Each year the largely Hindu island of Bali in Indonesia celebrates its New Year’s Day with a holiday known as Nyepi, or Silent Day. The idea is that everything on the island shuts down, even ATMs, and everyone is to spend 24 hours inside meditating, fasting and reflecting upon the past year.
And don’t think that just because tourism drives Bali’s economy that visitors will be able to get away with gallivanting around while the locals observe their sacred day at home. Even the beaches are closed during Nyepi and a sort of tradition police known as “pecalang” are on patrol chastising anyone who dares to step outside or make noise.
The Balinese day of silence and inward contemplation is so revered that even glancing at a notification on your mobile device risks causing offense.
This year the authorities on Bali are going to make it easier to avoid those digital distractions by taking almost the entire island offline during Nyepi, which begins this year at 6 a.m. Saturday, March 17 and ends 24 hours later.
During that time, and for the first time ever, all phone companies on Bali have agreed to shut off the mobile internet during Nyepi.
“Let’s rest a day, free from the internet to feel the calm of the mind,” Gusti Ngurah Sudiana, head of the Indonesian Hinduism Society, told the AP. “Many Hindu people are addicted to gadgets… I hope during Nyepi they can be introspective.”
Technically, vital services like hospitals will still have WiFi, as will many hotels. But access to much more than just email may be blocked. And visitors should also be prepared to deal with plenty of side-eye from the locals if you do opt to answer that email you went to Bali to try and escape from in the first place.
The premise behind divergent thinking is this: Those who can seamlessly access the brain’s right temporal lobe are able to generate multiple related ideas for a given topic or problem by exploring many possible solutions.
Plain and simple, divergent thinkers think differently; they have the uncanny ability to come up with free-flowing ideas and problem-solving insights in a short amount of time, as opposed to their convergent-thinking counterparts who solve single problems in a systematic and linear fashion.
A test for divergent thinking
Divergent thinkers literally think “outside the box.” Here’s what I’m getting at. Next time you want to test a job candidate or new hire for divergent thinking skills, use the “nine dots puzzle” test. Popular in the 1970’s and 80’s, this test was used by management consultants to teach counterintuitive problem solving.
CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons
The instructions are simple: Have the person connect all nine dots, without lifting his pencil from the paper, using only four straight lines. Try it for yourself first. Just copy the diagram above onto a piece of paper and give it a try before reading any further.
If you’re the convergent thinker type (which is the majority of us), it seems impossible to pull off. We imagine a boundary around the box that isn’t there. As long as you stay within the boundaries of the box, you can’t do it.
To divergent thinkers, their natural bent is to solve the problem by literally thinking outside the box — by drawing outside the lines, as you see below.
CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons
What this means for your workplace
While a team with high convergent IQ will systematically hammer away at a problem until they find a solution to it (while staying within the boundaries of their problem solving), divergent thinkers don’t look for one right answer; they come up with as many solutions to the problem as possible.
When a whole company’s culture shifts to a growth mindset of exploration, where your creative employees are given freedom to question standard processes, rules, and conventional wisdom, the wellsprings of divergent thinking erupts; it ushers in a new era to challenge assumptions, share knowledge, discuss alternatives, and consider a counter-intuitive way to solve problems.
But while there are plenty of creativity-boosting ideas out there, few are as easy — or as pleasant — as the one a group of Chinese researchers recently uncovered: just brew yourself up a nice cup of tea.
A cup of creativity
To investigate the effects of a nice cup of tea on creativity, the research team recruited 50 students to come into the lab and engage in tasks that demanded creativity, such as building with blocks or coming up with names for a hypothetical ramen shop. Half of these volunteers were first served a cup of tea. The other unlucky half got just a cup of warm water to drink.
So what happened when independent experts rated the efforts of the two groups? No matter the task, those who had enjoyed a relaxing cup of tea were judged to have come up with more creative solutions.
It remains unclear exactly how tea might affect our ability to be innovative. “It’s possible that the effect is simply due to relaxation,” speculates BPS, but given that boiling some water and sticking in a tea bag is dead simple and also pretty tasty, this is definitely one intervention you can safely try even without a full understanding of the mechanism behind its creativity-boosting effects.
Another brew that boosts creativity
Not a tea fan? If the clock approaches 5pm and you don’t have a long drive home in front of you, you could also consider having a beer or two instead. Unlike tea I can’t guarantee a couple of cold ones will never have any negative side effects (lapsang souchong has never caused a hangover or car crash that I know of), but science has also shown the a couple of beers isn’t bad for creativity either.
When you exercise your body, you start by warming up your muscles. When it comes to exercising your creativity, you also need to start by warming up your creative muscles. Whether you are brainstorming, ideating, or co-creating, preparing your brain for creative thinking is the first step. It is a signal to yourself that you’re entering a different mental space–different from emailing, writing, or talking on the phone.
My favorite creative warmup takes a mere three minutes. It is the first thing we do with any creative session. It helps break the ice, gets people to laugh, and, most importantly, puts the team in a playful mindset.
