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14 Jan 2013

Creative Innovation (Pt 14): Time Alone

This entry is part 14 of 18 in the series Creative Innovation

Creative Bulb

Time alone can often be a creative outlet.

Creativity and innovation requires alone time. In her article, “Hire Introverts,” The Atlantic (July/August 2012 edition) Susan Cain cites the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist:

When the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist studied the lives of the most-creative people across a variety of fields, they almost always found visionaries who were introverted enough to spend large chunks of time alone.

The problem is that we often feel that if someone is spending a lot of time alone there is a problem. Moreover, our highly technologically integrated society creates many interruptions that not only disrupt our alone time but also our creativity. Combine these with the prevalent, but incorrect belief, that brainstorming is the key to the creative process, and we often will experience a critical lack of alone time.

While numerous other benefits to being alone exist, some are afraid of it. All of this is to suggest that we are quite schizophrenic when it comes to seeing the value of alone time. This only makes using it for creative purposes emotionally difficult.

Therefore, in the workplace, we need to be respectful and understanding of people’s alone time:

  • Closed doors don’t imply rudeness, unfriendliness or uncaring.
  • People require time to get their work done, including contemplative work associated with innovation and creativity.
  • As managers, we need to give our people the time alone to do the work we’ve delegated.
  • We need to encourage – even schedule – alone time for people prior to moving to the brainstorming aspect of the creative process.
  • Working offsite, away from interruptions, becomes a valid alternative for people.

So, to enhance creativity and innovation in our businesses, our people need alone time. That includes us.


Series Navigation<< Creative Innovation (Pt 13): Overcoming BiasesCreative Innovation (Pt 15): Prototypes as Obstacles >>

5 Responses

  1. Pingback : Creative Innovation (Pt 14): Time Alone –...

  2. This post resonated with me. As one who is self-directed and somewhat of an introvert, I do my best work when left alone. Corporate managers and highly social employees would do well to understand and respect those who need “alone time.”

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Toni. Yes, the problem you mention is real. We live in a culture where sociability is dominant and prized. Moreover, employees like you make it difficult for a manager to feel needed and active. Many times, actively managing employees allows us to satiate our need to feel a sense of control. How can we feel control when an employee functions well (if not best) when we do little or nothing at all? Again, an activist orientation often makes it emotionally difficult to manage autonomous employees. Thank you for visiting, Toni. ~Mike

    1. Mike Lehr

      As I mentioned in my tweet, John, I’m not versed on Sawyer’s work. Solitude and collaboration work to offset the downsides of each. I do know both work better in informal settings and structures as opposed to formal ones (see Creative Innovation (Pt 4): Spontaneity & Frequency http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/?p=3387). The more forced and structured everything is with creativity and innovation the less effective it is. Thank you for all your insights on this, John. I appreciate them.

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