31 Ways to See Things Differently as a Leader

Everyone has had this happen to them. You’re taking a shower, driving the car, walking the dog and—wham—an idea pops into your head that’s a perfect solution to a pressing problem. A solution that comes to you in a flash: not by thinking about the problem, but by doing the exact opposite.

What’s going on?

It is, quite simply, how our brain works. Over-thinking about something can be just as detrimental as not thinking about it at all, because over-thinking paints us into a corner mentally and emotionally.

Harvard researcher and psychologist Shelley Carson, author of Your Creative Brain, advises that if you’re stuck on a problem, an interruption (like taking a shower, driving the car, or walking the dog) can “provide the break you need to disengage from fixation on an ineffective solution.’’

As leaders we must admit that sometimes we get stuck in our problems, fixated on ineffective solutions. We get so obsessed with an issue that we can’t find an answer to it, even a patently obvious one.

How do you get unstuck?

You get unstuck by seeing things differently, opening your mind to creative ways of thinking. Fixation is broken when you stand on top of your desk, as the character played by Robin Williams urged his English boarding school students to do in Dead Poets Society. This is critical because, “We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” An astute observation attributed to Albert Einstein.

Here, then, are 31 ways to do that. That is, 31 things you can do to stand on top of your desk, opening your mind to the random moments that bring a blinding flash of brilliance. Pick one of these to do in the next 30 days, and pick one to do in the next six months. Then make it your aim to live like this as a leader.

  1. Go on a road trip for the weekend.

  2. Tour a museum or an art gallery.

  3. Serve in a soup kitchen.

  4. Go to a concert or a comedy club.

  5. Visit one of the great cities of the United States, like New York, Boston, San Francisco, or Seattle.

  6. Write poetry.

  7. Climb a mountain.

  8. Plant an herb garden.

  9. Read a children’s book, like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, or The Phantom Tollbooth.

  10. Learn how to play a musical instrument.

  11. Take a college class for credit.

  12. Go bungee jumping, sky diving, or zip-lining.

  13. Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity.

  14. Invite all your neighbors over for a BBQ.

  15. Learn how to speak a new language.

  16. Wander through a bookstore.

  17. Visit one of the great cities of the world, like London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, or Sydney.

  18. Volunteer with hospice.

  19. Listen, really listen, to great music.

  20. Read, really read, a great novel.

  21. Take a hike or a bike ride.

  22. Run a marathon or a half-marathon.

  23. Go to a Shakespeare play.

  24. Go to a Broadway play (It doesn’t have to be on Broadway).

  25. Help a medical relief team in a developing country.

  26. Brew your own beer.

  27. Bake your own bread.

  28. March in a parade.

  29. Go to the circus or the zoo.

  30. Learn how to draw or paint.

  31. Befriend a senior citizen and listen to their life story.