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Five Ways to Ditch the Routine and Get More Innovative

Every day, we drive the same roads to sit in the same office to use the same computers to email the same people to get our work done. Routines aren’t all bad. In fact, they can be great for efficiency (auto-pilot saves mental energy). But if you’re trying to tap into your creativity, often these same routines can be your greatest barrier.

Our daily routines form neural pathways that allow us to do routine tasks using less of our brains. Have you ever parked your car and not remembered your drive to get there? That's your unconscious brain taking the wheel. That same thing happens at work too—which is great when you’re slogging through mundane tasks, but not so great when you’re trying to innovate.

Our subconscious is all about repetition, not innovation. And that's why breakthroughs don't happen at our desks.

History is full of people who had their biggest creative breakthroughs after breaking out of their daily work habits. Sir Isaac Newton took a break from his cluttered study to sit under an apple tree. J.K. Rowling gazed out the window of a train and had an idea about a young wizard at a very unusual school. Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz took a voyage to Thailand and gave the world Red Bull.

As the pace of technology and business increases by the day, we need our big ideas now more than ever before. We need to break the routine. Here’s how we suggest you shake things up enough to get your creative energy flowing—and the brain science that supports it.

1. Step away from your desk.

In her book, Your Creative Brain[1], Dr. Shelley Carson makes a distinction between your reason brain state (when you logically execute ideas) and your absorb brain state (when you observe and take in information). Both states are critical to the creative process. Desks are a great place for your reason brain state: you have a computer, calendar, phone, and all of the other tools required to execute. But they are also really bad for the absorb brain state. Why? That's easy—desks are boring, and the absorb state is all about finding new and different stimuli.

2. Take a walk.

A 2014 Stanford study[2] found that people were on average 60 percent more creative when walking than when sitting still. Beethoven wasn't the only one to figure this out--Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey were all big fans of a good long walk too.

3. Give yourself the space to space out.

A 2006 study[3] found that subconscious thought is a powerful source of creativity. The authors conclude that, "Upon being confronted with a task that requires a certain degree of creativity, it pays off to delegate the labor of thinking to the unconscious mind." And the best way to activate the subconscious is to get away from familiar surroundings, put away your phone, and let your mind wander.

4. Have FUN.

Psychologists from the University of Toronto found that happiness actually boosts creativity[4]. So the next time you're looking for a new solution to an old problem, you may just want to step out of the office for that round of golf, bowling, karaoke with the team, or really anything that will make you smile.


Time away from the office can interrupt the cycle of stress that so many face at the desk. The endless emails, phone calls, texts, and reminders can cause chronic stress that leads to decreased creativity, memory issues, and impaired moods. Time away is a powerful way to recharge and refocus, which is why designer Stefan Sagmeister[5] goes to Bali for a year-long sabbatical every seven years.

Bringing it all together: Experiences Matter

What do all of these routine-breaking tips have in common? Whether it’s taking a walk by yourself or bringing your team together for a shared activity, the things we do have a huge impact on the way we think, learn, and create. At The Frontier Project, we often anchor our work in meaningful experiences including:

> An immersive journey for your team to rethink the future of the business

> A salon dinner to reimagine the problems you face

> A dynamic keynote speaker to shift mindsets

> An experiential workshop to build skills in a whole new way

> A new setting to stir your creativity


Want to learn more about putting experiences to work for your team? Let's talk.

Trained mathematician, former frontman of a punk rock band, Pentagon policymaker, and nonfiction author who performs his book live, Matt Johnson is a lead consultant at The Frontier Project with an unbending commitment to helping organizations find simplicity and purpose in today’s overwhelmingly complex world. Let him know what’s on your mind.