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Intellectual Moments

by Scott Nelson  |  August 10, 2011  |  4 Comments

Managing any group of bright people has it’s challenges. Years ago, I became concerned that some of the people I managed would 1). suffer from burn out, and 2). need to find fresh input to continue to have good ideas. As such, I developed a concept for them that I called Intellectual Moments.

The rules for Intellectual Moments were simple. They happen once a month. On that day, people in my team were to sign themselves as out. No email. No calls. No meetings. In place of the normal daily activities, they were to take time to expose their mind to something NON WORK related. This was very important. It was not a day to catch up on reading work related things. It had to be a day to feed the mind with new content. Some examples of appropriate activities for the day:

1. Attend a lecture by someone in another field

2. Read a book on something like anthropology (none of my team are anthropologists)

3. View a documentary

4. Listen to TED talks,

Etc.

The idea was to expose the mind to new stimuli, and allow it to form new insights and connections. I then ask each team member to report back to me on what they did, and what they learned.

The result? As you can imagine, it is a battle. Normal comments include “I am too behind to take a day,” “let me just catch up on some email first,” “I don’t see how this is going to help me answer client questions,” or my favorite “does your boss approve of us doing this?” It is a long, consistent process of encouraging and engaging the team on this. But I do believe it is of value. The time taken from work is more then repaid by fresh insights and connections.

I am interested if people have seen other techniques to accomplish the same thing. I am always looking for good ideas.

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Scott D. Nelson
Managing VP
12 years at Gartner
18 years IT industry

Scott Nelson is a managing vice president in Gartner Research. He is responsible for managing research in the area of CRM. His particular research focuses on CRM vision and strategy.


Thoughts on Intellectual Moments


  1. Jenny Sussin says:

    As an employee of Scott’s, I appreciate his concern 🙂

    I’d say that one thing I do as a personal move more than anything mandated is take sporadic breaks throughout the day, sit outside or talk to someone else in the office just to give myself a little mental break.

    One other thing I do, in the vain of being productive while still giving myself a break, is look at my feed reader where I have different tech blogs that sometimes refer back to something that falls under the area which I deal in or often teaches me about hacking threats and I in turn respect my security analyst peers more.

    Bottom line, you recognizing and encouraging a mental health break is appreciated whether people take you up on it or not. It’s nice to see the support.

  2. Scott Nelson says:

    That works in the short run. But I think you need something more dramatic over the long run. Otherwise ideas get stall and predictable

  3. Neena Buck says:

    Scott, I wish more people like you as managers — especially for analyst-like jobs that require creating thinking and dot-connecting! G

    Allowing your people the time and flexibility to think beyond their noses is priceless … whether or not people actually realize its value immediately … or take advantage of it.

  4. Noam says:

    – Go eat lunch with someone you hardly know (from work or neighborhood). Do this at least twice a week.
    – Take someone you hardly know a ride home and discuss their hobbies and interests. At least twice a week.

    Human interaction explores and achieves totally different realms than TED talks or books (not for a moment underestimating the latter).



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