16 Sep 2019

Why the best ideas come from outside of work

Business owners: they admit they work too much. They acknowledge the loss of work-life balance. But with research showing it’s not necessary to be ‘switched on’ or working overtime to come up with great ideas, we ask: How can business owners reap the rewards of balance?

We recently sought the views of more than 100 business owners to find out how work affects their lives. Our findings showed that over half of business owners are regularly stressed, with 61% saying they never stop thinking about work. Hardly surprising, when you consider the average business owner works 48 hours per week, compared with the UK average of 37.4 hours. Meanwhile, those with an annual turnover of £500,000 to £1m work an average of 53 hours per week. Are all these hours time well spent?

 

Chris Lewis doesn’t think so. The founder and CEO of LEWIS and author of Too Fast to Think firmly believes current work practices are detrimental to creativity.

 

“Busy and productive are not the same thing,” he stresses. Lewis, who says he’s “not a fan of presenteeism, jackets on the back of chairs, and so on” thinks the creative process is largely a subconscious one. “Ask anyone, whether it’s a politician, scientist or clergyman, what they’re doing when they get their best ideas. They’ll all say: ‘It’s when I’m not working. It’s when I’m on my own and not trying.’”

 

Sharan Pasricha, founder and CEO of Ennismore, agrees: “The best place to spark creativity is outside of the office,” he says. “When we really want to go left-field we go up to Gleneagles – the only hotel where I can work and play at the same time.” With 1,000 acres, it’s the perfect place, he says, to do everything from cycling to hiking, off-roading, falconry and shooting, while at the same time being able to “hang out and dive into deep issues”.

 

It’s all to do with neuroscience: scientists now believe that three networks of the brain contribute to creativity: one linked to spontaneous thinking, one linked to focus and one linked to attention and salience.

 

It’s how these three networks interact – and how we exercise them – that guides original thinking, and there’s a school of thought that the ‘deactivation’ or ‘distraction’ of certain areas of the brain allows others to become more engaged.

 

Our research found business owners vary in how they relax, from spending time with friends and family to going to the gym, practicing yoga, trying their hand at pottery and even working in the community – activities that, in many cases, can be conduits to creative ideas and problem-solving.

 

“The creative process is a subconscious one. Ask anyone where they are and what they’re doing when they get their best ideas. They’ll all say: ‘It’s when I’m not working.

 

For Oliver Black, MD of My Family Care, it’s endurance events, such as cycling in the Alps and the Dolomites, or running from Chamonix to Zermatt (145km through the Alps). “They give me the confidence to know I can push through a tough situation, that I can cope with a little bit more pain,” he says. “The challenge of the run was whether we could do it in three days. It was an incredible experience.”

 

Business owners and leaders don’t tend to just ‘switch off’. In many cases, they want to do things in their spare time that allow ideas to flourish, make connections and help them to stay healthy in mind, body and soul.

 

“One of the things I like about sailing is that I don’t think about work,” says Trevor Silver, owner and founder of Landid. “It’s almost like having a massive garden shed where you can play with things, make things, read your books, figure out what you’re going to do next. It’s like being in a different world. It’s only during the last day or two at sea that I start to plan out what I’m going to do when I come back.”

 

“Einstein said creativity is the residue of time wasted,” says Lewis. And he was definitely a man who knew a thing or two.