Features | From Pivot Magazine

How forced downtime can lead to brilliant ideas

Bill Gates is just one of the bright minds who set aside time to do nothing but think

A Facebook IconFacebook A Twitter IconTwitter A Linkedin IconLinkedin An Email IconEmail

Illustration of woman driving with a thought bubble, and inside is a light bulbBill Gates is known to hail the benefits of pondering problems behind the wheel (Illustration by Leeandra Cianci) 

Like most CEOs, Sara Blakely struggles to find time to think, what with heading up shapewear company Spanx, co-owning the Atlanta Hawks and raising four children. Which is why you’ll find her driving around Atlanta alone every morning. “I’ve identified where my best thinking happens, and it’s in the car,” Blakely told the Masters of Scale podcast. She lives near her office and doesn’t need to commute. But she “fake” commutes anyway. “I get up an hour early and drive around aimlessly so my thoughts can come to me.”

Blakely is just one example of how far business leaders go in search of think time. Bill Gates, who also hails the benefits of pondering problems behind the wheel, is known for secluding himself in a cottage for an annual “think week.” Shigeru Miyamoto, a top game producer at Nintendo, credited soaking in a bathtub—at work—for helping him design Donkey Kong. Another Japanese innovator, floppy disk inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu, also appreciates a good dip—to the point of nearly drowning. “If you have too much oxygen in your brain, inspiration will not strike,” he told Smithsonian Magazine in 2012. “Zero-point-five seconds before death, I visualize an invention.”

The car seems safer. Lynne Pearce, a Lancaster University prof and author of Drivetime, praises the dreaded commute. “The 20th-century automobile has provided drivers and passengers with a personalized refuge and thought-space in which to touch base with matters pushed to one side in the frenetic hustle of everyday life.” Let’s hope driverless cars don’t turn it into a second office.