Life is filled with so many details that it can be overwhelming. The big whiteboard in my office is filled with long lists of things to do and people to contact, the calendar in the kitchen is filled with sports and music lessons, school events and volunteer commitments and my blackberry buzzes consistently like a dying fly. While keeping track of all the details, it can be difficult to step back and think about bigger issues and make plans for longer than daily survival, but it is essential to personal and professional growth to find time to think.
Charles Kettering, the founder of Delco and the holder of over 140 patents, was a great believer in finding a place for thinking. He believed that if you created the space the ideas would come. He once made a bet with one of his friends that he could make him buy a pet bird. The fellow didn’t believe him so he agreed to the bet. Soon after, Kettering gave the man an expensive, handmade Swiss birdcage. The birdcage was so beautiful that the man took it home and hung it in his dining room. Of course whenever people would come over to dine they would ask him, “When did your bird die?” He would have to explain how he never had a bird and all about the bet. Eventually he got tired of repeating the story and went out and bought a parakeet and paid Kettering the money. Kettering’s point was, “If you hang birdcages in your mind, you eventually get something to put in them.”
So how do you create a birdcage in your mind in which ideas will come home to roost? In my view, creating the birdcage or ‘thinking space’ requires three things:
The first essential element is to find your own private space, a place to think your thoughts. After many, many years of trying different places I’ve finally found the right space for me. I now have a comfortable chair in my bedroom with a small table and a floor lamp. The small table has a couple of books – some for reflection, some for learning, as well as a notebook for jotting down ideas or thoughts. I also have pens and markers because I like to use colour to highlight ideas. And of course room for that necessary hot cup of coffee.
The second essential element is to create the time to spend sitting and thinking. It is fundamental to my sense of balance that I spend a half-hour every morning in my ‘thinking spot’ to prepare for my day. I don’t specifically think about my to-do list because as soon as I walk into my office – it’s waiting for me. What I do with that time is to think more deeply and more widely about the personal and professional aspects of my life. I always have a book to prompt me because sometimes there are no birds coming to roost in my birdcage so I fill my mind with the thoughts and ideas of others.
And finally, write it down. Keep notes of your thoughts and the ideas you’ve drawn from your readings. Often I take a note of a quote from something I’m reading that I want to think about some more. Go back and look at previous musings. Take time to draw out ideas by writing them out more fully. Give your thoughts time to develop. If you do this on a regular basis you will be surprised at how many birds come to ‘sing’ in your birdcage.