creating many ideas when more than one solution is right, typically in brainstorms) and convergent thinking (one solution to a single problem). It found that those who were regular exercisers performed better at convergent thinking while exercising than at rest.

Making a career out of something you love is one thing. Allowing it to be all-encompassing is another. Early in my career I would find that weekends were spent chatting about work, with no respite for the brain to explore other areas of growth. It’s probably why I have very few close friends in the creative areas of advertising.

Sure, you could justify that writing, painting or photography do offer alternative hobbies, but they’re still inextricably linked to the creative space.

Your mind needs a break. A complete separation from what you spend 50 hours a week doing in your career.

Whether it’s taekwondo, walking your dogs or playing in the garden with your kids, find that space.

You owe it to yourself, your mind and your career.