The Most Powerful Tool In Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Leadership - And How To Make It Your OwnShare
The one resource with the greatest creative upside is one we rarely tap. That should change.
As someone who works at the intersection of creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership, I am often asked questions like these:
- What is the best way to power up creative thinking?
- What’s the key to lasting impact, anywhere, in anything?
- What keeps you fresh and relevant?
While there are many nuanced components to such questions, there’s also a single, powerful, and consistent answer to all of them: a deliberate pause.
A deliberate pause is a conscious moment in which you open your mind and allow yourself to wonder at what is, at what might yet be. It’s as simple as that, but unexpectedly mighty.
What is a deliberate pause?
Is taking a deliberate pause some lofty philosophical thing? No. Is it an act meant to produce an answer? It’s not, but sometimes it does. More accurately, taking a deliberate pause, at its best and most powerful, is a habit – a pattern of regularly taking yourself outside of what you know too intimately and do too rotely. It’s a mindset, or rather a shift in mindset, one that builds moment by moment. A deliberate pause is a conscious act that engaged repeatedly is the best way to see something new – precisely what creativity, or successful entrepreneurship, or effective leadership require.
What does a deliberate pause look like?
Knowing now what it is and what it can do, what does a deliberate pause look like? Here’s but one example from my world – emphasis on the words one and my. My wife, two children and I just returned from 2.5 weeks away in Iceland where we hiked, kayaked, read, played games, cooked meals, and spent uninterrupted time together. But it’s not the length of time, the location, or the activities in this example that matter. Certain parameters that frame these trips do. First, we downsize and depersonalize. We go from our larger spaces back home to sharing personal spaces like bedrooms. We do this to cut down on costs and enable us to make these long trips, but it has the effect of gently dismantling the borders we unconsciously build around ourselves back home. Rather than follow our own patterns, on these trips we share chores and tasks, like food shopping, navigation, and cooking. As we do, we not only redefine our roles, we see each other and our interdependencies newly and freshly. But most important and to our friends, colleagues, and family, there’s no internet on our trips. Oh it’s there of course, but we consciously disconnect from it. Indeed by collective choice, we discard communication back to the world we temporarily leave behind, a world that unceasingly works to suck us back in.
The power in the pause
Forget where we go, or even what we do, and instead ponder what our deliberate pause does. In a gentle but profound way these trips scratch the record of our day-to-day lives. For a conscious moment, they jump us out of the well-worn grooves we form and operate in the other 347 days of our lives. Temporarily, wonderfully, these pauses find us crossing into new worlds – not dramatically nor irrevocably, but in a toe-over-the-line manner that finds us briefly beyond the borders that define and limit us far more than we are aware.
In the research surrounding my two books, these past ten years I’ve had the good fortune to interview some of the most creative people on the planet – from MacArthur Fellows and Nobel laureates, to innovators in business, the arts, science, and education, to leaders across sectors visibly moving the world and all of us forward. Each of them, literally hundreds of intrepid explorers, engages in this habit of taking a deliberate pause. As to the form, to be sure, there are those that journey to far off lands as my family and I do. But others simply walk a different way to lunch each day (really), read across genres, engage strangers in conversation in a grocery store line, or adjust their clocks a little each day in order to rise with the sun and watch its magic.
How to seize that power for yourself
There are many things about a deliberate pause that are not important:
- The form it takes
- The length
- The activity (if any) you engage in while pausing
- Seeking to accomplish something
The last point is the most important ‘non-important’ thing. A deliberate pause is a clearing, not a construction nor a conclusion. Rather than an act of creation, it is the catalyst fueling your creative capacity. A deliberate pause has the subtle sway to remind your brain that its full capability is something that goes far beyond its proficiency at following routines and staying on task.
So what does matter when it comes to a deliberate pause? These stand out:
- Choosing your own way
- Moving beyond the borders of routine
- Making it a habit
- Allowing whatever happens to happen unfiltered
Pausing deliberately isn’t about spending time and money you don’t have, just as it isn’t about anticipating lightning bolt answers or blindly brilliant ideas to arise out of nowhere. It’s about consciously enabling that gradual accumulation that is creativity and with it, the fullness of who you are and what you’re capable of.
Larry Robertson is the author of two award-winning books: ‘The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity’ and ‘A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress’. He’s the founder of two ventures, one for-profit and one non, and a highly respected thought leader in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, advising individuals and organizations across a broad spectrum. Larry is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a former Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.