The busyness of everyday life sometimes keeps our minds focused on routine tasks that we need to accomplish during the day. These could be very important ones, as those that we need to perform during our regular jobs so we can earn our living. When an entrepreneur invents a new product or service, or improves greatly upon an existing one, it is usually because he or she had the time to let their critical mind observe the world around them, and their creative mind wander, coming up with solutions inspired by this process. I feel there is an irony here. The word business in old English comes from the state of being busy (busyness), and conveys the sense of anxiety related to the tasks that we have been appointed to take care of. In order to create new businesses, entrepreneurs need less busyness. In order to create, to be innovative, there is a part of us that needs to be less focused on getting the task at hand checked off a list, and more focused on observing and imagining, more focused on being kind of less focused.
I grapple greatly with this oxymoron of a paradox. Seriously, I do. Some of the best software I wrote to automate financial modeling worksheets came to me after finding time to get out of my daily required manual tasks and just thinking and letting my mind wander. One of my sisters, the architect, once told me years ago that when you see a path on the grass that was formed because of people crossing through the middle of the lawn instead of taking the paved ways around it, it signals that most probably the best paved path would have needed to be where the crowd of people crossing the lawn created a path. Observe, and the world around you will tell you where the solutions are.
I was sitting near the front last year at a Miami conference when Uri Levine, founder of Waze, described the approach used to map the cities and the data displayed in the app. I may be dumb, but I had never stopped, because of my busyness, to think of how a simple crowdsourcing approach could have been and had actually been used. I already knew that you can source a crowd to get feedback on how good a restaurant or an Uber driver is, based on the number of stars previous customers awarded. I had never thought of how, instead of asking thousands of people “how would you rate your driver today?” or “how many stars would you give the food and service?”, you could simply ask them to install an app that could tell where they are located all the time. By doing this, the Waze scientists where able to map a little dot for each car on an empty screen, that when grouped as hundreds and thousands of cars, it created a picture that basically mapped out all the roads and their congestion level, in real time, without ever drawing the map. You could then overlay an actual map from a satellite picture and it would match the crowdsourced data perfectly. How simple and how elegant; and how stupid of me of not ever stopping before I heard this to analyze on my own how I would create this, if given the task. I was too busy with other things. That is why Uri and his co-founders created Waze, and not me, or perhaps you. Perhaps you had already thought of this, but did not get around to getting it done, because you were busy. How many times have you seen a new product or service come to market that you or a friend of yours claim that you had come up with the same idea in the past? Behold another instance of busyness hindering business innovation. To solve the biggest puzzles of our life, sometimes all we need is some time off. We need time to be more focused on being less focused. Take time to observe carefully, and the world around you will tell you where the solutions are.