Just like you wouldn’t dream of running or swimming or playing tennis without warming up your body, don’t dream of doing anything creative without warming up your right brain.
Here is warmup exercise:
All you need is a stack of copy paper and pens. Let people know you’re going to start the session by warming up their creative brains. Then simply ask them to turn to the person next to them, to their left or to their right, and draw each other. Instructions for the warm up:
You only have three minutes, so no masterpieces!
Your face is like a rectangle, and the eyes go in the middle of it. Everything else can go wherever you like.
Have fun and remember to sign and gift your portrait to your neighbor once you’re done.
Here is why doing the warm-up is important:
Break the ice.
People often feel awkward in the first minutes of an ideation session. Will they be creative? Will they rise to the occasion? When they start by drawing each other they engage with their neighbor, they start laughing at how they butcher each other’s portraits, and the energy in the room rises. Before they know it, the awkwardness is gone and they’re in this experience together.
Cardinal rule of creativity and design is to be playful. When we play, we’re like kids–we’re not afraid of making mistakes. We try things, experiment with ideas, and learn by doing. There’s nothing like getting people to draw each other to signal we’re in a playful state.
Transition into the creative space.
A creative meeting is different from other meetings. It is about generating ideas, breaking your preconceptions, and stretching your mind to imagine new possibilities. This warmup, or others you might try, disrupt people’s daily work routine and help them enter a new, creative thinking space.
Make something difficult, easy.
For so many of us, drawing someone else is tough. By doing a difficult thing together, from the get-go, and doing it in a state of collaboration and fun, you’re actually priming people for the whole session. The underlying message is–you got this, you can be creative, and have fun.
Collaboration is social. It is about working with other people. This warmup is also about looking each other in the eye and starting a dialogue. That dialogue will continue for the rest of the session, and potentially, longer.
We all have favorite warm up routines when we exercise. This is mine. Give it a try and be ready for its effectiveness.
If you simply want ideas, head straight to your nearest library or bookstore. There you will find, prominently shelved, books and magazines covering all the ideas currently obsessing the world.
But if you want to find unpopular, offbeat ideas — the very sort that often produce the biggest breakthroughs — you’ll need a different strategy. If everyone is talking about a book, it’s unlikely to provide you with a fresh perspective or completely contrarian viewpoint, after all.
So where can you go to unearth the truly weird ideas that will really challenge and open up your thinking? That’s what Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison asked his 72,000+ followers recently on Twitter:
Where do you most often come across interesting ideas–especially weird or surprising ones?
The resulting discussion pulled in CEOs, prominent academics and thinkers, and startup industry veterans, offering an incredibly diverse selection of strategies for expanding your mind. The thread is too rich to be completely summarized here, but here are some of the best suggestions:
Reading old predictions about the future. Collison pointed to this book as an example
Reddit. “Haven’t seen a place with more weird and surprising ideas,” Stripe employee Mike Mahlkow tweeted back to his boss. He named r/changemyview, r/dataisbeautiful, r/askhistorians, r/neutralpolitics, r/insightfulquestions, and r/Freethought as some of his favorite subreddits.
International travel and living abroad. “Traveling and living in far away places for months will make you experience very weird stuff,” claims Nomad List creator Pieter Levels.
Arthouse movies. “Any movie that has a high critic rating on rottentomatoes but an abysmal audience score usually has interesting ideas,” suggests Forward Blockchain CEO Conrad Barski.
Talking to weird people. It’s kind of obvious but it bears repeating: talking to weird and unusual people is a great way to hear about weird and unusual ideas. Most will be bats**t crazy. A few will be ultimate brain candy.
Get involved with cultish subcultures. Liveoak Technologies COO Alex Hardy recommends “diving headfirst into various cults / tribes / rituals both online and IRL.” Examples include CrossFit, crypto, and biohacking enthusiasts, or technology alarmists.
Being random on Twitter. Sure, you can use Twitter to keep up with your field (or fave celebrity), but editorial strategy advisor Davide Berretta says he also benefits from “following people (usually academics) in fields I know nothing about.”
Operational tours of other industries. Look for work-related inspiration specifically? Jeff Weinstein, a product and engineering manager at Box, advises “operational tours of other industries. Those our are work field trips. Recent adventures include a newspaper printing plant in Concord, typecasting and bookbinding in Presidio, and a local news station daily round up.”
Crash conferences.Wired founder Kevin Kelly chimed in with an intriguing secondhand idea: “Alvin Toffler (Future Shock) said that whenever he gave a talk at a conference at a hotel he’d crash the other conferences down hall to get an insider view of something weird, surprising or new to him.”
Talk to artists. A couple of tech industry veterans noted that their companies bring artists in to give talks. “Bouncing ideas with them definitely made me think more creatively about technology,” claims one AngelList employee. Other respondents recommended going to art galleries and speaking with artists there.
Do you have any other great sources of unusual ideas you’d add to this list?
