Taking the Train: Minding the Mental Gap

Nicholas Hill - Chief Executive Officer

By: Nicholas Hill
Chief Executive Officer

5th October 2018

Home » Insights » Taking the Train: Minding the Mental Gap

Where do you do your thinking and contemplate the bigger problems that need a clear head?

If you are like me it will rarely be in the office, full as it is of distractions and interruptions. I find being outdoors is productive, especially when running, as it just you and the road – no phone, email, internet or conversation. It enforces a sort of mindfulness, and I quite often come up with a solution while running that has been eluding me. However, it does have the limitation that you can’t read source material and take notes, so only helps for certain types of problems.

For the sort of thinking that requires a combination of reading, deliberation and scribbling of notes, I find the very best place is on the train – particularly one that doesn’t stop often and isn’t overcrowded. And you must get a window seat. Something about seeing the landscape slipping by is great for clearing the mind, and giving thoughts free reign to come and go. It goes without saying that the phone and laptop stay in my briefcase to avoid distraction and ‘busy work’.

It seems appropriate that from a train carriage the landscape is mostly seen in the middle and long distance. You observe the shape of the woods, not the detail of the trees. The arrangement of colours in a station car park, not the individual cars. The way a river bank gradually changes in shape as you cross paths with it over time. The small, hypnotic meanderings of the adjacent, silvery railway tracks, the sleepers and ballast blurred out by speed as you rush by.

This is just what is needed to make sense of the problems of a business – some distance and perspective, and some random stimulus to prompt new thoughts. This is particularly needed at a time when information is becoming ever easier to obtain, but the time to figure out what it means ever more scarce.

Of course you can find yourself down a mental rabbit hole due to something observed through the window. For instance, who decides on the colours of the cars we all buy? A couple of years ago we seemed to have reached ‘peak monochrome’ – all car parks were a dull sea of white, grey, silver and black. Over the previous decade or so all the coloured cars gradually disappeared.

Happily (for someone who loves colour) bright spots of colour have started to appear again in the acres of grey. Small numbers, but very eye-catching. Having observed this very slow cyclic process, I can’t help wonder at the cause: is it driven by fluctuating consumer taste, or by car manufacturers controlling the availability of colours?

Fortunately, for the most part the mind picks up on the problems at hand without any conscious effort, and you reach your destination with the satisfaction of having successfully got to grips with an issue that’s been eluding you.

So next time you have some quiet thinking to do, pack a pad and pen and jump on a train.

Must stop now, I’m approaching Liverpool Street station.

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Where do you do your thinking and contemplate the bigger problems that need a clear head?

If you are like me it will rarely be in the office, full as it is of distractions and interruptions. I find being outdoors is productive, especially when running, as it just you and the road – no phone, email, internet or conversation. It enforces a sort of mindfulness, and I quite often come up with a solution while running that has been eluding me. However, it does have the limitation that you can’t read source material and take notes, so only helps for certain types of problems.

For the sort of thinking that requires a combination of reading, deliberation and scribbling of notes, I find the very best place is on the train – particularly one that doesn’t stop often and isn’t overcrowded. And you must get a window seat. Something about seeing the landscape slipping by is great for clearing the mind, and giving thoughts free reign to come and go. It goes without saying that the phone and laptop stay in my briefcase to avoid distraction and ‘busy work’.

It seems appropriate that from a train carriage the landscape is mostly seen in the middle and long distance. You observe the shape of the woods, not the detail of the trees. The arrangement of colours in a station car park, not the individual cars. The way a river bank gradually changes in shape as you cross paths with it over time. The small, hypnotic meanderings of the adjacent, silvery railway tracks, the sleepers and ballast blurred out by speed as you rush by.

This is just what is needed to make sense of the problems of a business – some distance and perspective, and some random stimulus to prompt new thoughts. This is particularly needed at a time when information is becoming ever easier to obtain, but the time to figure out what it means ever more scarce.

Of course you can find yourself down a mental rabbit hole due to something observed through the window. For instance, who decides on the colours of the cars we all buy? A couple of years ago we seemed to have reached ‘peak monochrome’ – all car parks were a dull sea of white, grey, silver and black. Over the previous decade or so all the coloured cars gradually disappeared.

Happily (for someone who loves colour) bright spots of colour have started to appear again in the acres of grey. Small numbers, but very eye-catching. Having observed this very slow cyclic process, I can’t help wonder at the cause: is it driven by fluctuating consumer taste, or by car manufacturers controlling the availability of colours?

Fortunately, for the most part the mind picks up on the problems at hand without any conscious effort, and you reach your destination with the satisfaction of having successfully got to grips with an issue that’s been eluding you.

So next time you have some quiet thinking to do, pack a pad and pen and jump on a train.

Must stop now, I’m approaching Liverpool Street station.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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