White Noise Space to Enhance Strategic Thinking

By Natasha L. Foreman, MBA

I just read a very interesting article by Sabina Nawaz, written for the Harvard Business Review that encourages executives, managers, and other professionals to take two hours per week out of our insanely busy schedules to create our own personal ‘white noise space’, separate from the ‘noise’ of mobile devices, iPads, iPods, tablets, video games, laptops, computers, telephones, television, radio, and the like. Instead, Nawaz suggests that for two hours each and every week we should be taking a relaxing walk, drive or bike ride; or sitting in a comfortable location and doing absolutely nothing but thinking and reflecting; allowing our minds to totally dump all thoughts and ideas where we can quickly write them down in a journal or notepad (plain ole’ pen/pencil and paper, no electronic devices). 

This is similar to a method that I have used over the years and have suggested to my clients and mentees; but I use ‘alone time’ to ‘idea-dump’ or ‘stress-dump’ on paper everything that is in my head; but it has never been a requirement to do so in the absolute silence of non-silence, and without any distractions from electronic devices, etc. Nawaz’s method expands upon my thinking, eliminates all possible distractions (except whatever could pop up while driving in our car or riding a bike) and measures the results from doing so on a regular and consistent basis. She has shown the positive outcomes of creating and building our our white noise space. 

Nawaz suggests that in our constantly moving and changing lives we can be so overly consumed with deadlines, projects, and closing deals that we may miss or overlook a great idea or concept that can be used strategically in our business, simply because we don’t take a few moments consistently each week to take in the non-silence of silence, and allow our minds to do what they were created to do…process, strategize, and create. She also suggests that by building this white noise space to think, we can also find ways to creatively free ourselves for our personal lives so that we can spend this time with family and friends, whom we oftentimes neglect because of work commitments. 

She makes note of when in 2004, the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave a performance of the modern classic 4′ 33″ by John Cage, a composition that was made famous for “its counterintuitive focus on the sounds of music not being played.” John Cage, “…believed that true silence did not exist; he wanted people to pay attention to what was all around them, to recalibrate their perceptions of sound and silence. He wanted them to hear in a new way,” Nawaz wrote.

I agree with Nawaz that in business we rarely take time out to let our minds wander and breathe. We think that the only time we can ‘allow’ ourselves this moment of freedom is when we sleep, and if you’re only sleeping 3-5 hours per day yet up ripping and running 19-21 hours, that’s a great portion of your day being spent in high stress, high intensity environments where you don’t make the time to “wander around the edges of seemingly intractable problems.” Nawaz suggests that, “Building white space in your week lets you hear and think in a new way.”

I believe that it is something worth trying, especially since it has been proven effective with other managers, executives, and business leaders Nawaz highlighted in her article. So I’m going to give it a try for several weeks and see what changes I notice in my stress levels, clarity, business, and in my personal life. It takes my idea and stress ‘dumping’ to a higher level of thinking. So I’m inspired. 

I recommend that you read Nawaz’s article in its entirety then share your thoughts: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/07/this_space_intentionally_left.html

Copyright 2011. Natasha L. Foreman and Foreman & Associates, LLC. Some Rights Reserved. 

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