Dream Your Problems Away

Don Newman, a young lecturer-mathematician at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1950 had been struggling with a very difficult mathematical problem. “I was ..trying to get somewhere with it, and I couldn’t, and I couldn’t, and I couldn’t,” he recalled. One night Newman dreamed that he was working on the problem when John Nash, a colleague and Nobel Laureate, appeared. Newman told Nash the problem and asked if he knew the solution.  Nash explained how to solve it and Newman awoke realising he had the answer! He went on to publish a breakthrough paper in mathematics. There are many examples of people who made great discoveries in their dreams; Mendeleyev saw the periodic table of elements in a dream, Shelley conjured up Frankenstein and Stevenson created Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Beethoven, Paul McCartney and Bill Joel all awoke with new songs ringing in their ears.  Mahatma Gandhi’s call for a nonviolent protest of British rule of India was inspired by dream. While we are not certain about all the reasons we dream (Sigmund Freud was only partially right), we do know that sleep goes in 90 minute cycles and that each one contains a period of rapid eye movement (REM) and right before that is when most dreams occur. Using new brain scan technology, studies show that during dreams visualization is more likely to occur and the social inhibitions of the brain are reduced so the mind is much more creative and able to see problems in different … Continue reading

Is your workplace open to innovative thinking?

EVERY organisation faces two major challenges – to deliver products and services to current customers quickly at a minimum of costs, and to invent new products and services before their competitors do. Many managers treat innovation and creativity as the holy grail of the workplace – everybody wants it but no-one is sure it exists or how to find it. For many organisations it is just wishful thinking. Though both innovation and creativity are touted as valuable, staff joke that they are nothing more than buzzwords, since few managers make the changes needed to nurture them. In some cases, like with William L Gore’s invention of Gore-Tex while working at DuPont, an employee tries to convince their company to market their invention and when the company refuses the employee starts his own company. Gore-Tex is now a billion dollar company. Mark Earls, author of Herd and ex-director of one of the UK’s largest communications group, points out that it is the hierarchical way companies are traditionally structured to ensure control and conformity that stifles and alienates creativity. Successful creative people avoid working in companies with these cultures because they know that, together with the creative ideas they love, they will also have to compromise their very way of being. So how can creativity and innovation be nurtured? Research on creativity has shown that factors such as trust and time to be creative are vital. 3M gives good performers 10 per cent ‘skunkworks’ time – time to pursue creative ideas that … Continue reading