Is thinking a desk job?

Over at Conversation Agent, Valeria Maltoni asks :Where do you do your best thinking?” For me, it depends on the problem. And what I think and even how I think about something is directed by that. Here are my seven favourite approaches:

1. Sometimes it’s sitting somewhere quietly with a pencil and paper and just writing thought sequences down until something clicks. Usually that’s about rethinking the associations. Scrabble means charades with a touch of Pixar over a business model.

2. I read avidly for the same reason. It’s all about finding different lines of logic. Disrupting. That’s really good for new products or ideas where there is no precedent or if you need to put daylight between what normally happens and what will need to happen for the brand you’re working on. Read about a completely different situation, and then apply what you got from it. To find out more about this, read The Medici Effect.

3. Other times it’s a walk – to get sensory inputs such as eye contact, noises, colour, vistas. Good for getting into the emotions of a situation or problem. Take your phone, sing to yourself, absorb. Good for quiet days.

4. Finding a picture of the situation works the same way. It can crystallise the situation and quite literally frame the argument. It’s not unusual for me to spend hours trolling National Geographics in search of an image that epitomises a situation or a relationship for me. I recognise that this doesn’t always look entirely productive to other people. Visual people get it. Others struggle.

5. Actually going to a place, sitting with a coffee and watching what people do in the real-life situation can be amazingly insightful. It almost always challenges your preconceptions because people don’t behave as you’d expect, and even knowing that, you can still be taken by surprise. A cross between playing detective, amateur psychology and thinking of a problem like a documentary. Very good when you need to change a habit.

6. Sometimes it’s good to talk – but not always about the problem itself. I have conversations with Gren, Alex and others that seem to cover everything but the issue. They work. I always walk away feeling everything has snapped shut. Everyone else seems to walk away in a state of bewilderment tinged with amusement. Synapsial. Good for lateral answers. Requires humour. May look like time-wasting to others. I think of it as the water-cooler comes to the meeting room.

7. If it’s a seriously knotty issue, it’s time for a bath – a habit I happen to share with one of my favourite authors, the late Douglas Adams. In a book about the making of the original radio scripts for Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, there’s a lovely story about Adams’ love of Chinese takeaways and baths, and his tendency to consume more and more of both, the closer he got to deadline. As a result, the more pressing the timeframe became, the cleaner and more replete the writer. May or may not work for you.

Out-take: Work doesn’t always have to look like work in order to work.

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