A loafing CEO is more creative!

Ask ten CEOs what issues they encounter in their daily lives and nine will give the same answer: an overly busy schedule. Earlier this year, the Business Leaders survey showed that CEOs feel like they have not enough time to look outward and have insufficient opportunities to handle the vision and strategic issues. Most of their attention is paid to the operational management of the organisation and troubleshooting. CEOs are more occupied with the daily state of affairs than with the future and they would like to change this. The CEOs who do engage with the future do something interesting: they make time for it. Some of them go beyond that: they make time to be alone in a variety of ways:

  • ‘I try to take a walk every morning with my phone in flight mode. I leave it turned on to write down any insights I gain during my walk.’
  • ‘Prior to an important business decision, I create a moment to get in tune with myself. This may simply be parking my car on a parking lot for fifteen minutes and engaging the silence within myself.’
  • ‘I regularly take half a day out of my calendar on which I disconnect. After a short meditation, I spend the rest of the day thinking about a topic I want the organisation to work on.’
  • ‘Each year, I go to a hotel for a week, alone, to look back on the past year and look forward to the coming year.’

I also have a certain ‘being alone’-discipline myself. Each year, I spend one week in the mountains and I go offline at least one day a month and not speak to anyone. I often go for a walk without any company on this day. It is bizarre how many insights and ideas may come up at this moment. Last time I was walking in the woods, I prematurely aborted the walk. I forgot pen and paper and the number of professional and personal insights was so great after an hour, that I was afraid I wouldn’t remember them all if would go on.

When I take a close look at what is happening at these moments, I notice that the solution often does not come from my mind. If often feels like the solution suddenly comes up, falls in my lap. Like the answer was already within me. Most people have experienced a moment of insight in the shower. This ‘shower-insight’ often arises when you unconsciously try to solve a problem without thinking about it. You may choose to generate an abundance of insights by simply creating a ritual during your day or week in which you are truly present. In this state, your stream of thought is turned down a notch and room for intuition and creative intelligence is created. This can also be seen on MRI scans of the brain. The prefrontal cortex, which is used for analyses and calculations, is most active when thinking consciously. The prefrontal cortex is idle when you are completely relaxed. During this relaxation, the brain will enter a mode in which thoughts may arise without immediately being checked, assessed or censored. This is how meditation works: the inner chatter in the prefrontal cortex fades into the background and the resulting mental silence provides space for new energy and creative ideas.

When you argue, you don’t have time to find this silence, you are arguing a ‘chicken-egg story’. If you take the time to engage with the future and get a better sense of what needs to happen, you take better decisions. These better decisions result in less time spent on solving problems and provide more time to work on the future.

If you think being alone is unpleasant, I can tell you the following. Before I go offline for 24 hours with the knowledge that I won’t speak to anyone, I need to cross a threshold, but it is often one of the most pleasant days of the year. And getting back to people afterwards is extra fun!

The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone-that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born. – Nikolas Tesla

Written by:  Joel aan ’t Goor