Not that long ago, when the phone rang at your house, it was lottery time. There was no caller ID, no text messaging to deliver “I’m calling you now” alerts. The phone rang. It could be anybody – your sister, your mother, your best friend, a telemarketer, or even a prank caller (“Is your refrigerator running?”). But you’d always answer it. You picked up the handset and said, “Hello?”
I remember when my family would just pile into the car and go for a Sunday drive. We’d stop, get ice cream, end up at a park, or catch a movie. There was no plan.
Today, you never just call someone. I saw a Facebook post from someone who was so shocked when one of their friends called them without warning, that they were annoyed to learn it wasn’t an emergency. Some of us rarely answer the phone with “hello” anymore. We look at the caller id and ask, “Why is X calling me?” The assumption there is no reason anyone would call today without having arranged it or warned us first.
Technology has squeezed so much spontaneity from our lives.
When was the last time you went to a new restaurant without studying the Yelp reviews or analyzing the menu first? Choosing a new restaurant used to be a risk. It might be bad, but that was part of the adventure. You might stumble upon the best sushi no one knew about.
Technology could enhance spontaneity. We could text people just to let them know we’re thinking about them. We could click the “I’m feeling lucky” button on Google as we search “Italian restaurant.” We could make last-minute plans, which was exceedingly different before cell phones. But we don’t. Why?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that spontaneity has real value in developing creativity and innovation.
A John Hopkins research study found that when jazz musicians improvise, the part of the brain linked to highly planned actions slows way down. The research suggests that this lowers inhibitions and allows for creativity and free-flowing thoughts.
In our business lives, we often plan out every aspect of our team’s time. Our calendars are filled with back-to-back meetings – so we use the “free time” between those meetings to do our planned work.
I’ve watched great content and campaign ideas get squashed in meetings because it doesn’t “fit” in the planned activities.
I’m not suggesting we should just shoot from the hip and act on every impulse that we (or our team members have). Plans and benchmarks are important. But planning some improvisation or spontaneity into our activities can help.
When planning our teams’ activities, why not plan for 85% utilization and leave 15% headroom for spontaneous activities or ideas. I know that seems weird. But having to make a business case for spontaneity seems weirder.
Sometimes the most enjoyable experiences happen when we allow the unexpected to happen rather than simply making the planned happen.