When I was in grad school at the University of Washington in Seattle, I did not own a car. I took the bus to campus and home to my apartment in the Northgate mall area. While I was on the bus, I would read journal articles related to my research project. It was great to have 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to concentrate on science.
Recently, my husband and I took a two-week vacation to Scotland. We used public transit and I spent a lot of time on the train recording our stories in my travel journal. A lot of trains and buses have Wi-Fi and I noticed a lot of people texting or looking at Facebook on their phones. Few people were reading or chatting.
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We spend a lot of time in our lives waiting. Whether we are on the bus or train commuting or we are in a queue at the store, we often face idle time. Most of us today grab our phones and surf the internet or text friends. We fill the waiting time with non-value adding activities.
Now, I’m going to ask you to do an experiment. Close your eyes and think back 10 years. A decade ago, only a few of us had smartphones and there really was not Facebook. What did you do when you were waiting?
Maybe you chatted with the person in line ahead of you and learned the news of your community. Maybe you let your mind wander and you came up with creative ideas. Or maybe you spent that time planning strategic actions for your job or business. Maybe the waiting time just gave you a chance to catch your breath and relax for a few minutes out of a busy day.
Creativity in Waiting
When you have little to occupy your mind and your thoughts wander, creativity sparks. The subconscious mind is constantly working on our problems and challenges, and it is when we relax that those creative ideas can germinate. That’s one reason why people claim to get good ideas in the shower. So far, there is no technology distracting us in the bathroom – yet!
So, I’ll ask you to try another experiment. The next time you are waiting – on a bus or in a queue – resist your phone. Just breathe and observe what’s around you. Watch people and their patterns of behavior. Consider the simple solutions that surround you while you’re waiting: an automatic bus ticket machine, the cash drawer opening and locking, and candy bars stacked near the checkout at the grocery store. Is there a simple, creative solution for your challenge? Can you borrow one of these ideas?
Sometimes we need to concentrate on a specific problem. Waiting time is another opportunity to generate strategic solutions. Sitting at your computer, you’ve got files and emails calling for your attention. But when you’re waiting, you literally have free time with no distractions or interruptions.
While you are next waiting, resist your phone and consider your biggest strategic problem. Now, challenge yourself to come up with three ideas to implement that would solve that problem. While you are waiting, envision exactly how you will execute each plan, who you will need to help you, and what the end result looks like. If you need to research something, plan to do it later. You must resist your phone to brainstorm a strategic plan.
How to Use Waiting Time
All of us have waiting time whether it is during our commute or in queues at stores. Instead of filling the time with quick and easy gossip on Facebook, use your time to find creative and strategic solutions to innovation challenges. Resist your phone and try to generate at least three new ideas and three action plans for implementation. You’ll be surprised with how much you can accomplish in 10 minutes!
Learn About Design Thinking
The techniques of generating three creative ideas and three specific strategic plans are tools from Design Thinking. Design thinking is a creative and collaborative problem-solving approach for identifying customer needs and designing solutions from an empathetic viewpoint. You can apply Design Thinking tools to new product development and innovation and to your own life or business challenges. Sign up here for a free, 60 minute Q&A webinar (21 Oct 2019 at noon CDT) on Life Design. I’ll be sharing more tools from Design Thinking at the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) conference on 6 October in Dallas, TX. Stop by and say “hi”. I’d love to hear how you are generating creative and strategic solutions during your waiting times!
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