If you look at the typical small business owner, they are busy, busy, busy. Get it done. Get it done. Make a decision. Get it done. That’s how most days, weeks, and months go.
Sometimes, though, you need to pause and think. In reality, more businesses would be more successful if the owners and leaders took more time to consider what they are doing and why.
This should be no surprise. When we were in school, we were told to check our work before turning it in. Our parents advised us to think before we speak. And how many times would have waiting just a moment longer been of value to us, had we only been patient?
The writer, speaker, and business coach John Maxwell suggests that there are four basic directions your thinking should go in the moments you pause:
1. INVESTIGATION. (I have to include the story about two guys cleaning out a stable. Up to their ankles in manure, one turns to the other and says, “There must be a horse around here somewhere.”) Some things are so obvious and don’t require reflection, but others require a little detective work. A pause gives you time to figure out what the problem really is so you can find the appropriate solution. Continual growth only occurs when we discover insights and truths within them and that comes from investigation.
2. INCUBATION. Maxwell says incubation is “taking an experience of life and putting it into the slow cooker of your mind to simmer it for a while. Give ideas enough time to simmer until you have an insight. That can take minutes, or even years. The best ideas are often the best because they came at the right time.
3. ILLUMINATION. These are the “aha!” moments. Jim Rohn said, “At the end of each day, you should play back the tapes of your performance. The results should either applaud you or prod you.” That’s illumination. Such moments are the reward for committing time and effort to pausing and reflecting, according to Maxwell.
4. ILLUSTRATION. An idea is great, but usually it’s like a skeleton—doesn’t have a lot of meat on it. And, until it gets that meat, it isn’t very useful. Add the substance to the idea and all of a sudden the idea comes to life. That could mean your final idea doesn’t look too much like your original one, but that is ok! Illustration brings out the color and the substance.
In this action-packed, always-on world, it can be tough to stop and reflect. But pausing is essential to growth. We need to take our time rather than hurry up. We need to stop and smell the—well, you know the expressions.
Try it right now. Close your eyes and take a moment to think about an idea. Investigate why it seems intriguing. Incubate on how the idea might change and grow. Illuminate the idea from different points of view. And finally, illustrate the idea by fleshing it out.
The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas, said Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling. You can do the same, but first: be intentional about pausing to reflect and learning what catches up with you. Use the above four I’s to make a pause worthwhile and fruitful. Take your time and make it worth your time to have an idea: for a business, for a product, or for a way to help a friend.
Because if you have ideas but never stop and think about how you can use them, what good is it have ideas at all?