April 7, 2008
Why You Should Leave Work
Several years ago I loved reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes.
For my reading tastes it was the perfect combination of science, history, politics and World War II.
One thing that struck me, however, was how time and again during the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries brilliant physicists like Niels Bohr would get stuck on a problem for months or even years. After working tirelessly they finally were compelled to take a vacation and—boom (metaphorically)—the solution would come. Remarkably, the author never pointed out the pattern.
Wired recently ran a photo essay that chronicles the genesis of eight innovations. Again, the author fails to point out that only one (maybe) occurred at work. The idea for television came while plowing a field. Netflix while at home. Post-It Notes in a church choir loft. Harry Potter on a stuck train. They could have also mentioned that the idea for bar codes came at the beach.
Away from the pressures of the office or laboratory where the left brain is working on overdrive, the right brain (where ideas often come from) can’t get a word in edgewise. On vacation, on break, in the shower, the right brain has a chance to breath. And the result can be a beautiful thing.
The point is clear: if you want to solve a stubborn problem or need a great, innovative idea—leave work.