Want Innovation? Ditch the Radio

In last week’s New York Times Sunday Review section, there’s an interview with J. B. Straubel, founder of Tesla Motors, which makes electric vehicles.  According to the introduction, some people compare the companyto Apple in terms of “obsessive attention to design, intuitive user interface and expense.” Obviously, Mr. Straubel is a great thinker and innovator.

When asked what he’s listening to, Straubel said this:

  • I’m not really a music connoisseur. I don’t even have music on my iPhone. I can drive in the car for like eight hours without any music on. It horrifies people. Silence is awesome. You can just sit there and think and work through your problems.

Wow! Does this surprise you?

I used to be someone who couldn’t drive a mile without the radio on. But when I started studying multitasking and information overload, I realized the power of taking breaks and pauses, which you can use to mull over the issues you’re working on.  I started with brief periods of silence in the car (which was difficult), but I expanded from there.  I can’t say I could ever go eight  hours in the car without radio, but I find that an hour is doable.  In fact, once you find out that you like silence in the car, it makes you much more impatient with what you have to put up with on the radio – songs you don’t like or interviews you’re bored with, and of course, those infernal commercials. In the past when I would hear something I didn’t like, I’d change the station; now I’m quick to just turn the junk off.

If I’m on my way to a meeting, I arrive much better prepared.  And on the way home, I have time to process what just transpired. Paradoxically, I find that the time passes more quickly without the radio, and I arrive at my destination much less stressed out.

I’m not suggesting that you give up music or even give up radio in your car altogether.  But it might be worth it to try driving in silence for five or ten minutes to see how you like it.  Then expand it a little bit if it seems promising.

Giving yourself even short low-information breaks between high-input activities a few times a day will work wonders for your brain and the things it can accomplish.


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