Last week, American Olympian Clare Egan competed in the biathlon in Pyeongchang. Involving both cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, the sport is physically intense. But according to Egan, the physical component isn’t the hardest part. For her, It’s the mental component that is most challenging. The way she copes with this stress is not only effective for athletes, but also for entrepreneurs.
Through her training, Egan has honed several methods to manage the emotional stress. One way, for example, is to ski the actual course of a race in the days leading up to the actual event. This allows her to internalize every curve and obstacle, so as to be prepared when she’s actually competing. Others methods include practicing mindfulness and controlled breathing exercises that are scientifically proven to reduce stress and increase mental awareness, both in sports and otherwise.
But there’s one specific method in Egan’s routine that is highly applicable to entrepreneurs. Egan has learned to focus on the specific task at hand (completing an event), rather than a desired outcome (winning gold).
“[The] desire to win is not only not helpful, it’s counterproductive. You have to eliminate that from your mind and focus on the task,” she said in an interview with The New York Times.
Though we might expect Olympic athletes to be focused on winning medals, Egan’s advice is that when we focus on the goal rather than the process of getting there, we are less likely to hit our goals. Her recommended strategy is to replace goal-oriented thinking with process-oriented thinking. When competing, she reminds herself of the skills like good form and follow-through that are necessary for her to effectively complete the event.
Whether you are an individual contributor or lead teams and organizations, you like have key performance indicators that you are working toward, like revenue goals, customer acquisition targets, or product experience metrics. Rather than tracking how close you are to achieving these goals, focus instead on the key tasks you need to accomplish in order to get there. Ask yourself, “What tasks are necessary for me to complete in order to meet my goals? What skills do I need to hone and practice in order to carry out these tasks?” Focus on these every day.
No matter if you’re completing a ski course or a work plan, by focusing on process rather than outcome, you will eliminate distractions and allow yourself to perform at your highest level, while still delivering on your overall strategy.
Farm-to-table has become part of our lexicon over the last decade. More than just a phrase, it has come to define a movement and our expectation for fresh and local food. But in truth, the characteristics and flavors of the food on your plate are pre-determined even before they are planted in the fields.
“The beginning isn’t the farm,” said Dan Barber, chef and owner of Blue Hill and co-founder of Row 7. “The beginning is the seed, because that’s the blueprint that sets the stage of what the farmer is able to do with good farming.”
But in today’s food system most seeds are optimized for yield, shelf stability and uniformity, not flavor. Barber is hoping to change that with the introduction of Row 7, a seed company with operations in Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes, N.Y., that focuses on creating seed varieties that emphasize nutrition and flavor.
The work that Row 7 is doing is a continuation of what Barber has been doing for years at his two New York restaurants, Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Blue Hill in New York City. Like most chefs, the James Beard award winner has a fascination with ingredients, but his culinary style is about allowing the ingredients to fully express themselves. The dishes he creates are an ode to nature’s bounty and reflect the sprawling 138-acre farm in Great Barrington, Mass. that has been in the Barber family for four generations.
With this intense focus on ingredients, seven years ago Barber asked Michael Mazourek, co-founder at Row 7 and associate professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, to create a better butternut squash. The result was what they call the 898 squash, which is small enough to fit into the palm of your hand but has concentrated sweetness and beta carotene.
While his own restaurants have been ground zero for this taste innovation, he is hoping that Row 7 will make flavorful and nutritious food more accessible by becoming part of the larger food system. “The intent of the whole thing is that it starts with chefs, and it gets into the everyday food culture,” said Barber. “The point of doing this is not to create varieties just for the temples of our white tablecloth restaurants.”
The company is engaging an undisclosed number of breeders across the country to produce its organic, non-GMO seeds. To start, the company is offering seven varieties, which are available now exclusively on its website. It hopes with this launch, it can start a dialogue with other breeders to expand the company’s offerings.
Row 7 said it will not patent its seeds or put any restrictions that will inhibit research, which is in stark contrast to the big agro players that hold hundreds of patents on their genetically modified seeds. “The world of seeds is increasingly about patenting ideas, and in this case, we are talking about patenting life and biology,” said Barber. “We would rather stay away from that.”
The past 20 year have been transformative for the seed industry. It used to be comprised of small family businesses, but in that time it has experienced massive consolidation and is now dominated by agrochemical giants like DowDuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta. Today, six companies control 71 percent of the global seed market, according to ETC Group. Once the Monsanto and Bayer merger is complete, and if the trend continues, the multibillion seed industry could end up being controlled by just a few players.
“If you are a chemical company that is also producing seeds, I don’t know exactly what your motivation is to produce a healthy, strong and really delicious plant,” said Barber. “Strong and really delicious plants by definition are difficult for pests to attack.”
Compared to competitors, the Row 7 seeds will be a bit pricier. “We are a little more expensive, but on the other hand, all of our seeds are bred and packaged in the United States,” said Barber. “Part of our ethic is about the local and regional farm-to-table movement, and we are extending that ethic to the seeds.”