Experts Say the Key to Innovation Could be Cultivating More Quiet Time

“The busier you are, the more you need quiet time.” The title of one Harvard Business Review’s latest articles, says it all.

We live in an increasingly loud and hectic world, where we are subjected to endless noise pollution, both from inside and outside sources: we fill our ears with music, news, podcasts and more in an effort to stay on top of trends and whatever narrative is currently controlling the airwaves, always looking for that next marketing or business opportunity. We entertain inner monologs with endless to-do lists, mentally prepare meetings and spend a lot of time thinking about what to say next - barely giving our thinking mind a break.

But, what if that opportunity - that next big thing or ‘ah-ha’ moment - laid not in the noise but in nurturing silence?

That’s what journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates argues, as he says “serious thinkers and writers” should get off social media and fill spare time with that increasingly rare commodity: quiet.

He’s not alone in his thinking, either. Structured silence has factored into the success of great minds, including authors like J.K. Rowling and even California Governor, Jerry Brown. Furthermore, the HBR article cites studies that reveal “needless sound” leads to sleep deprivation, distress, and alarm, while silence relieves stress, improves memory and fights insomnia. It’s even associated with the development of new cells. Much like sleep is necessary to restore our bodies and brains, quiet time is needed to give our creative muscles the “rest day” they need to flex out impressive new ideas.

Here’s how busy marketers can leverage silence to find new ideas and cultivate creativity:

  • Pre- or post-meeting meditation: try to find five to ten minutes of quiet time before or after meetings. This will help information sink in faster and give you the benefits of a quick respite. Try a meditation app, instead of using music or a guided meditation, set it up to be silent and use bells to help you stay present.
  • Eco-breaks and media fasts: schedule regular breaks in nature, even just thirty minutes to two hours strolling a park. Booking a Saturday hike in a no cell service area would be ideal but if you’re too busy to carve out the time, you can practice sitting and watching nature in a nearby park, letting go of thought and the inner chatter. Shut the phone off while you’re at it and if you can’t, log out of your social media apps temporarily.
  • Become more mindful of media use: Some of our marketers have said in the past that they have ‘hidden’ time-consuming apps and social accounts from themselves by putting them on page 2-3 of their home screen and using apps like Newsfeed Eradicator on Facebook. This one extra step makes them more aware of distractions and helps them refocus on what’s most important.
  • Create quiet time for teams: Expand your quiet time practices to your team to see innovation flourish. Company retreats are not new, but you may find a silent retreat to be far more challenging and team-building. 100 scientists decided to put meditation and silence to the test and found the experience to be highly emotional and powerful. Since participants are not allowed to talk, write or interact with one another, they gain new perspective. Plus, at the end, they had a powerful experience that was only shared with the group in the retreat. Great for bonding and creative outlets!

As we usher in an era of mindfulness and meditation to balance our overworked minds, cultivating the practice of silence is the next logical step for a more well-rounded lifestyle. The added benefit of boosted creativity is just the cherry on top.

Learn more in the HBR original think piece.