How To Unleash Creative Thinking With Presence of Mind

Source: Stratagy+Business

By Amy Murphy and William Duggan

The concept of presence of mind, as a tool for strategy, comes from one of the original writers on that subject: the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz. In his classic book On War, published in 1832, he named presence of mind as a critical step of creative thinking. To have presence of mind is to clear away your prior notions about the situation you face: what the problem is, what the solution is, what your goal is, what the question is, what the answer is, what you want, what you expect, what you like or dislike. This gives your brain the space and time to make its own connections.

Presence of mind is difficult to foster, and it takes mental discipline to achieve. But it is crucial for creating good ideas — and it can make you happier and healthier too. The two biggest obstacles to presence of mind are excessive focus and negative thinking. Excessive focus means you can’t let go of your current understanding of the problem: your goals, your timeline, options you’ve already listed, and so on. To let your brain make new connections, you must free your mind of all that. This includes negative emotions such as anger, frustration, worry, and fear. These feelings flood the brain with the hormone cortisol, which blocks your ability to recall what you have stored in memory. You literally cannot think creatively…..(more)

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