Think about what we mean when we say knowledge worker–people who stare into screens and whiteboards trying to torque ideas into something new. Not data or information work, but knowledge.
As Nate Silver describes in The Signal and the Noise, there’s a difference between knowledge and information. Knowledge is a verifiable, articulated signal, while information is ambiguous, coarse noise. And if we’re going to make wise decisions and awesome products, we need the signal, the knowledge.
But you don’t need to be Nate Silver to know that a key to processing signal versus noise in your own head is by having enough space and time to think. And as Ben Casnocha notes on LinkedIn, even us Twitter-addled technorati can find a little headspace. It’s not that you need to pull a Rodin and put your fist in your forehead–though style points if you do–instead, he says, you want to “obliquely engage” in two kinds of thought jogging–directed and undirected thinking.
Directed thinking is what happens when you take that monkey mind of yours and give it a job to do, like understand itself.
Casnocha mentions the Amazonian practice of writing the press release first, before even pitching an idea to Jeff Bezos. In trying to write out your ideas, they click further into focus, regardless of whether you’re going to show it to anyone.
“Writing is not always about the written output,” Casnocha says, “it’s about the thinking that happens as you attempt to communicate.”
Meanwhile, while we dispute the claim that reading isn’t about the content of the book–if that’s the case, read better books–we do agree that taking the time to read is awesome for your thought processes.
Do something with a minor mental load and let your mind creatively wander.
One idea: Your commute doesn’t have to be hell. So long as you’re paying attention to the road and the drivers around you, you can knead the ideas in your head and still keep both hands on the wheel. Or maybe try walking your dog. “Same as driving,” Casnocha says, “but safer.”
Take longform showers: Lather your scalp and your frontal lobe. See the relationship between things. Possibly sing.
Travel. Rolling landscapes lend themselves to introspection, and airplanes have the added bonus of making you turn your damn cell phone off.
And finally, get an active meditation going by organizing your life and tidying up your home or office. By the end, your desk will be less of a mess and so will your head.