Based on a speech delivered at Chatswood Early Risers Toastmasters – February 2009
Several centuries ago in a public bath in Syracuse, Italy, a man was soaking in a hot tub. His name was Archimedes. He had been working on a tricky problem of determining if the King’s new crown was pure gold or if the goldsmith hadn’t cheated him by adding silver to the gold. The challenge was that the crown was in the shape of a laurel wreath, and Archimedes needed to determine its volume without melting it down. Archimedes was mentally drained and this is why he was in the bath.
After a while, he felt refreshed and slowly got out of the water. As he did – he noticed the water level go down. This was the answer to measure the density of the crown! An object displaces its own volume of water. Now he had a way to measure the density as he could now calculate the volume and the weight. He jumped out of the bath, so excited he forgot to dress, then ran to the King’s palace stark naked, shouting Eureka! – which is Greek for “I have found it!”.
When did you last have a Eureka moment? A time when you suddenly thought of a solution to a problem while you were doing something completely different, usually relaxing. You can probably recall many great ideas you have had while driving, brushing your teeth or taking the dog for a walk.
I can remember a Eureka moment when I was at university. I had spent an hour in the computer lab trying hard to get my program to work. I was tired so I decided to go home. After only a few minutes of walking in the fresh evening air, the solution suddenly appeared to me. I stopped and wondered — should I return to try it out?
I decided to leave it until tomorrow. When I return to the computer lab the next morning, I got my program working in a few minutes. I continue to have Eureka moments when I take lunch breaks and on my weekend walks. I’ve even visualised speeches on my walk to the railway station. So what is going on here?
What we are seeing is the creative process in action. There are four stages in this process.
First is Preparation when we work on the problem, using our knowledge, experience and skill.
The second stage is Incubation when we take a break. Many great ideas arise when we are not working on the problem, as we saw with Archimedes in the bath. Our subconscious mind never stops working, processing and rearranging information.
The third stage is Illumination – that Eureka moment when the idea suddenly appears – the time when the imaginary light bulb comes on above our head.
The final stage of the creative process is Verification when you put the idea into action and see if it works.
But there is a threat. The most important phase of Incubation time is under attack! Technology and increased pressure from our jobs, are intruding on this time. Nowadays, many people use their lunch break to multitask to the maximum. In the food courts and street side cafes of North Sydney, I see people with an iPod headphone in one ear, and mobile phone to the other ear, while eating their lunch.
Employees are given Blackberries to stay connected to the office 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With these demands on our time, when can our subconscious minds get a chance to speak up?
I have a solution – a 30 minute appointment I make just with myself. I use these 30 minutes for a lunch time walk – away from the crowds – enjoying the sunshine, fresh air and greenery.
I’m not the first person to enjoy a stroll to solve my problems. Saint Jerome, the fifth century priest coined a phrase solvitur ambulando which means “It is solved walking”. In other words, take your problems and decisions on a walk!
There’s something about walking that makes it special for me. I’m sure it a combination of the rhythm of my footsteps, the fresh air and different sights. Walking is like meditation in action.
I encourage you to set a 30 minute appointment with just yourself today. Work diligently with 100% focus then enjoy your 30 minute walk without guilt. But leave all electronic devices behind. Instead, just take a notepad and pen ready to catch the big ideas.
Your 30 minute appointment with yourself will bring you balance, boost your creativity, and allow you to have golden Eureka moments.