Hacking time management: part two

Feb 29th, 2016 | By FCT

Why asking “what if” is the most valuable use of your time

We’re told that real estate is always going be more valuable eventually because there’s only so much of it.

We’re told that time is the one thing we never get back.

But imagination, the soul of creativity: now there’s a limited but renewable resource. This is especially true in human organizations, which all too easily forget that which made them successful—the exercise of our capacity to see what doesn’t yet exist.

Time management methods almost never take this into account; as individuals, we often lose sight of the fact that we don’t actually decide to do something before you imagine what that thing is. We imagine the outcome first.

We think our imagination is somehow a waste of time.

From a business standpoint, this is epically, monumentally wrong-headed.

Businesspeople are all too frequently scared stiff of imagination. How many bosses have each of us had who believed that imagination belongs to children and “artsies,”  and who were bound to the received ideas of the people around them and therefore never did an original thing in their working lives?

The point is, you can’t outsource imagination. You can’t hire imagination or order imagination into existence. People get used to “the way things are done” and lock themselves into habits of learned helplessness. They resist change, simply because change represents something different from what they know.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how businesses die. So, in the name of time management that actually leads to innovation—the useful new—here’s a shortlist of the key elements of the art of “what if” drawn from a lecture the artistic director of Lincoln Center Institute, Scott Noppe-Brandon, gave in 2010. LCI annually works with over 400,000 students and educators, for-profit and non-profit managers and administrators alike, using the arts as a springboard for critical thinking.

  1. Notice deeply: This is the childlike ability to identify the layers surrounding around a problem through continuous interaction and study with that problem—as if time didn’t matter.
  2. Think inside the box. Yes: limitations naturally inspire creatively—in fact, great design is about less, about delimiting what’s possible…but with an open mind.
  3. Live with ambiguity. Not every problem has a single, clear-cut solution; issues have more than one interpretation.
  4. Share meaning. This one’s enormously powerful: it’s the soul of collaboration. Discover something and then share it, even (especially) if the idea seems odd or “hasn’t been done before.”
  5. Give yourself permission to fail fast. No one ever gets it right, first time, all the time. The best outcomes often come from fast failures, junking failed ideas quickly, rather than hanging on to early ideas, simply because they occurred to you.
  6. Leave a gap. Deliberately leave an idea or concept unfinished and see what bubbles up in the space “in between” what’s already there.

Most of the change we need to improve our businesses and our lives stems from new connections, making new connections between previously unrelated ideas.

No, we won’t always accomplish wonders with what we imagine: there are simply too many ideas that can’t be implemented once we dream them. But one thing’s certain: we will never accomplish what we refuse to imagine.

Make the time to ask “what if?”—it’s about the healthiest thing you can do with your time. It’s how JK Rowling conceived the Harry Potter books. It’s how Edison nailed the light bulb and Larry Page first imagined Google’s search.

This thing works: give it time.

What methods do you employ in your business today to make time for idea generation and critical thinking?

For more on how to devote more of your time to real productivity, read Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility.

Categories: EXPERT/ease
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