Note from Mike: A common question I get asked is how to generate good stock ideas. This applies to job seekers looking for a good interview stock pitch all the way up to seasoned stockpickers. Alistair Clark is with us today to talk about how to structure our days to get more good ideas to pop into your head. I even learned some new tricks from Alistair, so I hope you enjoy.
Are you trying to break into a career the buy side?
Are you struggling to come up with creative stock ideas that will make you stand out in interviews?
Information overload could be to blame.
Not only does constantly consuming information leave you physically and mentally exhausted, it can also kill your creativity. And when you're pursuing a career where a few creative stock ideas can be the difference between succeeding and failing, then this is a huge problem.
In this article I'll dig into how information overload affects your creativity, and present a solution for sparking game-changing creative ideas without having to hit the "mute button" on the rest of the world.
The Challenge: Information overload is killing your creativity
Information overload is a buzz-word that get's thrown around a lot, but people rarely believe that access to more information is actually a bad thing.
After all, doesn't knowing help us come up with better ideas?
Well, this 2011 article from McKinsey Quarterly highlights some of the often ignored downsides of having more information.
One might think that constant exposure to new information at least makes us more creative. Here again, the opposite seems to be true. Teresa Amabile and her colleagues at the Harvard Business School evaluated the daily work patterns of more than 9,000 individuals working on projects that required creativity and innovation. They found that the likelihood of creative thinking is higher when people focus on one activity for a significant part of the day and collaborate with just one other person. Conversely, when people have highly fragmented days—with many activities, meetings, and discussions in groups—their creative thinking decreases significantly.
These findings also make intuitive sense. Creative problem solving typically requires us to hold several thoughts at once “in memory,” so we can sense connections we hadn’t seen previously and forge new ideas. When we bounce around quickly from thought to thought, we know we’re less likely to make those crucial connections.
The takeaway? If you're reading every market update and every company 10-K looking for a creative spark, you're probably hurting yourself more than helping.
Unfortunately, simply reading less and thinking more isn't enough to fix your problems.
If you really want to fix your information overload and spark your creativity than you need a deeper understanding of how the brain actually produces these 'lightbulb moments' of creativity.
The Solution: How our brain tackles tough problems to produce 'lightbulb moments'
Have you ever had a brilliant idea randomly pop into your head?
Of course you have — most people have experienced lots of these 'lightbulb moments' in their lives. A perfect solution for a problem you've been struggling with just appears into your mind, out of nowhere.
But the challenge is that most of us have no idea where these creative ideas come from, or how to make them happen more often.
Well, scientists and researchers can help us out.
Conscious thought is better at making linear, analytic decisions, but unconscious thought is especially effective at solving complex problems," says Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management. "Unconscious activation may provide inspirational sparks underlying the 'Aha!' moment that eventually leads to important discoveries.
So, if we want to spark creative insights, then we need to build in time for BOTH conscious analysis and unconscious processing.
In the next section I'll tell you exactly how to apply this concept to your day-to-day life and turn yourself into an idea generating machine.
The How To: Structure your day to conquer information overload and spark your creativity
Imagine if instead of waiting for a great stock idea to pop into your head, you could deliberately spark creativity multiple times a day. How would that help you break into the career of your dreams? Think about it.
Well, I'm going to give you a strategy designed to do just that.
On a recent podcast episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, Tim interviews Josh Waitzkin, a former chess prodigy that now consults some of the very best hedge fund and investment managers in the world. He doesn't name names, but mentions that his clients run 20 to 30 billion dollar financial groups.
During the interview Josh breaks down how he helps clients conquer information overload and structure their day to spark creative insights:
What I do with these guys is – after I do my initial diagnostic process – I have ways of revamping their daily architecture, the way they live their life. So that they’re, for example, aligning their peak energy period with their peak creativity work. They are building lifestyles that are just relentlessly proactive. As opposed to reacting to inputs, they’re building a daily architecture which is based on maximizing the creative process.
When you think about this relative to most people – a simple case in point – is email checking. Most people when they finish a break, and even top guys in the industry, and they finish a break, whether they wake up first in the morning – what do most people do? They check their emails. When they come back from a workout, they check their emails. When they come back from lunch, they check their emails. So what you see is whenever they’re coming back from something after a break, they’re soaking in input and they’re living this reactive lifestyle. Their creative process is dominated by external noise as opposed to internal music. And a lot of what I work on with guys is creating rhythms in their life that really are based on feeding the unconscious mind, which is the wellspring of creativity, information and then tapping it.
So for example, ending the work day with high quality focus on a certain area of complexity where you could use an insight and waking up first thing in the morning, pre-input and applying your mind to it. Not so much to do a big brainstorm, but to tap what you’ve been working unconsciously overnight, which of course is a principle that Hemingway talked about, when he spoke about the 2 core principles in his writing process was: one was ending the work day with something left to write and then second principle: release your mind from it, don’t think about it all night. Have a glass of wine and wake up first thing in the morning and reapply your mind to it.
And it’s amazing, because you’re basically feeding the mind complexity and then tapping that complexity, or tapping what you’ve done with it and this rhythm, the large variation of it is overnight, then you can do microburst of it throughout the day: before workout, pose a questions, do a workout and release your mind and after your workout return to it and do a creative burst. Before you go to the bathroom, before you go to lunch, before anything. And these are ways of systematically training yourself to generate the crystallization experience, the high moment, that can happen once a month or once a year. A lot of what I do is work on system that help it happen once a day or 4 times a day. When you’re talking about guys that run financial groups of 20 to 30 billion dollars for example if they have a huge insight, that can have unbelievable value. So if you can really train people to get systematic about nurturing their creative process, it’s unbelievable what can happen. Most of that work relates to getting out of your own way, at a very high level. It’s unlearning, it’s the constant practice of traction, reducing friction.
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It's a beautiful, simple, and extremely powerful solution to a problem we all have.
If you want to start churning out more game-changing ideas, just look for a few moments during the day where you can work on a problem before taking a break and plant the seed for some unconscious creativity. It could be lunch, a workout, a coffee break, or even overnight while you sleep.
Not only will this help combat the feeling of information overload, but it could also lead to some career-changing creative ideas.
After you’ve thought this framework, let me ask you this: How will you apply this idea to your day-to-day schedule? What are the moments that you can turn into creative opportunities?
Alistair Clark is a former management consultant that runs worklifefitness.co. He shows ambitious professionals how to succeed in demanding careers without sacrificing everything else in their life—their health, their relationships, and their happiness. Get started with a free email course to cure your burnout and kick-start your motivation: The 5-Day Burnout Fix.