How many ideas should move from selected to implemented?
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If you are a business owner, senior manager or otherwise responsible for strategic issues in your organization, you should consider scheduling a brainstorming retreat. Disconnect from your devices, select a few good books, get yourself a nice thick blank notebook and run off somewhere quiet and inspirational where you can think.

Some years ago, I took my brother-in-law to a monastery in Ayudaya (many young men in Thailand and other Buddhist countries do a brief stint in the monastery in order to obtain merit; this is what my brother-in-law was doing). At the time I was running two businesses in hectic Bangkok. I remember taking him to his room where there was a simple wooden plank bed, a mattress and a shelf with a small pile of books about the Lord Buddha and his teachings. For the next three weeks he would lead a simple life of meditation and learning.

Most of all, I remember thinking that if I could replace the small pile of books with a variety of literature and a few tomes on technology and e-business practices, hiding away in a monastery in the countryside would be a truly great thing for the creative mind: a chance to really think without the interruptions of a business: telephones, e-mail, meetings, staff problems and so on.

I was reminded of this the other day when I read that a couple of times a year, Bill Gates does essentially what I dreamed of doing in Ayudaya. He takes a stack of books on the latest business trends to a remote cabin in the woods where he spends a week or so of uninterrupted reading and thinking.

The challenges of getting away

Sadly, in our modern world, this is an increasingly hard thing to do. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when vacations meant taking a break from work and refreshing the mind. In part, this is because 20 years ago, there mobile telephones were not commonplace and only technical academics even knew what e-mail was. So, employees turned off their day to day worries and focused on enjoying their holidays.

These days, most employees ­- at least at the management level and above -­ feel obliged to stay in touch with the office when they go on holiday. They leave their cellphones on and regularly check their e-mail. I understand this work obsession is at its worst in hard working America, but few European or Japanese managers would go on holiday without at least bringing their work cellphone along. Most would be hard pressed not to check in with the office once in a while.

Senior managers who insist on remaining in contact with their companies every single working day of the year are probably doing their companies a disservice.

This is great for managing the mundane, day to day operations of your business, but lousy for thinking big thoughts, reviewing the big issues and generating those revolutionary ideas that could transform your business. Indeed, senior managers who insist on remaining in contact with their companies every single working day of the year are probably doing their companies a disservice. They are doing fine on the details, but failing on the big picture. Most senior managers should be focusing on the latter.

Disconnect, so you can think and innovate

If you are a business owner, senior manager or otherwise responsible for strategic issues (rather than day-to-day issues), you should follow the example of my brother-in-law and Bill Gates. Spend at least one week a year where you disconnect completely from your company. Switch off your mobile phone, leave your laptop at home, select a few good books, get yourself a nice thick blank notebook and run off somewhere quiet and inspirational where you can think. It will take a couple of days for your mind to break away from the day-to-day issues and, like an newly ex-smoker, you may even have desperate pangs for a cellphone and a call to your secretary. Ignore these pangs. If your secretary and staff are any good, they will manage fine without you. You should think, innovate and make notes.

After three or four days, you will be amazed at how clear thinking you have become and the kind of ideas you have. The only problem is that you may not want to go back to work!

At jpb.com, we’ve taken this concept one step further by designing a collection of brainstorm retreats. The idea is that a team of executives leave their cellphones, laptops and trivial worries behind and retire to a secluded hotel in a naturally beautiful area (such as the Belgian Ardeenes, the Swiss Alps, the Dartmoor in the UK, Chiang Mai in Thailand or the like). Once there, we run through some exercises to clear the executives’ minds. This is followed by a number of customized brainstorming exercises designed to get the executives generating ideas related to the key strategic issues relevant to their companies. It is a time to think about strategy and the big picture.

Brainstorming retreats combine the collective innovative potential of a team of executives together with the concept of getting away from day-to-day distractions — which not only distract them from thinking, but also tend to focus their thinking on the wrong issues.

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

About the author

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.

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