I love the snow leopard scene from a recent remake of “The Adventures of Walter Mitty,” starring Ben Stiller, who plays Walter Mitty, a meek daydreamer looking for a higher purpose. Walter’s also searching for an evasive celebrity photojournalist Sean O’Connell, played by Sean Penn.
Through a series of adventures taking him from Iceland to the mountains in Afghanistan, he finally finds Sean sitting on a sunny snow peak covered with protective gear in front of his camera. Sean explains to him that he’s here in the Himalayas on a mission to photograph snow leopards, extremely cautious animals, and one needs to prepare for a long wait with no guarantee to see these beautiful animals. Suddenly Sean motions Walter to look at the camera. They spot two snow leopards. When Walter anxiously asks why Sean is not taking the shot, Sean replies:
“Sometimes I do not. If I like the moment personally, I don’t like the distraction of the camera. So I stay in the moment. Right there. Right here.”
How many times we are compelled to capture the moment? Social media demands an instant feed of emotions shared with the world, yet to be forgotten in the next second. And here is the catch – when we instead immerse ourselves in the moment, when we allow ourselves to dive into the flow, our minds begin connecting the dots.
All of a sudden, all of our daily interactions, past memories, experiences and emotions are melted into the present. And this is when miracles happen. Some of the best ideas were born in tranquility.
Quoting Marcus Aurelius, “It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.” Have you experienced this tranquility?
In his bestselling book Where Do Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson describes seven ways of developing new ideas:
- Building innovation logically on previous breakthroughs
Developing ideas slowly over time
An idea highjack, where one idea serves a different purpose
Liquid networks producing “information spillover”
Errors leading to new paths
Idea stacking platforms
Of these seven, serendipity is my favorite. It always works for me, as for thousands of other people. Inc. magazine recently published 13 ways some great startupers found their ideas. You’ll be surprised that ideas come not only in the shower, but also pop up in your mind while walking your dog, during a flight, in a solo tea session, or while talking to parents.
The key is to unlock yourself by returning to reality. The more you expose yourself to real life, the more opportunities present themselves to you. What if you choose to not take pictures for your audience? What if you just be there?
On my recent trip to a conference in San Francisco, after an intense exchange of ideas, networking and a panel discussion, I tucked my cellphone deep in my pocket, and decided to stroll the beautiful streets of San Francisco toward the ocean side. My idea was to find a local bookstore and have a quiet reflection session while observing the ocean.
Long ago I discovered that my best ideas come to me in bookstores, when I have a small notebook, a pen and a stack of random books on the table. When I settled down on a bench facing the ocean, I suddenly saw a beautiful scene. In the midst of the blue ocean, I noticed a white sailboat surrounded by a halo of soft sunrays. The sails, the sun, the waves. Nothing else. Perfect.
It was such a great picture. Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? I confess – my hand started to move to my pocket to grab the phone. Yet I caught myself, and stopped that thought. Instead I just went with the flow. The next big idea was already in my mind.
Carpe diem. Stay in the moment. It is your turn, my friend.