When Bill Gates led Microsoft, he realized that he didn't have to know everything. He recognized that he had employees who did. But, he appreciated the importance of taking the time to learn what they knew and absorb their creative thinking. He took time to listen to their ideas. He took time to think, to ponder the direction of Microsoft. The Wall Street Journal highlighted Gates’ bi-annual Think Weeks in an article a few years ago, In Secret Hideaway, Bill Gates Ponders Microsoft’s Future by Robert A. Guth. (You must be a subscriber.) The concept took hold in my imagination.
Essentially, for many years, Gates went into seclusion for two, one-week “Think Weeks” a year. Family, friends and Microsoft employees were banned from his retreat.
Alone, he read manuscripts from Microsoft associates on topics that ranged from the future of technology to speculation about the next “hot” products. Some papers suggested new products or different versions of current products. Any employee could use their creative thinking to write up ideas and send them for Gates’ perusal. He has said that he may read 100 papers during a Think Week and his record is 112 papers.
Not just reading, Gates took the time to respond to employee suggestions. One paper might have resulted in an email sent to hundreds of Microsoft employees world-wide. Employees waited with baited breath to see if their paper or idea might receive the go ahead following one of these famous Think Weeks.
The process of reviewing employee ideas, and encouraging creative thinking from employees, has evolved over the years. An assistant later culled the submitted papers prior to Think Week and a computerized response system let Gates easily respond to papers. But the basic idea - to read and think during time alone – to review ideas from the creative thinking of employees - remained constant.
Think Week Implications for Creative Thinking
Bill Gates took the time, twice a year, to read and ponder the future of Microsoft and the creative thinking of his employees. How often do you take time to read about new ideas, revel in the creative thinking of your staff, consider creatively your current work and life, and make changes? Not often enough, I’ll bet.
But, if the founder and long term CEO of one of the most powerful corporations in the world set this example, I am willing to learn from his creative thinking. This article idea came to me during a one-hour think time. I jotted down four additional ideas – in just an hour of reading and creative thinking.
I know, take time to think; take time to read and learn may be simple messages. But do you do it? If not, take time for creative thinking; take time to read and learn. You can transform your world.
Ten Exercises to Promote Creative Thinking and Innovation
- Read with pen and notebook in hand; jot down any idea that comes into your consciousness.
- Keep a notebook in which you can keep track of ideas, by your bed and in your car.
- Write one idea down on a piece of paper and brainstorm any thought that comes from it: how to accomplish the idea, what to do about the idea, where to use the idea, who can help you implement the idea, and any other thought that enters your mind.
- Read a non-fiction book every week. Read magazines, journals, online articles, all-the-time.
- Clip articles and place them in a folder of related articles or ideas. Periodically, glance through the folder.
- Create “idea files” in most folders in your computer. Create an idea or to-do file in your email program. Add ideas as they come to you.
- Take time to stare out your window (if your setting deserves attention), play with a desk toy, take a quiet walk. Do any rote activity that allows thoughts to swirl through your mind.
- Encourage your staff and coworkers to do all of the above and share ideas with each other at “think” or brainstorm sessions. Schedule annual retreats or off-site meetings to plan and generate ideas.
- Develop an employee suggestion process.
- Schedule think weeks, think days, or think hours for yourself or your work group.
Thinking time and learning time are both critical to creativity and innovation. The old adage: “stop to smell the roses” is true for both your current work and your career. Take time to plant and harvest the ideas that fuel your progress and success. Creative thinking rules.