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Big Ideas and The Wandering Mind


We often ask ourselves if there is an actual end to our possibilities, when it comes to differentiation in today’s competitive markets. In the past few years, we can say that a lot of organizations reached performance, whether we refer to technological strides,  new designs or supply chain optimization.

I am sure that we can all acknowledge how this mechanism has been working and who is actually paying the price when we purchase a 1-dollar radio device. It is certainly not a very satisfying outcome from a moral perspective, but let’s say we all understand the issue, and we want to make a change that would mean altering the way we used to perceive performance. What I tried to accomplish in this short introduction was simply to encourage you to identify a need, in this case the need for change.

If we go back to the place where everything started, I think we can agree on the fact that our economy actually formed on the concept of needs, which only later turned into cravings. We needed the economy to evolve and what powered our success were ideas, not money or social status, but ideas. And what is the source of ideas? It might be your creative mind.

As time passes, we go through a tremendous amount of ideas, some of which we put in practice, but you might have noticed that it becomes increasingly more difficult to express an authentic concept, one that did not already travel on someone else’s train of thought. Unique ideas are rare, most of us rehash what we already know.

In this context, it seems like the best bet we could make is on creativity. The downside is that this particular process is not a simple equation. We often mistake it for a trait that we either possess or not, but in fact it should be considered an outcome that we can all achieve.

You may have heard about the “Aha!” moment, the “Eureka” effect, the big ideas that we all expect at some point. All these sparks of creativity are wonderful outcomes, but outcomes of what?

Psychologist Eric Kandel has an interesting approach. He was the one to identify an interesting connection between the wonderful creativity flashes experienced by Isaac Newton, Archimedes or Albert Einstein. What they all had in common was that they experienced these flashes of inspiration while doing other things, cruising in a relaxed state, not working.

As Kandel explains, relaxation is

characterized by ready access to unconscious mental processes; in that sense it is somewhat analogous to dreaming.

At first glance, it seems simple. But how can we apply this in today’s business context, given that most employees would never use the word “relaxing” to describe their workplace and perhaps that should not necessarily even be the case.

I assume every organization wishes to reach higher levels employee performance; this way, they have more chances to discover those big ideas that drive development and by allocating more focus to this topic, companies experienced much better results when they started actually paying attention to what their employees needed, such as fair pay, benefits or job security. These were just a few of the proposed adjustments.

You may already be thinking that there is a significant number of companies that monitor the stress levels of their employees and try to reduce them. Stress is the opposite of relaxation, relaxation equals creativity and creativity will give you big ideas. Pretty simple.

Now, if I were to give my 2 cents on this, I would think things through differently.

Would it be productive for your employees to be in a relaxed state at work, “incubate” ideas or would you need them to be focused, “in a preparation state”? Do you solely need creative outcomes, or do you need someone that can make it happen?


We already agreed that you only need a spark to light up an idea. That does not take time, but it takes context and what could be more important for you as an employer than how your employees perceive you.

When our minds wander, our trains of thought do not have a clear itinerary, they are unpredictable.  At a subconscious level, past our rational reasoning that concerns itself with elements like considering fair pay, learning opportunities or even a higher position, lies something far more important – human nature.

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, was the one to explain that we as humans, place belonging needs like affiliation or acceptance before esteem needs like the feeling of accomplishment or status and reputation. Now, this slight difference marks the line that usually puts the work environment in a box.

However, what I am trying to say is that employers could have the opportunity to access a wandering mind, outside work and it might be the case that this has already happened. It is not a question of whether it is actually developing, but a question of whether your employee wants to share it with you. This is a place where loyalty comes from and is one of the reasons why creators are not that easily persuaded to relinquish their ideas. They need validation, trust and loyalty, otherwise they might sail solo.

Going back now, we talked about creativity and identified relaxation as a key driver. Then we explained that big ideas need context and are not limited by time. However, the wandering mind is involuntarily selective, and making efforts to change that might not be your best choice as an employer.

The best way to look at this is by answering these simple questions:

  • Are your employees able to think about you in a positive manner?
  • What feelings do they associate with you?
  • Is there a mutually beneficial work relationship between you and your employees?

Building together a collaboration based on positive human interaction, trust, support and loyalty might be the answer that can give you a spark of creativity and ensure higher levels of performance at work.

Image sources:

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