Scotland has a long history of innovation from the telephone to Tarmac. The ATM and pin numbers were invented by a Scot too but just like other devices, these have been overtaken by “contactless” at least at the lower spending limit. They all had one thing in common: space and time…yes they were created because someone had the space and time to think.

Years ago when running a factory and wondering how we were going to conquer a problem or a market, I would sit in silence in a room and think. I’d doodle, dream and create. These days I find myself too busy doing to even sit still, never mind think. More likely, I get this valuable time in the shower in the morning or just before I drop off to sleep. Space and time don’t seem to get much space and time these days!

Even in downtime, being creative is not as easy in part thanks to John Logie Baird who did not appreciate his invention would end up with 700 channels. I can catch up on any programme I have missed and can watch almost any movie that was ever made. Then there is of course the ping of a Facebook message, an Instagram post or a LinkedIn message pulling me back into an operational work environment. Then there’s the pull of the dreaded e-mail. (My next business is going to be a national chain of e-mail therapy clinics quickly followed by e-mail rehab centers!) All these stimuli seduce me away from the simple but effective business of staring into space and dreaming.

As I look round the busy train in the morning everyone is on some kind of device. Few if any people are dreaming, doodling or simply pondering. I could like this busy-ness more if it was not also accompanied by [muted] music and the constant pinging of phone alerts. Is this the stuff of creativity? Could we invigorate our innovation by creating more space and time to think? Could this make Scotland great again? (that phrase is never going to work). Can we recreate the proud history of innovation that makes Scotland punch way above its weight into the future? I might be wrong, but for me it starts with creating time for reflection in silence. Neuroscientists will tell you that daydreaming is restorative so it must work, right?

I remember a friend started a Scottish games company and his office was full of interesting places where you could lie down. There were doodle boards to encourage creativity and I confess I thought the whole thing was a tad too far out and cosmic! Now, I’m prepared to say he got there before me. I did not then value the time and space we need to be creative. The best companies do this now; it’s commonplace. However as a society it seems we put huge value on being busy…up early…home late. You only know you’re on holiday because you get to swim between e-mails.

So here is my solution. We have one day a week when we switch off e-mail and social media. We are rationed on our use of the telephone and instead we speak to people face-to-face. It’s a redefinition of my work ethic. And for us over 50s… we are allowed a nap if we want one!

This article first appeared in The Scotsman on Wednesday 1 March 2017:


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