Ideas are what drive innovation, but if you don’t exercise your dreaming ability, you won’t generate those ideas.

It was a hot day and across the street there was a gang of men putting a new roof on a building. Stripped to the waist, with sweat pouring down beer-swollen bellies that hung over belts, they spread tar over paper, and used blowtorches to seal connection points around pipes and edges. It was brutal work, but as I watched them sweat in the afternoon sun, I heard the foreman singing as he went from worker to worker examining their production. Arms spread wide, he would hover over them and sing “Dream, Dream, Dream.”

Now this was a group of men who had rote jobs that didn’t involve a lot of skill or thinking. Slap down paper, spread tar over it, seal it, and let it dry. Not exactly what you’d call a creative pursuit. But this foreman was trying to relieve their drudgery by convincing them to keep dreaming like it was all they had. And he was probably right about that.

This little tableau is a good guide to the daily lives of most of us. We’re consumed by tasks that leave little time for creativity. So we have to admonish ourselves to dream as often as possible. If we’re to come up with ideas that are going to spark innovation, we have to work on our dreaming skills. And here are some ways to do it:

  • Learn some creativity techniques. There are many, so pick the three or four that work best for you.
  • Build “dream time” into your work day. Pick a time, such as a lunchtime walk, where you do nothing but create ideas.
  • Set a daily idea quota. Use your favorite idea creation techniques during your dreamtimes. Start small, generating three ideas, for example, then work up from there. They don’t all have to be brilliant or work related. You’re practicing, not taking part in a competition.
  • Keep an idea log. During your idea time, write down (in a special notebook set aside just for that purpose) the ideas you generate. Also, immediately write down ideas that just pop into your head as information flows past you during the day.

Assess and sort your ideas regularly. Ideas aren’t worth much if they’re never looked at again. So every couple of days, revisit them, and sort out the best of the bunch for further study or action. Dreaming is the one thing no boss, client, or fellow worker can take away from you. It’s yours alone. The ideas that result from it are what make you unique. And if your job is to foster innovation, those unique ideas will steer you to success.