The Tao of Innovation

Insights for the modern business samurai

Detox Your Brain

Consider doing a deep brain detox to recharge your innovation batteries.

In art schools, the first thing they teach you is that learning to paint is actually about learning a new way to see - to see negative spaces, to discern the full color palette, to free your mind and see in new ways. That's the key to creativity. However, trapped in your cubicle at a typical office, it's hard to avoid getting into a rut, simply because you see the same surroundings every day, 365 damned days a year.

One of my innovation prescriptions is to create dynamically reconfigurable workspaces, and keep changing locations and improving team layouts. Another prescription is to build an innovation oasis for the company, where things are not so regimented - a free thinking zone. We often help build what we call "thinkspots" - special multi-function workrooms dedicated to innovation, and filled with innovation toolkits, brain toys, sounds of nature and falling water. And if the budget permits, we install cool networked digital whiteboards that help you free your mind to both think and communicate in new ways.

Immersive digital whiteboards.
However, sometimes the best way to get out of a rut is by committing to a deep brain detox to recharge your innovation battery.

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I just got back from a lovely beach in sunny Thailand, the Land of Smiles, where I underwent such a detox. It was a four-week getaway, just as they do in Europe. Two weeks in paradise is nowhere near enough time to renew yourself at your core. Western Europeans have learned how to adjust their work schedules to mitigate the impact of four week vacations - half the company takes off July, the other half August.

Detox really works to flush out toxins and old patterns.
Anyway, I spent a week undergoing a traditional detox, during which I fasted, resulting in me dropping a dozen pounds and flushing out toxins. I felt much lighter afterward, and my energy level increased. I was told that the boost was due to my now being able to extract energy from food more efficiently. Afterward, I spent two weeks traveling with a dozen friends who joined me, all likeminded in our pursuit of renewal. We not only visited Wats and other Buddhist temples, but lit Chinese lanterns for our New Year's wishes, rode elephants and handled snakes. We partied into a night life paradise so wild and robust that it puts Las Vegas to shame.

Most important, though, were the quiet moments: the two-hour Thai massages (accepted with gratitude and a deep bow), swimming in the ocean and drying off in the sun like a lazy cat, and enjoying delicious but simple dinners of barbecued fish made in local fashion.

In the muggy heat on a remote South Thailand island, I finally found the time to read a cheap novel - a satisfying murder mystery that had languished at my bedside for over two years. I finally found the time to relearn the tai chi set I'd mastered and forgotten; it all came back to me like an amnesiac's memory recovered. After my friends who could only stay two weeks departed, I spent my last week in a beach hut on a remote island, blissfully alone and with absolutely nothing to do.

And then something wonderful occurred - my brain finally reset; it was as if the brain finally kicked in and began to process the detox and cleanse itself, like the rest of my body had been doing. I suddenly found myself letting go of worries and patterns of thinking, and experienced renewed creative energy, enough to pull out the laptop and in a single day, finish revising some creative writing that had been nagging me for over a year. After this, a flood of fresh new ideas magically emerged that improved a major patent my company was filing, requiring a last minute rewrite of the application with some new thinking.

And now that I'm home, I can look at what used to be persistent problems with a new perspective - generating new solutions that weren't obvious when immersed in the soup of "same same."

The sad reality is that life in America, especially the high-tech world, is profoundly exhausting. The daily grind of meetings and bureaucratic overhead is enough to slow anyone down. A friend, who is an health professional, tells me that many of his clients suffer from a myriad of illnesses that are rooted in one cause - high-tech overload and overwork. As a result of this vicious cycle of burn out and catch up, few of us ever find the time to indulge in a truly effective vacation - one that renews, revitalizes and re-creates you - a true mental cleansing to accompany the physical one. Plus, it takes quite a bit of courage to detach yourself from the phone, laptop and iPad.

Feel free to forward this article to your boss with a note that says, "Hey, you should give me four weeks vacation every year instead of two, so I can be more innovative!" However, expect the boss to say, "Sure, just as soon as you invent an ancillary product or service that requires zero startup capital, and generates a 10x return on the cost of the additional vacation time."

Good luck!

Moses Ma, a partner at Next Gen Ventures, is co-author of the forthcoming book Agile Innovation.

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