Jeff Greenhouse

Experienced Marketing & Analytics Executive

Breaking the Surface Tension of the Mind
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Breaking the Surface Tension of the Mind

We are all visionaries, but we can only see what we choose to look at.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. It’s been spread across the board, from creativity in advertising, to developments in consumer technology, to the changing face of social media, to visions of the future. It is incredibly refreshing and invigorating to set aside practical considerations and just try to imagine where the world will be in 5 or 10 years. Pick almost any part of daily life or business and I can see the potential for massive changes and exciting advances.

Does that make me a visionary? Maybe, but I think everyone can do it. What stops us from seeing into the future more often (and more easily) is the cumulative weight of a thousand mundane daily items. Between mental multitasking and our “always connected” technological trappings, our minds are constantly blanketed in thoughts of the present. What do we need to do today? What will we do tomorrow? What should we have done yesterday.

To make matters worse, each of them connects to the others. Think about one daily item and inevitably it will draw your mind to three or four more that are somehow related. I call this the “surface tension of the mind”. It’s a layer of concern, detail and analysis that creates a barrier to the type of free imagination that leads to great breakthroughs. It separates us from blue-sky thinking, and holds us down in the pool of our status quo.

It takes energy to break the surface tension, but most of that comes in the form of recognizing the barrier and making a conscious effort to step outside of it. If you’ve read this far, you’re through the first part. To get you the rest of the way through, I’ll suggest the following steps:

  1. Turn off everything. Phone. TV. Radio. Email. IM. The calmer and cleaner you can make your environment, the easier it will be.
  2. Let go of practical concerns. Stop thinking about your schedule for the day, your job, etc. Don’t worry, all those thoughts will be right there where you left them once you’re done your envisioning.
  3. Pick something. Choose something to focus on. It could be an industry, a technology, a product or a service. All that matters is for you to pick something you have a reasonably good understanding of.
  4. Think about what it is and how it came to be. What did it evolve from? How has it changed over the years, and what types of factors have created those changes?
  5. Think about where it can go. This is the fun part. What’s the next logical evolution of it? How could it be better than it is now? How about the step beyond that? And another beyond that? How far out can you envision it?

That’s the process. You’re still the same person, standing in the same place, but now instead of looking at the ground around your feet, you’ve got your eyes trained on the horizon. Maybe what you see there will change your life. Maybe not. You don’t necessarily have to do anything with what you see. Maybe you’ll just be a little less surprised when some of what you’ve imagined becomes reality. You’ve broken through.

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