I can honestly say half of all ideas that come to me, come outside of my office. My office is where I do research; it’s a place where I keep piles of scribblings, it’s a place where two or three of us can cram into, shut out every distraction and cover the walls with ideas and certainly the chance of something good happening in this environment is pretty good. (Just last week three colleagues and I had an idea to do a takeover of “The Price Is Right.” Whenever the word “Plinko” comes up during the workday, you know you’re in a good place.) But the other 50% of the time, you have to let the ideas come to you. Your only requirement is to open yourself up to possibility of this happening. Your daily commute is a powerful place to receive ideas. Instead of keeping your head down and avoiding all eye contact, I love scanning a crowded subway car until I find the one person who looks like they could be the target audience for whatever project I’m working on. I look at their clothes, what shopping bags they may be carrying, the shoes they’re wearing, what they’re reading or not reading, and I just think: that’s my target. See if any ideas come to you that would simply connect with that person. Similarly, early in my career, when I was a little further uptown, I discovered favorite spots in Central Park, at MoMA, or over by the UN where I could head for an almost daily walk, bring a pad, watch people pass by, and just talk with my art director or scribble alone. I found the benches by Wolman Rink and the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to be particularly fertile places for creative. Bathrooms are legendary Idea Generation Units. There is something about a bathroom, because your mind is in such another place, I imagine, that ideas come by the dozens. How many times have you heard someone say: “I was in the shower this morning, and this hit me…”
The same is true with running. I don’t know the connection between running and ideas but I’m guessing it’s the absolute separation from all that connects us and demands our attention. (Assuming you’re running without your smart phone, that is.) The utter get away-from-it-allness of a morning jog allows you to do what’s so hard during the day: to tune out. There’s the cadence of running, of getting into a rhythm, the sound of feet on pavement. It’s the way the same things look slightly different, the cars you avoid, the way the NYC skyline looks from the other side of the Hudson, the other joggers plodding along. You inhale deeply, your mind wanders. You think about one mile down, two to go. You think about how soon it’ll be dark again in the morning, you think about how your feet feel, you think about your pace, you think about nothing. Step after step, going someplace but going no place at the same time. No emails, no distractions, just fresh air and a chance to collect your thoughts before the craziness starts. It’s all pretty peaceful.
I used to be an avid cyclist, but I never had peacefulness on a bike; moving at 20-25mph in heavy NJ traffic, I found myself more concerned with not getting hit by a car. And while I’ve never belonged to a gym, I’ve been in enough to know that with all the machine displays and mounted TVs and the social aspect, you’re not really away. Nope, for me, it’s running. In all my slow, plodding, awful form, a couple miles a day, a few times a week, running is that one thing that kick starts your mind and something that will help you have more ideas, perhaps as soon as your morning shower or your commute to the office.
I love when I hear a colleague say, “Here’s something that hit me on my way into the office…” Whatever it is, chances are it’ll be good. And by running more, you’ll end up saying this more.
Photo credit: Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn