ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — December 2003

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In the Spotlight
Matthew May
Troubled or Troublesome
Moving the Elephant
Elephant Problems and Hay Solutions


AQP Connections
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In a Nutshell
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December 2003 News For A Change — Home Page

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Night Rider
To make major breakthroughs in your work and in your life, you need to take time away from your routine and just let yourself think. When you are wrapped up in the pressures of everyday life, it can be difficult to concentrate on what you have to accomplish, much less to develop new ideas and approaches.

For example, when I am facing a difficult problem, one that has me banging my head against the wall, my wife will frequently suggest that I get on my bicycle and go for a ride. After protesting that I will go as soon as I solve the problem, my wife finally says something like, “No, you don’t understand—get on your bike and go now!”

The curious thing, of course, is that about 10 miles into the ride, when I have finally stopped thinking about the problem, a solution pops into my head, and it’s usually an idea I hadn’t even considered before. The bicycle is a useful tool for me for general problem solving. But for the big stuff, I have a different strategy that I discovered quite by accident about 10 years ago.

Living in North Carolina puts us at least 10 hours from various family members in New York and Connecticut and vacation spots we like to visit in Florida. As many of you know, traveling with children can be challenging. “He’s on my side!” “She touched my book!” “He looked at me!” “I’m hungry!” “Are we there yet?” You can imagine that this gets old, particularly when it all happens within the first 10 minutes of a 12-hour drive! So one time we decided to drive through the night. It worked great! The traffic is lighter, the kids are asleep, and I can play my music loud and nobody even notices.

After all these years, we now have this down to a science! We leave around 7:00 p.m., and my wife drives the first shift. Aided by a Starbucks cappuccino, she will drive five or six hours while I get a few hours of sleep.

When she wakes me up at around 1:00 a.m., I drive the rest of the way. I’m not sure if it’s the solitude of being in a car full of sleeping people, driving down a road with very few other cars, beginning or ending a much-needed vacation, or simply the coffee that I don’t normally drink, but what’s interesting is that about an hour or two into the drive, my mind starts wandering in new directions, and I begin thinking very, very clearly.

On dozens of these trips up and down Interstate 95, I have formulated comprehensive business strategies, conceived new training programs, and developed innovative drills to teach in my karate classes. I have thought up new marketing plans, identified topics for future books to write, and had insights into major life decisions.

It’s almost a meditative state, and I only get there when I allow sufficient time to work through the overwhelming details of everyday life and finally get some conscious quality time to think about nothing at all. That’s exactly when the ideas start flowing.

In your life, do you set aside time to do nothing at all? Do you do what is referred to in some martial arts texts as “active inactivity”? Sometimes the best way to solve a problem or break new ground is to walk away from the issue for a while and let the answer come to you instead of incessantly chasing it. Try to make time to do nothing and watch your mind start to work for you!

A nationally recognized customer service expert, author, and trainer, RON ROSENBERG, CSP, recently founded, a Web site dedicated to helping people get the service they deserve and to teaching companies how to provide it. He has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Smart Money, and Real Simple and has appeared as a guest on nationally syndicated radio shows including “Dateline Washington” and the “Gary Nolan Show.” For more information, visit his Web site at .

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