I recently gave a commencement speech at Maine College of Art, a wonderful small college in Portland.
Getting up in front of bright, creative and capable young adults in the hope of imparting some modicum of wisdom is a daunting assignment. Through trial and error and listening to wiser folks than me, I was able to piece together a handful of thoughts to share, which boiled down to one idea: we all need to stop thinking so much. Kind of ironic, since they had just spent all this time and money to strengthen their critical thinking abilities.
As someone educated in the highly analytical arenas of engineering and business, I have been prone to over think just about everything. But when I look back at the most important and best decisions I have ever made, they were made despite the rational analysis that was telling me to do the opposite of what I did. There are some intangible things the mind struggles to understand, so getting it out of the way can be very helpful.
For example, I got married while in college (no, she wasn’t pregnant) against the better judgment of just about everyone. I had three children, which any parent will tell you cannot be rationally justified when you look at college costs, the troubles of the world you are bringing your children into, and the fact that they can be a major harsh on your sex life. Moreover, I started an advertising agency 20 years ago, never having stepped foot into one (an idea that was very humorous to all of my friends). These decisions were some of my best, and they didn’t pass the logic test at the time. But they made sense to me on a deeper level.
Call it going with your gut, trusting your instincts, being intuitive, but all of these risky choices are too often ignored in light of data, testing and facts that completely miss the bigger picture. In the business world, you don’t get fired if you can point to a stack of data and tests corroborating your actions; however, saying "I stopped thinking and went with my gut" can easily lead to a pink slip. But here’s the thing: the best decisions are often known to be right on an instinctive level, factoring in both the analytical, subjective and emotional information. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Old Spice Guy, the 2004 Red Sox, CNN, and the iPod were all driven by decisions that defied logic or testing. Hell, there is an amazing old video of Steve Jobs explaining in detail how to build a mobile music device that could change the industry. He told them that someone should go build it. Well, no one did, so years later he made the iPod and changed the world.
A few suggestions on how to quiet your mind so you can make the best decision:
Do your research, then put it in your bottom desk drawer.
I do believe in studying and doing thorough legwork, but when it’s game time, trust that the information is in you and focus on integrating all your faculties to guide your choices.
Lock your office door, turn off you phone, tablet and computer.
Interruptions are the bane of deep reflection. Go into isolation mode.
Nature might be the wisest counselor you will ever have. Go lay on its couch.
Spend more time being creative.
We are all creative. All of us. Spending time in the right side of your brain will develop your intuitive and emotional decision making capacity.
Find the courage to do what you know is right.
Too often we know what is right but it might not be conventional, or safe, or easy. Find the courage to do the right thing.
[Image: Flickr user Steven Worster]