Sweet Solitude

Most of the work we do – running workshops, as well as facilitating training and problem solving sessions – involves working in groups. That’s because our innovation process calls for collecting an often diverse group of people and perspectives and creating opportunities for them to catalyze and connect with each other to re-frame a problem or generate new ideas to solve it. We try to mix it up; sometimes working in large groups other times in smaller groups of pairs, trios or foursomes. We shift the group members over the course of the program so different minds get to meet and merge.

We know that verbalizing a question can help to clarify it, so we often get people talking to a neighbor or to the others at their small table, to help define what problems they face. We also know that talking to someone else about an insight you’ve had after listening to a provocative presentation can expand the insight, and hearing someone else’s “Aha” can broaden your own understanding. And we find that when a group functions properly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – but they often don’t know that until they talk to each other.

Sometimes, however, the din of workshop chatter can be too much. After three days of “turn and talk” and exchanging ideas and mapping out scenarios together, we’re overloaded and over-stimulated. Our brains are full. We cease to think with clarity or good judgment.

About mid-way through our most intensive programs, when participants eyes are bulging from input and process, we often ask them to take an hour and go off and be alone. We make the suggestion that this hour be used not to catch up on email or to check-in at the home office, but rather to take it as an hour of quiet time, in solitude. An hour without conversation, without internet-checking or web-surfing, without intake, input or stimulus. We suggest to people that they go for a walk or sit someplace quietly and just think. You might call it a thinking-permitted meditation.

When you permit the stream of consciousness of our mind to run its course, unhindered for an extended period of time (an hour can seem endless in this modern age of click-through and the digital noise of the internet), interesting things happen. Unlike meditation, where we attempt to quiet the mind and be thought-free, our quiet time doesn’t try to quiet the thoughts of the mind; it means only to give the thoughts space and time to unravel and sort themselves out, to be clarified and anchored. It is also a chance to breathe a moment and not think, if you choose. Sometimes clearing the mind is the best way to make room for the next level of concentration and synthesized thinking.

Participants usually come back from this time-out refreshed and re-focused. (Some have even said it’s the best part of the workshop.) Then we dig back into our work, sometimes in groups, sometimes not – but always more productive because we’ve had a little solitude to sort things out.

Know further: Some research suggests that meditation might change how your brain functions. Another case for the value of meditation. Other reasons why designated office quiet time is a good idea.