Be Like Tobi
You need to fight against becoming a shallow, mediocre property. One of the best ways is inspired by a leader I admire. A recent Fortune article on Shopify’s CEO, Tobi Lutke, was interesting for a variety of reasons. But, the best part was this:
“Despite his growing workload, Lütke has remained disciplined in his pursuit of freethinking. Every quarter, he takes a week-long deep-learning retreat in which he secludes himself in office spaces around Ottawa to write code or takes a stack of books into the woods. The practice, which he calls “studio weeks,” was inspired by a practice established by musician friends.”
I love this. Shopify is a monumental success, partly because of their culture of thinking. But success can make CEOs time-strapped. They need to be able to do thinking required to stay ahead of the game. It’s when you’re hitting your successful years that you need to fight for thinking time. Better schedule some studio time.
What’s Studio Time?
Studio time is inspired by musicians and writers. Many great songs and books have been inspired by isolation and reflection. Justin Vernon wrote Bon Iver’s grammy-winning album while isolated in a hunting cabin. Gucci Mane released more mixtapes in prison than he did outside of it. Isolation spurs reflection, and we all could use a little more of it.
My Experience with Studio Time
Every year, I head up to a cottage in the Bruce Peninsula. Usually it is just me and my wife. I bring books, magazines, a notebook, and some wine. And I think. A lot. I’ve never had a problem thinking. Put me in a room with no TV, phone, or people, and I can go pretty deep for 2 to 3 hours.
I’ve done this for 4 years now. Every time I come back reinvigorated and full of ideas. I read Creativity Inc. one year and decided that we needed to implement psychological safety and riff sessions. In 2014 I came to the realization that I was a poor manager after reading Multipliers.
How to Go Studio
Going studio is harder than you think. Here are some ground rules:
Be Direct about Alone Time
You need to be clear with people that you need alone time. Not everyone will understand. Thinking is highly undervalued in today’s society. So be prepared for friends and family who may not be sympathetic. But forge ahead.
Settle in First
Don’t go all zen right away. Settle in, get a feeling going. Have some fun. Once you’re in a groove (usually on day 2) you can start doing some thinking.
Push yourself to think about something for more than 30 minutes. Seriously, think about one thing deeply for 30 minutes. Whenever you deviate, come on back. Can’t sit still? Walk around and think.
Don’t Be a Monk
Studio time is not about being silent all day. All you need is about 1-2 hours a day and you’re good. You’re not on a zen retreat. 2 hours a day over 6 days is 12 hours of deep thinking. That’s about 11 hours more than anyone else does in a year.
Loosen the Mind
Drinking a few glasses of wine tends to lubricate the mind for me. If you need a few beers to get thinking, go for it. Need to de-stress before you think? Go on a run. Work best on a full stomach? Eat some pasta. Do whatever it takes.
Give It a Go
If this all sounds like a bit much, try thinking deeply on a Saturday or a Sunday first. Give it a test run. Sit quietly in a room. Go for a drive. Take a long walk. Once you’ve gone deep, you’ll want to keep going back. Your mind and your company will thank you for it.