By  •  Updated: 12/30/23 •  3 min read

When I worked in big marketing agencies early in my career, I never understood why they were so obsessed with presenteeism in a business that thrives on creative ideas.

We understand the creative process. It’s no secret, and being nailed to your desk for 10 hours each day isn’t it.

Here’s how it works…

Get obsessed about a subject. Go down every rabbit hole, read every obscure document you can find, talk to as many people with that problem as you can.

Then down tools and get out of the office.

Do exactly the opposite of whatever you were doing in the research phase. If it’s lightly physical but not draining or stressful, all the better. (That’s why there are pool tables in a lot of creative spaces.)

Walking and cycling seem to be the two favourites amongst people who had big breakthroughs.

“The most creative ideas aren’t going to come while sitting in front of your monitor.” – Steve Jobs

“I thought of that while riding my bicycle.” – Albert Einstein (who also took long walks round the Princeton campus every day he was there.)

“I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out.” – Ernest Hemingway

I spent Christmas at my parents’ place in the countryside, taking plenty of time to walk the dog around the hills and fields.

As soon as I got back I started working on a few of the ideas, but they were too mixed up , so I fixed them with a 2 hour walk round a river loop near my house.

Taking the dog for a walk for 2 hours would be frowned on in almost every business I’ve ever worked for.

But if that’s what it takes to come up with the best, most refined, most contagious ideas, shouldn’t we fight for this and educate the men with spreadsheets?

If they need more scientific proof that this is where great ideas come from, we already have it.

This book on the Neuroscience of Genius talks about what happens when you run brain scans on people at rest.

What you see isn’t inactivity. You see red hot areas of thought. You see connections being made in areas of the brain, called “associative cortices”. This is where the random learning experiences of the day get wired together, trying to make sense of all the information.

It’s where creative flashes occur when you make a link between two subjects that nobody has noticed before. Like Isaac Newton noticing the link between apples and gravity. No coincidence that he was sat under a tree daydreaming when it happened.

You can’t make use of this if you’re constantly bombarding your brain with new inputs every minute of the day.

To have great ideas, you need to let them settle and grow together like a badly pruned garden.

As we approach New Year, instead of taking on new tasks that you know you don’t really have time for, how about you create this space by resolving to stare at a wall and be bored for a few minutes each day?

Stephen Pratley

I build email lists, that grow into one-man businesses.