Most of my good ideas come to me during my morning shower. TMI? There are other times and places, too: in the car, driving into work (mostly spaced out); in the garden, pulling weeds; on hiking trails, and in situations where I'm waiting in a line or a lobby. The pattern here is that I'm alone, zoned out (or relatively undistracted...don't worry, I am paying attention to the road when I'm driving), and I'm not intentionallytrying to think of good ideas. They just pop into existence.
Recently, I read about this phenomenon in a book (can't remember which, because I was obviously zoned out to the unnecessary details)...the author called it, "idea liberation." A noble title for such an involuntary and rather quiet event. The premise is that when our brains are free to roam during mindless and routine tasks, the ideas (or solutions) our subconsciousnesses have been toiling over are able to shake free, bubble up to the surface, and be noticed.
I'm pretty sure we have all experienced it, from conversations I've had with coworkers and friends...not to mention my firsthand experience of being witness to somebody else's shower wisdom. Sometimes in meetings, I'll hear someone say excitedly, "I had the best idea in the shower this morning!" or, "The answer came to me when I was riding my bike." And then that person lays down a pretty strong, if not earth shattering, thought on the table that makes the rest of us in the meeting gape in awe of his or her brilliance, wondering, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Is it that we're not taking enough showers, doing enough gardening, hiking, or waiting? YES! Once I realized that there was a name for "idea liberation" (which I'd formerly only been able to describe conceptually as, "that thing that happens when you're not thinking about anything") it became more real, a more concrete process of thinking which can be attended or even controlled. The trick is simply to take time out to zone out...purposely put yourself in situations where you know idea liberation happens, and then turn your brain off.
Intentionally zoning out may be another, more layman's way to say (or do), "meditation". I've never been able to meditate; when trying to think about nothing (as one does in meditation), my brain focuses on that goal in ways that crowd my mind more than when not trying. But participating in more active, mindless activities like raking leaves or pruning trees, cutting vegetables, and yes, showering, my mind is able to go someplace else...as if on a little day trip, and return with a bag of souvenirs from the journey: big ideas, answers to problems I previously couldn't solve, and creative inspirations I can use to fuel my design work.
Understanding this about myself, I make conscious efforts to go into the "idea liberation state" when I'm feeling blocked or stuck. And when doing activities that liberate ideas even when I'm not blocked, I pay more attention to where my mind went when I return back to the real world. I write that stuff down. This blog post is an example of something I wrote in my head on my drive to work this morning. Now, I'm writing it down.
My next focus: how to make my work environment support this activity? The one thing that will never liberate ideas is washing dirty dishes, which we have plenty of in the office kitchen. I think I'll go for a walk...