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Clearview® Performance Systems brings you ... ® ... a Culture of Results & Engagement®

Here's the next in our series of weekly managerial TIPS (Techniques, Insights, and Practical Solutions)
to help you better engage your team in the activities that lead to higher performance.

CORE Bites Issue #82
(July 7, 2020)

Don't Quit Your Day-Dream!

I used to get in so much trouble for not paying attention in school. I still remember Mrs. McNally, my 4th grade teacher, sending home a report card that stated, "If Neil would spend as much time on his studies as he does daydreaming he might actually improve his grades." [Note: To this day I'm certain she used "might" because she wasn't even sure herself.]

For many, especially in growth and/or highly-collaborative business environments, daydreaming is seen as frivolous and a waste of time. This negative viewpoint is largely due to the fact that daydreaming symbolizes inactivity when what is emphasized (and prized) is productivity and performance. When there's constant pressure to do more, to achieve more, to produce more, it's hard for managers to accept idle time from members of their teams ... or from themselves. While daydreaming may be encouraged within childhood, we adults are supposed to be above such nonsensical interludes of inefficiency.

In the spirit of full-disclosure, it's confession time ... I was once the type of manager who had little patience for 'non-doing' activities—my thought (at the time) was if it didn't look like work, well, it probably wasn't. But that all changed a decade ago...

Part of the initial curricula for my PhD studies included course work on Default Mode Network (DMN) which is the relatively-new study of connected brain areas that show increased activity when a person is not focused on the outside world. Using brain scanning technology, researchers found that when people engage in introspective activities such as daydreaming—while awake but not engaged in any demanding mental task—that creativity and problem-solving capabilities increased. And not by just a little; no, critical and creative thinking capability increased a lot!

My take on this is somewhat metaphorical ... while daydreaming, your thoughts are bouncing all over the place trying on any solution or scenario that piques your interest in the moment; opening up multiple, unconnected 'file-drawers' accessing stored (and often forgotten) knowledge, memories, and experiences—that all agglutinate to spawn/trigger ideas and associations. How many times have you focused on a tough problem—sometimes for hours—only to take a break and go for a walk or a run (for me it's hopping on my elliptical trainer), taking a shower, or doing some gardening, anything where you can unfocus, only to have that 'eureka moment' when the solution flashes into the forefront of your mind from nowhere? And many times this happens when you didn't even know you were thinking about the problem, true? If you're like most people this is a pretty frequent occurrence.

It probably won't surprise you, then, to hear that many brilliant individuals—from Einstein to Marie Curie to Stephen Hawking, among dozens of others—all credit their daydreaming/imagination as the source of their creativity and genius. In fact, it was Albert Einstein who once famously said that imagination was more important than intelligence itself. Some of the world's greatest inventions, most beautiful creations, and most influential thoughts and musings have stemmed from intentionally pursuing what turns out to be an evolutionarily fine-tuned cerebral process—daydreaming.

High Value Activity (HVA) Action Steps

There's a big difference between poor attention-control, easily-distracted types of daydreaming and positive-constructive daydreaming. The HVAs listed below will focus on the latter and provide you with proven tips to increase your (and your team's) critical and creative thinking capability. This week (starting today), give these ideas a try:

  • Do What's Natural: When do you find your mind wandering? Do certain situations or activities trigger your daydreams? (It may be music, physical activity, abstract art, gardening, an unfamiliar environment, complete silence, or something else unique to you.) What activities (or non-activities) trigger the types of daydreams that really get your heart racing and give you a spike in energy? Do certain daydreams repeat? If so, for how long? [Sage Advice: Take special note of these.]
  • Go Against the Flow: There's a lot of talk these days about mindfulness which emphasizes attentiveness to the here-and-now. Mindfulness has many benefits especially for primary tasks. However, by not allowing our minds to occasionally wander, we will impede creativity. The best advice is to disconnect from the current environment you're in; take a break from the task at hand; and pursue what naturally helps you enter your most productive daydream state (see Do What's Natural above).
  • Focus on Random Stains: Leonardo da Vinci is famous for encouraging his young (and impressionable) students to focus on random stains on walls as a way to simplify the complex interaction of elements. But, today, the gravitational pull of our electronic devices is so strong that we forget to occasionally look up and allow our surroundings to teach or to trigger. Vast numbers of ideas are flying around your subconscious brain just waiting for you to give them clearance to land. Allow yourself an incubation period and a stimulating place/activity in which to let your mind wander to help the creative process.
  • Write it Down!: I now have a whiteboard and a pad of sticky notes adjacent to my elliptical trainer because the number of ideas that fire off during a typical exercise routine is incredible. The writing may not be all that legible as I'm pounding away, but I at least capture the concept. Daydreaming—done well—will result in similar idea generation. But the activity will be fruitless if you don't capture what pops into your head. Legendary singer and songwriter Neil Young is known for stopping whatever he's doing to write down ideas. In a recent interview, he commented that ideas are "gifts" that provide no benefit if you don't pay attention and write them down.
  • Don't Argue the Neuroscience: The best advice for daydreaming comes from the people who are performing the neuroscience research. 1) Don't try too hard—forcing yourself to come up with new ideas rarely works. 2) Clear your mind for enhanced daydreaming by removing the clutter—keep a list of things to do on paper (or on your computer), rather than in your head. 3) Let go of the need to be constantly busy—it's the reflective time that may prove to be more productive in the long run. 4) Let your mind wander and follow it.

I'd love to hear how these HVAs work for you!

Neil Dempster, PhD, MBA
RESULTant™ and Behavioral Engineer

Quote of the Week

"Everything starts as somebody's daydream."

— Larry Niven —