I'm just about to pass over my 50,000th mile flying in the last three months, and besides the toll of the cramped seating arrangement and the challenge of liquids (both to consume and to expend), the cocoon of air travel actually presents me a very fertile space for big-picture thinking.
I divided up this flight into three segments (all segments soundtracked with noise-canceling Shure e4c headphones and a random playlists on my iPod).
- In the first segment, I caught up on all the short articles I'd been printing out and stashing in my "flight folder" (Tom Friedman opinions, CIO mag leadership articles, conference prep materials)
- [break for food and drink]
- in the second segment, I dove into the book I'm plowing through right now (The Difference by Scott E. Page)
- [break for short nap]
- in the final segment, I read all my RSS feeds offline to get inspired by a whole plethora of different perspectives, and that's when the insights hit.
The ideas flow like water, and I madly dash the notes down in an email to myself. And here I sit wondering what is it about hurtling through space that enables this kind of thinking.
Much as I don't want to admit it, I think the catalyst is the one-two-three punch:
- my cocoon of iPod-laced sound
- the lack of distractions from others around me asking questions
- and, gulp, the complete lack of internet connectivity.
Without connectivity, there's no way for me to satisfy my curiosities by following the links in my RSS reader, so I gobble up the static ideas and perspectives quickly... and that leads the neurons to fire in ways they otherwise don't.
Next time I'm inclined to spend sleepless hours in the middle of the night surfing the web (yes, undisturbed, but no music playing), I'll instead try to reproduce the airplane experience: pop on the iPod, sign off the web and then see if I can get into an uncomfortable seating position.
Bonus points if I can endure the awkward tug of both a full bladder and a dry tongue for full replication of the high-level thinking environment that seems abundant at 36,000 feet.