The Value of a Wandering Mind

I’m going to open this post with something that I suspect will ruffle a few feathers. (It’s just what I do, okay?) Sales professionals are creatives. There. I said it. I know sales professionals don’t like to think of themselves as artsy or esoteric, and creatives don’t like the notion that a buttoned-up salesman is operating on their astral plane, but it’s true. Sales professionals are tasked with getting new ideas across — something that requires them to think different, as we used to say at Apple. Certainly, when the idea of the iPhone was first discussed — an iPod that people can use for reading content, for learning? — there was pushback. It fell to developers but also sales team members to imagine how they might integrate this product into daily life; how they might convince people of a new way of thinking.

For these reasons, I was encouraged to see a Big Think article that espouses the myriad values of day dreaming, mind wandering, and what you might call constructive distractions. The gist of the article? Letting your mind relax, flitting to different ideas with no particular sense of structure or purpose, is actually a great way to come up with creative new ideas. And I will attest, from personal experience, that this is very much the case. I can’t count the number of real breakthroughs that have come to me while I was in the shower, for example, or out jogging — ideas I wasn’t even seeking, but just descended on me from out of the blue.

When we allow our minds to relax, it helps us to subconsciously arrange our thoughts in new patterns, and to see things from different angles. This is certainly helpful for anyone in sales. Being able to see new ways of doing things opens countless possibilities for you as you try to get a new product or service across.

Even when you’re giving a pitch, all that day dreaming can come in handy. You never know when some irrelevant little detail you notice will suddenly come to you, presenting itself as totally relevant for the moment and the opportunity you’ve been handed.

All of this is true, I think, because the nature of sales has fundamentally changed in recent years. The days of manipulative or prescriptive selling are long past. Today, the most successful sales professionals are the ones who are consultative, able to find ways for their product or service to add value to the consumer’s life — something that depends a great deal on the specific person you’re dealing with. That’s why it matters so much that you think different. It’s why it matters that you keep your mind open at all times.

So let me tell you some of the tools I keep handy to facilitate this mind-wandering process. I always have blank paper handy, and also a Sharpie. I like Sharpies because they are big and bold, because they are smooth, and because they’re so thick; they impose some helpful physical limitations on my note-taking and brainstorming.

I use a standing desk in my office, and rarely sit down; I recommend it, because I find that the increased blood flow helps the mind wander all the more. Alternately, I often sit in hotel lobbies and simply let my mind go; being out amongst people (and sipping hotel lobby coffee) is stimulating for me.

Another approach: Go jogging. Take music with you, but make sure it’s an old favorite. A brand-new song or album will demand attention, not letting your mind be truly free. And always have a digital voice recorder handy. (I like the ones from Olympus the best.) Be ready to record any new ideas or breakthroughs you have. Don’t assume you’ll remember your ideas later; you probably won’t. That’s why I even keep my recorder just outside the shower. You never know when that inspiration will come!

There’s great value in letting your mind wander — and that holds true for creatives of all stripes.