Beethoven liked to go for a walk

Although I’m a strong advocate of following a project management process, this does not mean that there is no room for creativity in projects. Far from it. No two projects are the same, and because the human element is always a major factor, the project manager has to be versatile, adaptable and creative.

The Seven Essentials provides a framework, within which the PM can apply their creative skills. But project management is not a factory process.

Last week’s Horizon on BBC (available on iPlayer in the UK at the time of writing) looked at the creative process, and in particular the “aha!” or “eureka!” lightbulb moment. This is where the solution to a problem suddenly comes to mind, seemingly from nowhere. Of course, it doesn’t really come from nowhere; there are unconscious processes at work within the brain that are able to produce these remarkable results. Also, there are behaviours that can be adopted that increase the chances of lightning striking.

It got me thinking about how this applies to project managers. Certainly the ability to come up with creative solutions to a project challenge must be a strength, so what behaviours do we need to adopt?

The key, it seems, is to give the brain the bandwidth to carry out some background processing. It works best if the mind is somewhat active – not totally relaxed – but not too  busy either.

When I was doing A-levels, my sixth form tutor advised doing an hour or so of revision, and then to go for a walk and not really think about anything. Let it sink in. And then back to the revision. It worked for me, and to this day I find that going for a relaxed walk really helps my mental processes. The research described on Horizon shows that there is some science behind this.

For project managers, apart from going for a walk, here are some hints:

  • Don’t spend too much time stuck at your desk. Interact with people, face-to-face, as much as possible.
  • Don’t skip lunch – and don’t lunch alone. Apart from the social contact, those casual lunchtime conversations might give your mind the space to get on with some background processing.
  • Vary your tasks throughout the day. If you are more creative during the morning, as many of us are, then don’t squander that time on your email backlog. Turn off Outlook, and do something more interesting.
  • Spend non-work time with the team. Hold social events. Relax together. If you’re working away from home, hotel bar time sometimes generates useful ideas.

I try to write these blogs on a weekly basis, and almost always I start by going for a walk. Next comes a mind map, and then I write.

Beethoven didn’t actually write a blog, but according to Horizon whenever he was a bit stuck creatively, he went for a walk.

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About Russell Whitworth (Q2 Associates Ltd)

In pursuit of PM Excellence
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