As a serial entrepreneur and founder of 6 companies, I've found one of the most important ingredients for innovation to be something I call "whitespace". Whitespace is time you set aside to refresh your thinking, strategize, reflect on your primary goals and gain perspective.
To me, whitespace is the lifeblood of the innovator, and an absolute must for any creative person. It's also critical for anyone in a leadership role - we as leaders need the time and space to digest information, analyze, and strategize the steps we need to take to reach our goals.
As a business leader, I'm constantly reading, forecasting trends, and responding to new data. It's easy to hit a saturation point and reach information overload - in today's marketplace, we're continually bombarded with an endless influx of information.
Tapping into your whitespace can help maintain a proactive as opposed to reactive mindset. It brings the essentials into focus, it's like wearing a new pair of glasses. Here are 5 ways I tap into my "whitespace":
1. Turn on "Airplane Mode"
I get some of my best work done on an airplane. There's a set travel time and no interruptions. I can leave any knee-jerk impulses on the ground, and tap into a focused headspace.
When I need to reflect on a strategic move, or assess company goals, I allot time to turn on "airplane mode" and recreate a disturbance-free environment. When working on an important project, I encourage leaders to turn on their metaphorical airplane mode, and barrier off time and space to reflect.
The best alternative to recreating "airplane mode" is meditation. Having a key breakthrough can be like capturing lightning in a bottle. Great ideas come sporadically, often when our minds are relaxed. With a clear mind, vital paradigm shifts can occur.
Albert Einstein once famously said, "Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them." Taking 5-10 minutes a day to still the mind can pull you out of unproductive thought patterns and allow you to think in new ways. Meditation can improve your mental outlook and be a powerful problem-solving tool.
3. Find your White Wall
Whitespace is often used as an ubiquitous business trope, but put simply, it means "the empty space on the page". In layman's terms, it's what's left blank: to engage with the whitespace means to engage with the unwritten.
Picasso would famously stare at a white wall to get inspiration for his paintings. When asked what he was doing, he'd reply "I'm painting". Great innovators have a knack for recognizing relationships, making associations, and seeing connections that others cannot see. What Picasso understood is that using a "white wall" can be key in practicing this kind of innovative thinking.
For business leaders, whitespace is crucial to distinguishing strategic moves and reflecting on priorities. For some, it's a white wall, for others it's a park, for me, it's the ocean. Every week, I spend time on the ocean; that's when I am best able to engage with my own personal "white wall", and strategically plan for the future.
4. Schedule Whitespace
Whitespace can feel like something you can make time for whenever, so we put it off. We see leisure time as whitespace. Anytime we're not working becomes whitespace.
The problem with that mentality, is that whitespace is a key part of work, and should be given the same weight. During the week, I'm in a constant string of meetings; my time is extremely structured.
That's why I structure whitespace into my schedule, just as I would any other meeting. By programming in this time, I allow myself to come to it with an active brain and an open mind. I show up differently.
5. Get Active
Most of my best thinking happens in the morning, on my morning run. Exercise, movement, and activity are proven to expand creative thinking, brain processing, and memory. For some people this means yoga, a run, a basketball game.
Sometimes, to solve a problem, you have to take a step back from the problem and activate another drive and focus. Get out. Breathe fresh air. Engage another muscle.
And if you don't run, walk. I make a habit of taking walking meetings. A 20-minute stroll increases blood flow to the brain, which boosts creative thought and brain function. Get the blood pumping, and the creative flow will follow.
Sometimes, you have to tune out to dial in. Take time to sharpen the saw instead of tirelessly whittling. We all achieve this mindset in different ways. Personally, I allot time for whitespace. For me, that means turning on "Airplane Mode", meditating, finding my "white wall", scheduling it in my calendar, and getting the blood pumping.
Inspiration and strategic thinking can't be forced. By making time for whitespace, you will have the clarity to effectively prioritize, execute, and lead - not just a team - but a winning team.