In How to Produce Ideas, I emphasized the importance of gathering as much information as possible from a wide variety of sources. On that point, the current chaotic situation in the world suddenly makes it easier, since we have less social interactions and more time to concentrate on private activities such as reading books, learning something new, and deep-diving into essential things in your life. For me personally, this is definitely a positive side of the crisis, and I'm taking full advantage of the quiet period by proactively spending my time on ideation both for private and work.
However, I just realized that, once we got a lot of valuable inputs from both online and offline sources, the next step "Staying away from the problem, like fermentation" would be far more challenging and important to solidify the thoughts for the following reasons.
Too much concentration makes me narrow-minded
First of all, if we really focus on a single topic that motivates you a lot, we won't have a chance to temporarily stay away from the problem and can easily lose an objective view as a consequence of over-concentration.
To give an example, we see many cases that ordinary people criticize a designer's work, and I can easily imagine the designer's over-concentration is one reason for the gap. Theoretically, they must be good at solving the complex real-world problems by design, but, since they are likely to forget incorporating enough third-person point of view during a process of design work in practice, it may end up with the unpleasant result; even if the designers did their best, what people feel "Cool" is not readily explainable and predictable.
Another example is my case — As I transferred my role from Data Science Engineer to Product Manager, I become able to subjectively engage in what Product Manager does in the organization, and hence I now need to be particularly careful not to focus too much on PM's job and responsibility. When I was outside of the Product team, I was easily able to point out problems surrounding the status of company-wide Product Management activities. But, once I joined the team, it is very challenging to get a chance to keep a distance from the responsibility and have objective opinions; I am no longer be an "ordinary person" and be working as a "designer" today, in contrast with the previous example.
Thus, we can easily fall into over-concentration and become less productive when we start ideation in a specific focus area. To overcome the situation, I believe we need to occasionally refresh our minds by staying away from the problems and looking at things objectively.
Difficulty in fermenting my thoughts
Even though we realized how staying away from the problem is important, it's not easy to practice it in our daily life.
For instance, when we have a certain problem to tackle, we can always search on Google or ask somebody on the internet like Slack, Twitter, and WhatsApp. The tools are very useful and efficient, but we should bear in mind that we're losing space for fermenting the problems when we quickly reach out to an answer. It works for simple problems, but it doesn't for ideation, which is usually a more complicated, creative process requiring deeper thoughts.
Today, the situation is more difficult because of the world-wide trend in social distancing. We are spending most of our time in our home because we all are required to avoid public places or crowded destinations. It means that we have less chance to refresh, and instead, we do spend more time on the internet at home.
So, if we have a complex problem to solve, how can we ferment my thoughts and look at things objectively while staying safe? Here are the possible directions I'm practicing these days:
- Make time to disconnect from the internet. Twitter, Slack, Gmail are totally unneeded for all of the 24 hours of your day.
- Wake up early, and walk outside for 30 minutes without headphones. The 30-min habit works pretty well for me to refresh and make my brain clear, and I feel I become mentally and physically healthy when I start my day with a clear mind. Do note that, though, outdoor activities should be minimal to keep social distancing, of course; that's one reason for me to choose early morning time, and I recently became a more aggressive early-morning person than I used to do.
- Watch movies and read novels. These are the things that are completely irrelevant from my focus area.
The terrible situation is very hard, but, at the same time, it becomes a great opportunity for me to recognize the "real" challenge of producing ideas and the importance & difficulty of staying away from our own problems. At the end of the day, once I try to proactively move the problems out of the focus, I immediately understand what are the essential things in my life, and what isn't.
Stay home, get a lot of inputs, do something different, and think deeply at last — That's how I'm positively taking advantage of this challenging moment.
Author: Takuya Kitazawa
Takuya Kitazawa is working on machine learning, data science, and product development at Treasure Data.
Opinions are my own.
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- How I'm Working From Home
- Design Thinking = Capturing the World Like a Designer
- How to Produce Ideas