Ways We Innovate: Wander Aimlessly

Do You Wonder, as You Wander?

It’s been proven that rigor and process kill innovation. In one study, they took two groups of college students and gave them a problem. But before they had a chance to solve the problem, they made one group walk in straight lines, up and down the room, back and forth, straight lines. Then they told them to solve the problem. The second group was told to wander aimlessly around the room, but specifically not go straight, go in curves, or whatever shapes they’d like. They were then told to sit down and solve the problem. Can you guess which group came up with the more creative solution?

There is a clear difference between creativity and productivity. When you are looking for productivity, you need laser-like focus and straight lines. When you are looking for creativity, you need your mind and your physical body to wander around, both mentally and physically. Wandering around aimlessly triggers completely new thinking – you could make a serendipitous juxtaposition by walking around a corner you’ve never walked around before, seeing some new view or angle, some stray thoughts and ideas could just flash into your head, jump into the idea blender, and you could come up with something completely new and different.

Lately, there has been a lot of talk on mindfulness, and living in the current moment. That we are always thinking about the future and the next thing, instead of fully realizing everything about where and when we are in the current moment. The strictest practitioners will basically tell you that you should stop thinking about anything other than the exact thing that you are doing right now, whether its washing the dishes, having a coffee or doing a presentation. While I completely understand where the practice is trying to go, I don’t think that pure mindfulness, in a vein of completely emptying your mind of every but that exact thing you are doing, will help you innovate.

What I do agree with, however, is opening your mind to new things. One of the tenets of mindfulness is the extreme opening of the mind to new thoughts, new ideas and new things that can simply pop into your head.

The human mind is an amazing thing. I often stop and look around at our world and marvel at everything that humanity has invented. Try this the next time, for a moment, when you are at a stop light in your car. Look around you and really notice everything around you that humans have created. The car, the traffic light, all of the cars around you, the stores, the clothes that people are wearing, everything not natural, so to speak. Think of all of the things that human beings have invented – many of these inventions didn’t exist a hundred years ago. Now glance over at your smartphone. Everyone has one right? Instant interconnectivity to every other human being on the planet who owns one of those, and the vast stores of human knowledge, just a tap or a Siri query away. As little as 10 years ago, those didn’t even exist. The human mind invented that.

Everything we have today which can be considered innovation, breakthrough and disruptive has an element of randomness within it. Someone put two or more things together which had never been put together before, and likely came across those things as they were wandering aimlessly.

Wander more, and you can take advantage of this as well.