Intuition, Curiosity, and the Power of Wandering

Steve Anderson

Steve Anderson

Risk and Growth Expert

This newsletter issue is part of the Return on Risk LinkedIn Newsletter Series, designed to help you to better understand the exquisite tension between risk and growth.

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” he [Dwight Eisenhower] said he had heard in the Army. In an emergency, he went on, the first thing to do is “to take all the plans off the top shelf and throw them out the window.” (New York Times, November 1957)

Thanks to the digital revolution, we have the opportunity to maximize our productivity every minute of our lives. With smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices, there are plenty of opportunities to accomplish our work very efficiently and in less time. These devices have helped us become more productive in the short term.

The constant on-demand nature of how we operate is also likely reducing our ability to think creatively. One of the best ways to “think your way out of a problem” is to go for a walk. Why do you seem to come up with great ideas in the shower? I have a waterproof notepad in my shower so I can capture my ideas while my mind is wandering.

Jeff Bezos understood that wandering in business can sometimes be a very effective strategy to invent on behalf of the customer.

Wandering helped many to come up with groundbreaking ideas that changed the way we look at things forever. The list of wanderers comprises many well known names such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos. All of them changed our world with their dream-chasing passion, hard work, and, most importantly, creative thinking. So, I believe that wandering also plays a vital – often unappreciated – role in success in life and business.

In his 2018 letter to Shareowners, Bezos talked about the importance of “Intuition, curiosity, and the power of wandering.” I recommend you read that letter in its entirety.

In part, he said, “Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you’re going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute it. In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient … but it’s also not random. It’s guided – by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and powered by a deep conviction that the prize for customers is big enough that it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there. Wandering is an essential counter-balance to efficiency. You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries – the “non-linear” ones – are highly likely to require wandering.”

Wandering is an essential counter-balance to efficiency. You need to employ both. The outsized discoveries – the “non-linear” ones – are highly likely to require wandering.

“It’s critical to ask customers what they want, listen carefully to their answers, and figure out a plan to provide it thoughtfully and quickly (speed does matters in business!). No business could thrive without that kind of customer obsession. But it’s also not enough. The biggest needle movers will be things that customers don’t know to ask for. We must invent on their behalf. We have to tap into our own inner imagination about what’s possible.”

According to a Psychological Science research journal, when we let our mind wander freely, it gets engaged in creative incubation. When facing a new challenge that requires some innovative thinking, we can find better solutions by letting our minds wander initially and then respond to that challenge. While mentally drifting to consider new material, our brain continues to look for answers in the background. When we consume new information by looking at our devices, it eventually affects the background thinking process and limits mind-wandering. It ends up blocking the incubation that leads to creative solutions.

Therefore, being bored for a time may be what we need to be able to find creative solutions. I’m not asking you to stop using your devices, but you also need to put them aside sometimes to allow your brain to think deeply about a problem. This way, we lose focus and become more prone in mind-wandering instead of getting focused on handheld disruptions. Researchers are also ascertaining that when left to wandering, the human mind mainly focuses on future planning.

The culture of wandering continues to be supported at Amazon. Wandering is one of the reasons Amazon is about to continue to come up with fresh and innovative ideas.

What is your take on wandering as a business strategy? How “messy and tangential” is your path to “inventing on behalf of your customer?” And how do you balance wandering and planning? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Steve Anderson

Learn more about best-selling author Steve Anderson and how he shows business owners, executives, and leaders how to apply Bezos’ same practices to their businesses.
About Steve

The Bezos Letters

Check out this extensive catalog of all the blogs, news sites, and podcasts that have reviewed The Bezos Letters or interviewed Steve Anderson.
View List

Take the Assessment

Discover which principles you should focus your resources on first for the biggest impact, based on your specific risk & growth profile…
Start Assessment