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I Want To Be Alone

Yes, this phrase, made famous by Greta Garbo (although she didn’t say it exactly like that) may be one you have been muttering under your breath.  In a recent article in the New York Times by Susan Cain sent to me by a colleague who was thinking about our overscheduled lives and overscheduled children, I see that us mutterers are not alone.

Ms. Cain’s take echoes my own experience: most humans possess two conflicting desires: to be alone and to be with others. If armchair research provides any validation I know this to be true because I’ve seen it in my son, my husband and in myself.

The quiet part of the creative process allows us to think and reflect. When my dog Wylie was alive, I found walking him a great way to leave the computer screen and think about projects, people, conversations, strategies, titles for presentations, and visual cues for concepts. It fueled the conversations I would have alter with clients and colleagues. (And it goes without saying that I found time alone invaluable for thinking about how I wanted to articulate things in my personal life.)

In the late 80’s there was a Hewlett-Packard commercial that ran on television showing an employee in the shower; the employee was struck by a supposedly brilliant idea, and ran from the shower to make a call and pass the idea on. The theme for this series of popular commercials was ‘What if….” And it was based on something that actually happened to one of the company’s founders. Time alone can stimulate the creativity required.

The move to get us all online, all collaborating, all brainstorming leaves little room for this critical solitude that can be so essential for insight and creativity. We share workspace and are put on committees. The day is crammed full of conference calls and meetings.   Some of that makes perfect sense. Being with groups of people is a way to share information and ideas, learn and teach, develop rapport and trust.

You don’t have to be an introvert to want privacy. People say I can talk to telephone poles but I block out time to get some writing done.  I reserve time in my week to get to the stack of professional reading I’ve piled up in the hopes that the information will add something to my thinking and the contribution I make when talking to others.  And I need, crave, and demand time to design the structure of a training program or presentation. I can collaborate with colleagues and clients, but not if I don’t have anything that’s well thought out and useful to share with them.

In one of my very first corporate jobs, there was a department known as R&D (AKA Research and Development)  I rarely saw anyone go in or out of the door, but when I was asked to come and facilitate a meeting I got to see what was behind the always closed entrance to the department. The folks who worked there lived in what looked to me like chaos. Stuff lying everywhere, piles of files and papers on every surface, and trash strewn on the floor. The R&D team looked scruffy and bedraggled, wearing clothes that looked more liked mismatched pajamas, most with ‘bed-head,’ and a few men with a 4 day old facial scruff long before it was a fashion forward thing to do. And from this department came all the new products that made the company its fortune.

I had found the evidence: it can be a very good thing to be left alone with your thoughts for a while.So it’s OK to tell them that you ‘want to be alone’ every so often.

Just smile and add ‘Please.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 at 8:15 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.