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VOL. 129 | NO. 150 | Monday, August 4, 2014

The Power of Unplugging


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Michael Graber

I am returning from a vacation on the Forgotten Coast, a cape wedged in between the sea and a bay. The best part of the location is that my smartphone connection did not work.

All of the incessant demands of running a business, having clients, making social media updates, keeping up with news for organizations for whom I serve on boards: poof, gone.

And, when on vacation, no news is the best news of all. By going fallow from the routine, energy renewed my perspective.

The modern etymological connotation of vacation comes from the 14th century: “freedom from obligations, leisure, release” (from some activity or occupation), from Old French vacacion “vacancy, vacant position” (14c.) and directly from Latin vacationem (nominative vacatio) “leisure, freedom, exemption, a being free from duty, immunity earned by service,” noun of state from past participle stem of vacare “be empty, free, or at leisure.” The Latin part participle says it best, “be empty, free, or at leisure.”

Only by letting the mind empty out its agendas, notions, biases, mental models, conceptions and fixed files can new ideas and connections present themselves. This is the power of unplugging – and we, as a culture, may not be unplugging enough to, as our Buddhist friends say, “empty the bowl” or see life and work with a “beginner’s mind.”

“You can say that taking a holiday is a little bit like going back to childhood, when the world was full of wonder and everything you saw was full things that you hadn’t expected or seen before, you had to calibrate it in your brain,” explains Michael M. Merzenich, chief scientific officer of Posit Science.

As people age, less and less attention is paid to details in the world. Therefore, keeping a childlike attitude is important – it’s one of the reasons children learn so much, he adds. “It’s really important that we be challenged about that every so often, that we’re reminded to pay attention, that we’re really engaged again,” he said.

This implies two key points. Routines can be numbing to our creativity and productivity, and maintaining a fresh perspective reminds us again of the poet Wordsworth’s adage “child is the teacher of man.” In short hand, vacations allow us to become unstuck and see things anew.

My advice is to not put off vacation. Take little breaks and doing awareness exercises to see life and work through new eyes as often as possible, too. This way we do not sleepwalk through our work and act like a zombie with an appetite for long lunch breaks at work.

You see, by unplugging the brain begins to notice connections everywhere.

Within a few days, I was taking notes about projects, tearing out magazine articles and highlight book passages for clients, and thinking of ways to elevate the Studio’s creative culture of innovation.

Want to see real opportunity? Unplug for a spell.

Michael Graber is managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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