When I was a young professional working in the ivory tower of Corporate America, I was amazed how brilliant everyone was. It was the late 1980s and matrix management was in full swing. Everyone had one direct reporting line boss, who had the authority to decide your bonus, but you often had one or more dotted-line reporting relationships, whose opinion could influence your future in the company. Cross-functional communication was important in such an environment; therefore, we had meetings. Lots of them.
Access to the information was carefully controlled and everyone came to the meeting equally prepared. Usually we came to the meeting with a similar pre-conclusion in mind. One might have gone one more step ahead and thought of a couple more horizontal options; however, they were all along a similar line of thought. Thus, the agreement on the next step was a fairly non-controversial gentleman’s affair.
|Every once in a while, there is this person who comes to a completely different conclusion. Most people see one and two, and expect three to be the next one. But occasionally, someone declares that seven could be a possible next step. One, two, seven? What kind of logic will produce such a conclusion, though it is often a brilliant idea that catches everyone’s attention. How can I learn to think like that? Watanabe-san, my mentor at the time said that he was “training” to have inspiration. He looks at the rising sun and meditates in the morning. Wholah! He gets inspiration.|
This got me thinking. I did not think that the rising sun and meditation in the morning would work for me, but surely I can do something to increase the chance of having inspiration. When and how does inspiration emerge? What are the conditions or state of being that is conducive to inspiration? What was I doing just before I had inspiration? Is a search of causation contradictory since inspiration by definition is spontaneous and nothing proceeds inspiration?
|One day, I was in my gym working out as usual. I finished the treadmill and I was working on the upper body exercise machine. After a couple hours of workout, I was exhausted and sitting on the seat of the machine with a towel over my head. I was lost in time, until this inspiration came up. Ah-ha, this is it. You make your physical body so tired so that you are not even aware of what you are thinking, then your mind wonders around and bumps into an idea. That’s inspiration! Non-thinking must be the prerequisite of inspiration; therefore, it is logical to make yourself physically so tired to the point you cannot think. Then it will come.|
|From that day, I went to the gym everyday and practiced this process of working out to exhaustion to induce the state of non-thinking. I was successful in squeezing out an inspiration or two. I thought I was onto something. Then, it was gone. Maybe I got used to it too much. Maybe I was impatient with the process of getting myself tired and I was not tired enough. I started to workout even harder to make myself more tired so that I would reach the state of non-thinking quicker. One day, I worked out so hard that I was sitting on the seat of the machine, again with a towel over my head, patiently waiting for inspiration to come. I don’t even remember how long I was in that position, but then, one of the trainers came and tapped my shoulder. “Endo-san, are you okay? You have not moved in ten minutes.”|
After my non-thinking exercise theory failed, I came upon this thought. Perhaps we are not capable of non-linear thinking. We are only capable of sequential thinking; however, we have the ability to have multiple thinking processes going simultaneously. We think of work, we think of music, we think of snowboarding, we think of family. What if we have multiple thinking paths going at the same time. While individual thought paths are sequential, each one is at a different point of thinking. You thought one-two-three on work, then skip to music thought and think two-three-four-five, and shift to golf for eight-nine, then skip back to work and land on four, but you jumped so far from golf thought to work thought that you forgot you’ve already had one-two-three. Would four then not feel as though it came out of nowhere? What if you intentionally keep the distance between one thought to the other so radically different that the wider you jump, the more inspirational it feels, even though at some point in the past you already had one-two-three.
|Then it dawned on me. Is it not the same as the old saying of “Work hard, Play hard”? If your thoughts are jumping in close proximity, you cannot avoid sequential thinking and therefore all your thoughts are linear and predictable. You need to put your brain through non-related line of thoughts allowing different ideas to seep into each other. The harder you keep the distance apart, the more often you feel like you are getting fresh, non-linear, out of the box, inspirational thoughts.|
The good thing about this multi-thinking and distance jumping idea as a source of inspiration is that it is trainable. You can practice the technique of multi-thinking. You can practice the technique of thought jumping. It is sort of like channel surfing on cable TV, but you are doing that with your thoughts.
Once you become trained with multi-thinking and thought jumping, you will recognize the moment when you catch an inspiration-like idea emerging. Not quite sure where it came from, but the logic of it surely feels familiar that I must have thought about it unconsciously. It is random as anything, yet they line up so beautifully that it has a clear order of sort. I love to catch my inspiration!
Come to Ormsby Hill and catch inspiration in-between your thoughts.
In pursuit of the best inspiration…