The Idea: On a recent episode of the always thought provoking podcast, “Hidden Brain,” productivity expert and researcher Cal Newport explained that the biggest similarity of great creative minds – Twain, Einstein, and even Tolkien – is their habit of finding reclusive work environments. Like them, Newport spends a significant part of his workday in “deep work,” a phrase that describes the golden hour of mental productivity when attention is uninterrupted and hyper focused on the task at hand and immediately dismissed when work is done. As Newport puts it, “If your brain is how you make a living, then you have to worry about cognitive fitness – are you taking care to get good performance out of your brain or not?”
Ten years ago, I sat on a deserted beach overlooking Lake Michigan and scripted on a pad of paper the heart of what would become Mack Elevation. The idea of bringing together leaders to discuss their journeys, challenges, and growth practices was an innovation worth pondering. And it changed the direction of my life. This period of reflection generated a moment of clarity that, almost word for word, remains the same today. There is always power in stopping to reflect.
Our ability to pause and connect new dots is an underutilized, creative engine we keep locked up. It is the heart of innovation and the heart of how art is created. We must allow our unconscious to do what it does best: create!
Why is stopping so darn hard?
Author Jennifer Porter states in an HBR article entitled “Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection” that the most difficult leaders to coach are those who do not self-reflect. They are not tapping into their creative engine. Porter states, “Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.” This is not optional.
But the delusion of certainty is ever-present. Software product expert turned concentration guru, Tristan Harris, says until one realizes the addictive nature of distraction, the game is rigged against everyone. He says, “To be human is to be persuadable at every single moment. The thing about magic, as an example, is that it works on everybody…. It’s not about what someone knows, it’s about how your mind actually works.” Our minds need solitude and momentum to perform, and more than ever before, they’re starved of exactly that.
One study by Di Stefano, Gino, Pisano, and Staats found that a group of employees who spent fifteen minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned performed twenty-three percent better after only ten days. The unfortunate reality is that most of our executives will understand the importance of reflection and simply fail to slow down. A recent study stated that soccer goalies who stay in the center of the goal, instead of diving left or right, have a thirty-three percent chance of stopping a kicked ball. Yet only six percent stay in the middle. We all (like goalies) believe “doing something” is better than stopping and “doing nothing.” But we are sadly mistaken.
What’s stopping you from reflecting? Can you get out of your head?
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will
come even more effective action.” Peter Drucker