Friday, May 25, 2012

Dinner Time!

"We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.”
         ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage
This year's ASTD International Conference in Denver was a great event.  I love networking with other people and learning new things.  And you just can't do that very well from your desk.

One of the concepts that really struck me with this conference was the focus on insight and innovation.  I don't know anyone who would say, I can't stand innovation or  Insights are dumb.  But how many of us spend any part of our working day trying to develop those skills? 

Almost no one, including me.  Now that's a real insight!

I concatenated a number of concepts from different talks.  One was a neurologist who was researching what happens in brain activity as someone has an insight, or as they described it an "ah ha moment."  The talk described how when we focus on a task we "turn off" access to other parts of our brains.  We lose the ability to connect to experiences stored deep in our mind.  In contrast, when we dream we have access to the total of our experiences on a subconscious level - that's why we dream odd things from our distant past.  Insights come to us when we are unfocussed.

Another talk described how we are wired for stories.  Storytelling can be so powerful because our brains activate different parts of our brains and experiences as we process.  Stories connect with us logically, emotionally.  Insights come when we connect fragments in a "non-linear" way.

One session that really struck me described the phenomenon of an answer to a problem "coming to us" later, after we've had time to process the question.  Even though we may have stopped consciously processing, our subconscious keeps working.  Often an answer will "bubble up" when we are unfocussed.

So this week I directed my team that for one day each month they are to disconnect from the working world.  No emails or cell phones.  Go for a walk.  Read a book about the industry.  Attend an industry event or talk (or a conference!)  Network.  Listen to Ted Talks.  Do anything to let your mind free up and seed insight and innovation.

Now this isn't a day off or a slacking opportunity.  They are responsible for writing a deliverable that describes what they learned or came up with, and to share that with the group as a whole.  They have to document some new learned piece of knowledge, skill, insight that emerged from their subconscious, or some new idea(s).  It is definitely a productive day.

What are you doing to feed your brain?

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