“My method is different,” Tesla famously said. “I do not rush into actual work. When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop.”
True; Tesla worked in a world without smart phones and constant distraction, and many of us are not naturally ‘visual thinkers.’ But Tesla’s approach was self-taught, and he credits his mother for giving him daily lessons to strengthen memory and reason and “especially to develop the critical sense.” Tesla called these exercises “undoubtedly very beneficial.”
Visualization is a powerful technique and one you can practice in your daily life. Think of it as a memory game—heightening your spatial reasoning.
Tesla’s other piece advice? Never get started on an idea you haven’t thoroughly thought through. “The carrying out into practice of a crude idea as is being generally done is, I hold, nothing but a waste of energy, money and time,” he argued.
Don’t Underestimate Solitude
True to the habits of many inventors and creative-types, Tesla was an advocate for immersing himself in solitude while working.
“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted silence,” he once said. “No big laboratory is needed in which to think. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influence beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.”
The idea of working alone is not new, but it can be a daunting prospect for those of us who prefer to operate in social environments. But even the most extroverted of humans can benefit from setting aside some time to recharge. As Tesla notes, it’s all about productive introspection and using your alone time well.
Know When To Take a Break
Have you ever been sitting at your desk and felt the overwhelming urge to ‘go grab a coffee?’ This need for a break is something Tesla felt often. Tesla believed in the benefits of going out for a quick walk to boost creativity—so much so that it actually became a compulsive habit of his.
He claims many of his “eureka” moments came to him when he was out for a walk. One of the most famous examples was his idea of the alternating current:
In 1881, Tesla moved to Budapest, after recovering from his breakdown, and he was walking through a park with a friend, reciting poetry, when a vision came to him.
There in the park, with a stick, Tesla drew a crude diagram in the dirt—a motor using the principle of rotating magnetic fields created by two or more alternating currents. While AC electrification had been employed before, there would never be a practical, working motor run on alternating current until he invented his induction motor several years later.
The bottom line?
The bottom line? Next time you need to take a break—do it. When you leave your work-space and let an idea incubate, you’re more likely to come up with a solution. The problem will still be there when you get back.